Newspaper legwork, 70 years ago on radio

In the continuing story “Pennies for Plunder,” the Daily Planet and Superman waged a month-long battle against a punchboard lottery racket, throughout December 1947, in the era when Superman was a daily 15 minute cliffhanger radio serial (and seller of Kellogg’s cereals and Superman premiums).

Here’s the second episode (starting Nov. 28), in which cub reporter Jimmy Olsen reports back to Clark Kent on the extensive legwork he has put into investigating an attempt to defraud youngsters with phony punchboard sales in candy stores.

“I talked to about 100 kids and it’s just like we thought,” Olsen says,  “70 of the 100 play the punchboards. I told them they didn’t stand a chance and most of them said I was crazy…

“Some of the storekeepers feed them cock-and-bull stories about guys who won bicycles and things… I checked up on a couple of them and of course they’re phony.”

Episode 2:

An audio player for the 18-episode storyline is available at the Internet Archive.

The Daily Planet was frequently portrayed as a crusading newspaper, not just an objective one content to report on events, but an active force for reform, fighting rackets, government corruption and bigotry, or in this one attacking the punchboard business as a gateway to gambling and juvenile crime. The earlier radio series often focused on Planet reporters (and Superman) solving mysteries, not just fighting the super-villains more common in later Superman movies. This social-reform theme took off after World War II. This 1947 story, for example, was a year and a half after the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” story and others that had the Planet and Superman campaigning against bigotry in America

In “Pennies for Plunder,” the primary villain is a gambling boss with an offshore yacht and a voice a lot like Peter Lorre, who attempts to blackmail a key government official, as well trying to murder Lois Lane and Perry White.

Unfortunately, the Old Time Radio Researchers’ library and its Internet Archive version where I listen and download these programs includes only 18 episodes of the “Pennies” serial, through Monday, Dec. 22, four days short of the end of the story. 

By that time, the story was out of the hands of the newspaper. In 1947, Clark Kent wasn’t the only Daily Planet staff member with a dual identity — reform-minded editor Perry White had managed to get elected mayor. And in the later episodes of “Pennies for Plunder,” White takes his newspaper’s crusade against the punchcard gaming to the state legislature, trying to ban all such activities, not just the fraudulent ones run by the story’s gangster villain.

We can safely assume his bill passed, despite a last minute attempt to derail it by the gambling syndicate boss. By New Year’s Eve, Kent and the Daily Planet crew were digging into a new mystery involving recent immigrants and food aid for hungry children in Europe. 

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adventure, Jimmy Olsen, journalism, newspaper crusades, Perry White, reporting, Superman, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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