A Century of Breaking the News

The historical radio series DuPont Cavalcade of America celebrated the first century of the Associated Press in 1948 by dramatizing scenes in the news cooperative’s past — from its first big error (signal flags were involved) through an effort of literally Biblical proportions to monopolize a telegraph line and relay European news from Halifax (did the Queen really ban the waltz?), to more significant news from Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, and the Johnstown Flood — over 2,000 dead, with the AP reporter filing his story despite a broken leg.

The compressed story takes the AP from its start as a cost-cutting cooperative effort by the six most important New York newspapers of 1848 into the new century, then jumps to its 1948 status as a million-words-a-day wire service with a membership of 4,000 subscribers.

The radioplay even manages to get in a few chuckles on the way, particularly when an AP agent has a telegraph operator transmit Bible passages to keep control of the wire for several hours.

(I thought I’d posted an essay about this episode long ago, but I don’t see it here. Perhaps it’s lurking on the backup disk from my old office computer. At least this blog post will remind me to do a more thorough write-up the next time I update my Cavalcade of America page.)

Posted in 1940s, 19th century, cavalcade, historical figures, wire services | Leave a comment

Not Lois — it’s Margo Lane, reporter

I’ve written in the past about the Shadow having his partner Margo Lane impersonate a reporter from time to time, but now I have found a Shadow episode in which Margo actually does take on a writing assignment.

It’s not hardcore news reporting of the Lois Lane variety, but a feature story for a women’s magazine, at least at first.

But when the society family Margo is about to profile turns out to have nasty secrets, the tale becomes what the chroniclers of The Shadow call “The Dragon’s Tongue Murders,” broadcast in 1941 and stored away as an MP3 file in the library of the Old Time Radio Researchers group, OTRR.org. (Click on the episode title to download the MP3 if the player icon below does not work properly.)

A fan also has posted the episode to YouTube, under the name of one of the pulp-magazine Shadow’s secret identities…

Back to Margo as reporter… In fact, I’ve read somewhere that the creators of the Superman comic strip took the name of Lois Lane from both Margo Lane and Lola Lane, one of the actresses who played the fiesty reporter Torchy Blane on a series of B-movies in the 1930s.

In a way, this Shadow episode is like the early Superman adventures on radio. The “reporting assignment” is what gets Margo Lane and Lamont Cranston to the peculiar family’s estate, before any crime has occurred. Then they get caught up in the mystery, and Cranston has to shift into his superhero role, at least briefly. That is reminiscent of some of the Superman radio serials, where Clark Kent and Lois Lane — as reporters — were the center of the plot for days of 15-minute episodes before Kent had to do anything superhuman.

Perhaps to get Shadow fans interested, the broadcast begins with a preamble about the family’s dark secrets, with the voice of the Shadow in a role I haven’t heard before — as an omniscient narrator. Then we jump to Margo and Lamont on their way to the estate. (In the car, Lamont, whom we and Margot know as the Shadow, has no knowledge of the events in that spoken preamble.)

According to Jay David Goldin’s RadioGoldindex to old-time radio show episodes and casts, William Johnstone played The Shadow for this one, and Marjorie Anderson was Margo Lane.

As for Margo’s story, it certainly doesn’t turn out the way she planned. But despite the multiple murders mentioned in the title, our freelance writer heroine does have her own somewhat happier surprise ending.

I recall reading that the Shadow was originally a mysterious sounding narrator who did not actually appear in the stories. That was before he evolved into a crime fighter with the ability to cloud men’s minds etc. I wonder if that opening scene with the shadowy voice over this was an homage to the early days, or an early transitional script being reused.

Now that I have listened to the and written this much about it, I’m going to dust off my copy of Martin Grams’ book about the Shadow, as well as a couple of other radio reference books to to refresh my memory about Shadow history and see if they shed any light on this particular episode.

Posted in 1940s, adventure, crime, Lois Lane, magazines, reporters, women | Leave a comment

Zola on the air

Today was the birthday of Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola (1840-1902), and the birthday of a former editor of mine, a coincidence that reminded me that I have never gotten around to posting about the 1898 Dreyfus case and Zola here.

Newspaper front page 1898

Thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers Group and its Lux collection at the Internet Archive, we have easy access to the MP3 version of the 1939 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the Oscar-winning 1937 Paul Muni movie

I am posting these links now to take advantage of the birthday coincidence, and will get back to writing about them sometime in the future. I accuse myself of procrastination.

Posted in 1930s, Europe, historical figures, journalism, movies | Leave a comment

Flood waters tempt newsman to murder

The Whistler episode Conspiracy. from Sept. 29, 1948, opens with a reporter reading a newspaper murder story in a diner, and speculating about the motivation of killers.

Then he gets a call from his editor, sending him out into the driving rain to a Mississippi River town whose levee is about to break. It’s the town where Marilyn lives, his ex-wife, the one person he might want to kill… and the rising river would cover for him… almost like a Conspirator, hence the title of the episode.

The cool, confident reporter is played by Frank Lovejoy, his voice easily recognized from his leading-man role as the Chicago columnist in the series Night Beat from 1949 to 1950. I wonder whether the heroic part of his performance here — star reporter faces deadly storm — helped him land that starring role a year later. Maybe a search of some archived trade magazines or “Night Beat” history sites will answer that question, in which case I’ll update this page.

Lovejoy, who was also radio’s Blue Beetle early in his career, was featured in a variety of non-journalist roles in at least 20 Whistler episodes, and is credited as writer of one of them.

The CBS network’s “The Whistler” was a special sort of half-hour mystery series — not a simple “whodunit,” because it revealed the killer and his or her motivation early on. Instead, its suspenseful plots led to a twist at the end… The opposite of routine “inverted pyramid” newspaper stories, which open with the conclusion, then fill in details.

More than 500 episodes of the 1942-1955 Whistler series are offered at the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group, which has broadcasting-history documents and a database at the Old Time Radio Researchers Website (www.otrr.org).

Series synopses and cast lists, which I am skimming for journalist plots, are offered by J. David Goldin at his Radiogoldindex.com website. This story is one of ten or more where a newspaper reporter or editor is criminal, suspect, or victim… or just doing his job.

Posted in 1940s, crime, Drama, reporters, reporting, suspense, villains | Leave a comment

A final page, but no news

In my search for radio portrayals of journalists, “The Final Page” was the most promising title in a collection of New Adventures of Nero Wolfe episodes. Unfortunately, the page mentioned in the title is from a novel, not a news publication.

However, there is a public relations or publicity person in the story, working for the book publisher… and the detective makes use of some deceptive public relations — giving a false story to the press — to bring the tale to a conclusion. For a moment, even Archie, wolves assistant and legman, is taken in by the fake article. I guess that’s enough justification to include the program here, since it might warn readers to be alert to fake news… in this case, back in 1951.

I will keep listening to Nero Wolfe, hoping that he encounters a reporter and some real news reporting in another episode.

Here is the Old Time Radio Researchers group collection of Nero Wolfe episodes. If you run into a newsie in one of them, before I do, feel free to let me know!

Posted in 1950s, detectives, Drama, propaganda, public relations, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lois knows… until she talks to her editor

For today, a very short blog post with a link to some newsroom banter between Lois, Clark and editor Perry White when Lois has a brainstorm about — silly idea — Kent being Superman’s secret identity.

“Oh stop this nonsense, Lois, we’ve got a paper to get out.” — Perry White

It does suggest that a good-natured, argumentative and teasing relationship exists between a newspaper editor and his reporters. It may not be the greatest testimony to women being taken seriously in newsrooms. Still, Lois does come off as being assertive and tough, if not sufficiently sure of her evidence to stand by her intuition about Clark. After all, that was always part of the fun of the Superman comic books and radio series. Had I been old enough to listen to this program when it came out in 1947, I might have grown up thinking a newsroom was a place I wouldn’t mind working. I wonder if the same was true for girl listeners?

The conversation actually refers back to the conclusion of the previous storyline, a transitional recap before starting a new story. Of course, Lois’s suspicions are quickly set aside, after Clark and Perry explain the logic of why Superman showed up to rescue Lois and Clark while they were both unconscious.

This is episode one of a 24-part story called “The Ruler of Darkness,” which I’ve written about before.

Most episodes of the story (complete with commercials and premium giveaway promotions) are at the Internet Archive as downloadable or streaming mp3 files:


The previous story, “The Secret Rocket,” with that rescue that raised Lois’s, suspicions, is at the end of the previous archive page list:


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Associated Press on the air

“Behind the Mic,” a radio series whose message was to demystify the medium itself, devoted its June 29, 1941, episode to the Associated Press, the newspaper co-op that had gradually come around to the idea of radio news.

The program includes mini-dramas of scenes from AP history, including the 1848 meeting of usually rival New York editors that formed the association to get some leverage over another “new media,” the telegraph companies.

The 19th century hazards of journalism portrayed on the program range from misreading semaphore signals to getting the assignment to cover General Custer at the Little Big Horn — and dying at his side.

We hear another AP man advising Pancho Villa to delay an attack until after the baseball World Series if he wanted to get on the front page of American newspapers. He did.

The anecdotes, dramatized from a history of the Associated Press, are delivered in rapid-fire, but provide no discussion of how the newspaper based service came around to the idea of providing news to radio stations.

Kent Cooper, general manager of the AP is interviewed on issues like the size of the association (1,400 American newspapers, 7,500 correspondents), arrangements for war coverage, and the latest news technology, one that it goes without saying would not be much use on radio — the AP wirephoto.

The program closes with an NBC announcer reading the latest AP war news, to the accompaniment of clattering teletypes, and the newscast ends with an important phrase: “For further details, see your local newspaper,” a clear sign that by World War II the newspapers, their wire services, and the New Medium of radio had found ways to co-exist.

The Internet Archive has 32 episodes of the Behind the Mic series, including one on radio news from wartime London and one devoted to Impersonations of Famous People, which I hope to listen to soon.

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