Old Time Radio Mystery/Crime/Adventure Shows - An Overview

Proving that the 21st century's obsession with crime drama (CSI, Law & Order, etc.) isn't anything new, in excess of 50 radio shows of the '40s/'50s centered on solving crimes. 

The majority of these shows featured police or detectives solving the usual sorts of crime: murder, robbery, fraud.  However, reflecting the events of those tumultuous decades, many shows also revolve around saving the world from such period baddies as gangsters, commies, juvenile delinquents, boxing match fixers, cattle rustlers, counterfeiters, horse racing scams, foreign spies, sabautage, and black marketeers. A few shows - foreshadowing events to come - even involve saving various beloved family members from the devastation of drugs.

While the shows shared many basic similarities - hard-boiled heroes, perky female secretaries, dangerous dames, thugs with ubiquitous Jersey accents, and musical scores heavy on the organ - I've decided they fall into several fairly distinct categories.  Here's hoping the list below helps direct folks to series that will suit their particular penchant in larceny!
  1. Police Procedurals.  These shows featured realistic radio patrol car broadcasts, suspect interviews, officer small talk, and other authentic (or at least faux authentic) elements.  Examples include Dragnet, Gangbusters, Johnny Madero/Pier 23, Call the Police, Calling All Detectives, Bulldog Drummond, The Man from Homocide, and 21st Precinct
  2. Crime Procedurals. Still other shows, such as Perry Mason and Mr. District Attorney, examined crime from the perspective of the courtroom.
  3. True Crime Narratives. These shows retold authentic crime stories in the past tense, with emphasis on the clues that led to the eventual arrest of the wrongdoers.  (Recall this was back in the 1950s, the "good old days," when justice always prevailed, so the bad guys always get their come-uppance in the end.)  Examples include:  Black Museum, Adventures of Scotland Yard, and Tales of the FBI. 
  4. Spy/espionage shows. Though many shows included episodes related to spying and espionage, a few shows made this their modus operandi, to include Cloak & Dagger, FBI in Peace and War, and I Was a Communist for the FBI.
  5. Adventure dramas.  Many series involved a cast of regular characters getting into adventures, sometimes related to crime or spying but not always.  The main element was adventure - sunken treasure, voodoo curses, foreign spies - and if the writers could figure out a way to involve an exotic setting, so much the better.  Examples include: Bold Venture, Adventures of Rocky Jordan, The Man Called X/Ken Thurston, Adventures of Leonidas Witherall, Escape, Danger Dr. Danfield, Dangerous Assignment, I Love Adventure, Adventures of Frank Race, etc.
  6. Suspense dramas.  Other series involved crime and spying but their primary element was danger/suspense, often with a soupcon of the supernatural to thicken the sauce.  Examples include Adventures by Morse, The Shadow, Boris Karloff Presents, Lights Out, Suspense, The Whistler, The Whisperer, Quiet Please, etc.
  7. Crime series/anthologies. Many series specialized in crime but featured no particular detective.  The element connecting them would be that they were all by a particular author (ex: Carter Brown Mysteries), or that they all featured great detectives from fiction (ex: Crime Club), or that they all came from tomes in a fictional murder bookstore (ex: Crime Classics).  Other examples of his genre include: I Love a Mystery, Murder Clinic, and Murder by Experts.
  8. Detective dramas.  Still others series were what I'd call true "detective shows," featuring a repeating character (usually with one or more sidekicks) whose main occupation is solving crimes: examples include Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Candy Madsen, Box 13/Dan Holiday, Mathew Slade PI, Michael Shayne, Philo Vance, Richard Diamond, Rogue's Gallery/Richard Rogue, Casebook of Gregory Hood, Boston Blackie, Adventures of the Falcon, Broadway is My Beat, Let George Do It/George Valentine, and Yours Truly Johnny Dollar.  Having said that, not all of these crimesolvers were PIs, police officers or investigators.  Some detective shows featured photographers (Casey, Crime Photographer), writers (Box 13/Dan Holiday),  and even magicians (Blackstone the Magic Detective)! 
Hope you'll join me as I focus on my personal favorite, detective dramas, in my next few blog entries.

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