by Bob Stepno
Good journalism needs honest facts and, honestly, even more than most of this website, this page is “in progress” with a few incomplete or unexplained links, and a mixture of content that I have been gradually moving to separate pages on specific radio genres, such as science fiction, western, and suspense series.
The reporter-detective and real-life-reporters categories overlap with the adventure film genre.
The most obvious “adventure” series with reporters in prominent roles are Superman, with Clark Kent, Lois Lane and the whole Daily Planet crew, and The Green Hornet, with publisher Britt Reid and the staff of The Daily Sentinel.
However, other adventure heroes sometimes had “reporter” friends or were involved in plotlines that included reporters.
The Shadow, in print as a pulp-magazine character, had a newspaper reporter as part of his network of “operatives.” But in the character’s radio incarnation — with Orson Welles among the actors to play the mystery man — most of the operatives were eliminated to simplify the plot. “The lovely Margo Lane” filled the role as his main assistant. Although she was not a newspaper reporter, she sometimes impersonated one in the service of the Shadow.
For example, in the episode “Murders In Wax” (July 24, 1938) Margo Lane pretended to be a Globe reporter to interview a suspect. In “The Society of the Living Dead” (Jan. 23, 1938), she posed as a sympathetic reporter to interview the daughter of a missing man and suspected suicide. The episode also used reporters’ newspaper and radio stories to further the plot.
Margo also played a Globe reporter twice, and she and Lamont Cranston visited a newspaper morgue, while investigating “The Comic Strip Killer” on Nov. 23, 1947.
Some of the radio scripts use the name of newspaper reporter Clyde Burke, who was a minion or assistant to the “print” version of the Shadow. On radio the character does not get involved with the Shadow directly, but his name is used for a voice reading headlines in several broadcast episodes, including “Night Without End” in 1938. His prescence was an attempt to maintain some continuity with the magazine stories, according to Shadow historian Martin Grams Jr.
A newspaper publisher demonstrates a variety of 1941 new technology when two men are murdered at one of Cranston’s haunts, in The Chess Club Murders.
Among other things the publisher has a dictaphone for recording stories and a remote control at his club that can broadcast headlines scrolling as an electric-light news bulletin on his Star-Bulletin newspaper building.
The publisher is a bit weak of reportorial ethics, though, being ready to run speculation about the first murder before the second murder is discovered — his suspect in the first crime. .
“News culture” remained alive in other episodes, where plot developments were moved along by newsboys shouting headlines, or by the Shadow and Margot listening to radio news reports. Not only were those techniques used in “Circle of Death” (Nov. 11, 1938), in that episode the Shadow also hacked into a public address system during a police commissioner’s meeting to tell the “gentleman of the press” he was issuing a challenge to a serial killer — followed immediately by a newsboy hawking the resultant extra.
In its early days the Shadow series also used a newsboy shouting “extra extra” at the end of each episode to preview the next installment.
A movie adaptation of The Shadow, International Crime, went a step further. The lead character was altered to be a journalist himself — a crime columnist for the newspaper who broadcasts a radio “column” under the name “The Shadow.” The full 1938 film is available in several formats as International Crime at Archive.org
The Blue Beetle, a radio and comic book superhero, may have borrowed from Superman and The Green Hornet, but his day job wasn’t at a newspaper. Instead, he was a rookie police patrolman. However, his girlfriend in the comic books was a Lois Lane style reporter, Joan Mason, who even appeared as the title character in some comic stories. On the radio, he also shared the stage with newspaperman Charlie Stone, “ace reporter of the York City Sun,” friend of police officers Dan Garret (the Blue Beetle) and his partner.
The comic, launched in 1939, evolved into a radio serial in 1940 that ran for less than a year. Frank Lovejoy, the actor who played the Beetle, was to have more success a decade later playing a newspaper columnist in the mystery/drama series “Night Beat.”
Radio episodes of The Blue Beetle are available from the Old Time Radio Researchers Group at archive.org, including Drug Ring, which includes reporter Charlie Stone. (Click the episode title to download or stream an MP3 if an audio player icon is not visible.) Not only does the character don his blue chain mail to fight reefer-dealers and opium dens, he begins taking a mysterious drug himself — a secret “vitamin 2X,” which gave him the ability to recover from bullet wounds and increased his strength and speed and mental abilities.
The reporter doesn’t have a big part in the episode, although he is observant enough to get the license number of a gunman’s car. When Garret’s partner sends him to call for an ambulance for the hero, shot down on the street, he mentions that he’ll call his paper at the same time. “Boy, what a story!” he says, on his way to the phone.
(Since my first posting of this page, I’ve discovered that Archive.org has a second BlueBeetle collection, which may have higher sound quality.)
Alas, the shows are juvenile, punctuated by organ arpeggios and overwrought dialogue, which may explain why the series had such a short run on radio, although the comic book has had several incarnations under several publishing companies over the years. Wikipedia has an overview of the character, and websites including the Internet Archive have some copies of the early comics.
Blue Beetle Companion by Christopher Irving, 2007
Golden Age Blue Beetle pages at WonderWorld Comics.
Science Fiction and Thrillers
Drawing on pulp and literary fiction, rather than the world of comic book heroes, radio’s science fiction anthology series also had the occasional futuristic journalist. In a 1957 episode of X-Minus One, a reporter on the planet Mars investigates a plague that causes violence and madness, protected by an invisible spacesuit that allows him to enter the quarantined area. The title is Inside Story (click to download an MP3 if a player icon is not visible).
In The Last Martian the reporter stays on Earth.
Science Fiction plots also appeared on CBS Radio Mystery Theater.
Suspense & Terror
Radio writers became very skillful at scaring listeners with dramatic suspense, including, perhaps most memorably, the series by that name, “Suspense.”
Fortunately, a fan of the series has an extensive blog about its episodes, and those of the similar series “Escape.” Searching the Escape-Suspense.com pages for keywords like “reporter,” “editor,” “newsman,” “correspondent,” “sob sister” and “newspaper” turn up quite a few episodes.
The Old Time Radio Researcher’s Group, meanwhile, has posted a “certified” collection of 909 half-hour episodes at last count from the 22-year run of Suspense. And early radio collector J.David Goldin’s radiogoldindex.com has plot summaries for both series. With a little cross-referencing and searching, I have a list of journalist episodes in progress:
The Waxwork — repeat performances 1947, 56, 59
The Fall River Tragedy
Vamp Until (or Till) Dead 1951 and 1957 versions
A reporter gets involved with a new secretary working for an accused wife killer. Ginger Rogers and Vanessa Brown each took a turn playing the lead.
The Lady in the Red Hat
Suspense was also one of several radio series to dramatize Charles Dickens’ story of an inquiring reporter and a railroad worker,
The Signal Man.
OTRR has posted 250 episodes, 1947-54, of the show that billed itself as “a half hour of high adventure.” And journalists appear here and there — especially good as doing their job as narrators and observers, but sometimes getting involved in the action.
A submarine adventure with a reporter whose editor has told him, “Be there.”
The Man Who Would Be King (Kipling)
Raymond Lawrence and Ben Wright each had a turn at this dramatization of Rudyard Kipling’s soldier-of-fortune tale. Not only does it have a journalist narrator, the two rascals who aspire to royalty admit to having impersonated reporters in the past.
Two If By Sea
Even in peacetime, the life of a forign correspondent can be “high adventure,” according to this 1950 Cold War story on Escape. A London newspaperman’s Russian ballerina bride is forbidden to leave Moscow. What role will an American radio newsman’s way with words play in reuniting them?
“The Signal Man” 1946, one of several radio adaptations of a story by, of all people, Charles Dickens.
(I’ve written about other versions here )
This December 1942 episode of the scare-filled late-night radio show Lights Out must not be confused with the amusing Evelyn Waugh novel by the same name. As it opens, a 40-year-veteran newspaper columnist is called into the office of a heartless and clueless new publisher. To save his job and keep serving his readers, the columnist even offers to continue working for no money.
The columnist sounds a bit like Boris Karloff, which should be a warning that the publisher’s end will not be a pretty one.
Archive.org has separate sections headed “LightsOutOTR” and “LightsOutoldTimeRadio,” each with a version of this program:
Ghost on the Newsreel Negative (1946-08-10)
Jeff Dickson and his successor Rick Hurdle have created and maintained a fascinating old time radio website with a twist: A focus on Science Fiction, Horror, and Adventure series, creating a searchable catalog of plot reviews and summaries. Again, journalism-focused keywords can find a wide variety of reporter roles.
“The Last Story” from 1945 stars Richard Widmark as a newspaperman named “Tony Muse,” typing away. He was supposed to be writing a story about fishermen, but it took a wrong turn involving a local cemetery, a tortured woman with yellow eyes, a man with a harpoon through his chest, and madness. Widmark’s spooky radio performance was a couple of years before his star-making movie debut as the psychopath with a creepy laugh who shoved a wheelchair-bound woman down a staircase in “Kiss of Death” (1947). In “The Last Story” someone else does — or doesn’t do — the shoving, but Widmark’s reporter character winds up with a gun in his hand threatening a psychiatrist — for reasons entirely unrelated to journalism. I won’t spoil the suspense any further, but the story does end with his writing an apology to his editors.
The Brenda Clan’s ghost story, in “Mark My Grave,” Jan. 17, 1949, has a reporter/photographer off in search of a missing American in a village famous for a ghost story.
Both are part of a larger collection of one of the most famous and long-lived old-time radio series, Inner Sanctum, 1941-1952:
There may be other journalists lurking in those Inner Sanctum archives, or real-world lessons for journalists in those two. I plan to give them another listen and expand this page, but for now I’ll just include them here and invite your comments.