There were few radio detectives with more endurance than Nick Carter as played by Lon Clark. It’s first airing was April 11, 1943 in the middle of World War II and it went off the air on September 25, 1955, 5 days after Dragnet aired its last episode. Clark made more than 722 appearances as Nick Carter, a detective character who predated Sherlock Holmes by 1 year.
Nick Carter’s radio adventures are usually some of the most cleverly written detective stories on the radio, with excitement, thrills, and taut cleverly written mysteries.
Carter, like many other radio detectives has a lot of lost episodes. However, unlike the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes episodes, missing Nick Carter stories aren’t mostly or entirely from the World War II era. Given the rare World War II episodes of Sherlock Holmes, The Thin Man, and Mr. and Mrs. North, Nick Carter has to have done well during World War II. About 50 World War II episodes of Nick Carter are floating about. These generally feature one of radio’s most distinctive openings:
(Pounding on the Door)
Woman: What is it? What is it?
Man: It’s another case for Nick Carter, Master Detective.
There are some missing war episodes and among the most curious are those from a 20-week period where Nick Carter went to a five day a week 15-minute serial format from April to September 1944. Outside of the 56 Yours Truly Johnny Dollar serials, the only intact radio detective serial stories are a 1936 Charlie Chan story and a 1954 Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Person story. The rest exist only in fragment and none of the Carter serials are in circulation.
However, it’s the post World War II shows that are in much shorter supply. Particularly those shows after 1948. After episode 366, “A Clue Called X”, 354 of the next 356 episodes are missing including the last 312, with no Carter episode from the 1950s in circulation.
The number of Carter radio plays is circulation is somewhere between 85 and 135 episodes depending on whose set you’re looking at. There are a lot of duplicates and mislabeled shows, so it’s tough to say for sure. This is why Lon Clark as Nick Carter didn’t make my 100 club list as I haven’t verified the episodes and there hasn’t been a clear independent audit of the Carter shows. That leaves near to 600 episodes missing from general circulation. The good news of this?
Many of these episodes may not be lost forever, but may only be out of circulation. The Radio Goldindex of radio shows usually tracks pretty closely to what’s in circulation, but on Nick Carter, Goldin has far more Carter episodes than are currently circulation. He catalogs 358 episodes or nearly triple what’s in circulation. Among the episodes Goldin lists are several of the Nick Carter serials which are either complete or complete enough to listen to. In addition there are more than 100 episodes from 1949-50 that Goldin has listed that aren’t in general circulation. This gives hope that the shows exist within collecting circles and will eventually become available to fans of the master detective.