The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.


EP1352: Dragnet: Production 5 aka The Helen Corday Murder

Jack Webb

Friday and Romero search for a man who killed a waitress.

Original Air Date: July 7, 1949

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EP1349: Philip Marlowe: The Lonesome Reunion

Gerald Mohr

Marlowe goes to Phoenix to carry simple papers but finds himself in the midst of robbers fighting and kill over the proceeds of an old robbery.

Original Air Date: February 12, 1949

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EP1148: The Line Up: The Sobbin’ Sisters Saga

William Johnstone

A singer's estranged husband is murdered.

Original Air Date: October 29, 1952

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EP0729: Sherlock Holmes: The Ancient Queen

Holmes investigates mysterious goings on surrounding the discovery of the mummy of an ancient Egyptian queen.

riginal Air Date: November 14, 1948

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EP0528: Let George Do It: Eleven O’Clock

Bob Bailey

George is called to a  college at the request of an uncle concerned with his nice who is a student. When George arrives, she dashes in front of his car.

Original Air Date: July 17, 1950

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Video Theater 013: Burke’s Law: Who Killed Jason Shaw

A man is found dead, sitting in a running shower. Captain Amos Burke (Gene Barry) begins the case with no suspects and ends up with a colorful batch before it's all said and done.

Season 1, Episode 15

Original Air Date: January 4, 1964 (Original set to air on November 22, 1963 but postponed due to the assassination of President Kennedy.)


The Immortal Detectives

Listening to vintage radio, you get a sense of how fleeting fame and popularity can be. There was a time when names such as Michael Shayne, John J. Malone, Philo Vance, Nick Carter, and Mr. and Mrs. North held a spot in the public imagination. Yet, today these names would be mostly unknown except to diehard fans of old mysteries.

On the other hand, if you mention Sherlock Holmes the recognition is universal. Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, ditto. So which detectives have been with us a long time and have come out from beneath the rubbles of historyfor their stories and characters to find new generations on a mass level.

The list of "immortal detectives" is short:

Sherlock Holmes

Father Brown

Nero Wolfe

The Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew


 Miss Marple

Sam Spade

Philip Marlowe

Mike Hammer

Sherlock Holmes has survived so long because he's definitively iconic reperesentative of what a detective is. He captures the imagination of writers who come up with new plots for him long after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stopped. And let's not forget that the original stories were solid entertainment in their own right with no requirement of updating.

Father Brown survives because of the intellectual strength  of the puzzles, as well as the many devotees of Chesterton among Catholics and other traditionalists.

Nero Wolfe survives through the fact that Stout, like Agatha Christie wrote his books over the course of several decades, allowing them to seep into the culture. Both the character of Wolfe and Archie, as well as the original mysteries written by Stout arrest the public's imagination. The most recent Nero Wolfe TV series ended in 2002, and I don't expect we've seen the last of Wolfe. Of course, Wolfe may inspire writers andproducers more than it does a mass popularity.  There've been five Nero Wolfe radio shows, two movies, and two TV series, and the most successful version was the latest TV series.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew continue to be introduced to boys and girls at a young age. While the characters have changed quite a bit since they were introduced in 1927 and 1930 respectively,  the never-ending supply of new books assures them a long life, and that movies and TV shows will emerge from time to time.

Poirot and Marple are the most enduring characters of the late Agatha Christie, and that has translated into numerous television adaptations that have been shown on PBS. Though, there have been other adaptations as well. Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple was a Manga and Anime adaption of the two characters' adventures.

As to Sam Spade, he lives on as the prototype of hard boiled fiction. While there haven't been any Spade movies since the Maltese Falcon and only one novel and a collection of short stories written by Dashiel Hammett, the character continues to live on through that film, a recent BBC radio production, and an even an authorized prequel novel, Spade and Archer. One big reason for Spade's survival is that the Maltese Falcon is often read for its literary value in events such as The Big Read where a library group will read through the same book.

Philip Marlowe has inspired numerous film and television productions, the latest occurring in 1998 when James Caan took the role for Poodle Springs. The movies, the influence of Chandler, and the nature of Philip Marlowe as a "knight in tarnished armor" helps to keep him in circulation.

Mike Hammer's survival is due to a combination of books, movies, TV shows, and the 1980s Television version which updated and iconisized Hammer for a new generation of fans. The success of doing that was in the longevity of Mickey Spillane, who was able to keep the character fresh through many years of change.

These ten have made it through at least 50 years of existence. Of course, it's an open question as to how many of these will remain popular in 2060, and whether such detectives as Columbo, The Rockford Files, and Monk will still be remembered by the general public, or like so many other once-popular sleuths, be only remembered by the mystery superfans.


EP0222: Jeff Regan: The Two Little Sisters

A 6 foot tall 200 pound man is stabbed. A lady knife thrower confesses, but Regan doesn't believe she did it.

Original Air Date: November 16, 1949

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EP0185: Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Dead First Helpers

Edmond O'Brien

Johnny Dollar goes undercover to investigate a series of "accidental" deaths at steel mill that aren't so accidental

Original Air Date: April 11, 1950


The 100 Club

In the golden days of radio, having a show run 100 episodes wasn't a big deal. With many shows doing 50 episodes a year, it was only a matter of lasting 2 years.

In the years, since the Golden Age of Radio, it's a little more impressive to have 100 episodes out there featuring the same character in the same role. With the loss of so much of our radio heritage,  many radio shows have had lost episodes galore.

Of the 218 episodes of Sherlock Holmes that Basil Rathbone did, about 50 survive.  And of the 221 episodes Howard Duff did as Sam Spade, only 49 remain in circulation.

100? It's a combination of talent to last long enough to outlive the inevitable lost episodes, while having the good fortune to have your episodes continue to circulate. How many detectives are confirmed members of the 100 club? Six Character/Actor combos have more than 100 episodes in circulation. Let's take a look.

#1) Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar-464 episodes (1955-1960)

There's a reason people clamor for Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar. He's the fans consensus choice for top Dollar. Bailey's episode count is slightly inflated by the popular 5 day-a-week serials. 276 of the 280 episodes from that terrific fifty-eight week run still exists. After the 5-day-a-week serials stopped, Bailey did another 204 half hour episodes of which 178 are still in circulation.

#2: Jack Webb as Joe Friday-309 Episodes (1949-55)

Jack Webb's most famous character has one of the best story survival rates in the golden age of radio. 318 episodes aired, of which all but 9 are intact. It's a testament to the collectability and popularity of the series that Joe Friday still remains the golden age's top cop. Of course, it could be pointed out that there are a few script repeats in the 309 episodes, but even taking away all the repeats of .22 Rifle for Christmas, it's still way ahead of its third place finisher.

#3 Bob Bailey as George Valentine-188 Episodes* (1946-52?)

I've said it on the air before, Let George Do It is underrated in discussion of detective shows with a mix of good mystery, good characters, romance, comedy, and unpredictable action has keep savvy fans attached to the show for years.  This 188 episode total ties the show with with our next show, but George gets the advantage because there are another 29 episodes that have been made available from RadioArchives that are not in general circulation, meaning a total of 217 are available to those who want to spend the money. Note that Bob Bailey is the only person to appear on this list twice.

4) Richard Kollmar as Boston Blackie-188 Episodes:

Kollmar's Boston Blackie was the most successful syndicated radio detective show ever. While many shows tried for 26 or 52 episodes, Kollmer's multiple runs of Boston Blackie are a tribute to his success and the staying power of a character who had been popular for 30 years before the radio show came out.

5) Larry Thor as Danny Clover-165 Episodes:

Along with Let George Do It, this is another amazing, little discussed show.  Larry Thor took over the role of NYPD Lieutenant Danny Clover in July 1949 and played the part for 4 years until Broadway is My Beat was cancelled in November, 1953. The show would return for four more episodes between July 11 and August 1, 1954. The Summer series of Broadway is My Beat coincided with the premier of Dragnet and Lt. Danny Clover's hardboiled New York City police detective was a timely character with Sergeant Friday coming down. Joe Friday was prose, Danny Clover was poetry. Both were far more realistic than radio detective police officers of years past.

6) Dick Powell as Richard Diamond-108 episodes:

Diamond remains Powell's most popular and most enduring radio detective. A man who sings like an angel, but can knock you down in a heartbeat. Comedy, drama, and action. Diamond had it all.

Honorable Mentions:

Nick Carter, Master Detective may or may not have 100 episodes in circulation. The same thing goes for Dangerous Assignment. There are some sets with more than 100 episodes going around for both series, but  I found in listening that there's a lot of duplicate and mislabeled shows in those bunches and I'd have to count it out myself to be satisfied.

Gerald Mohr as Philip Marlowe comes close with 97 performances in general circulation. There's 95 episodes of Rocky Jordan floating around.  Also coming close is Herbert Marshall as Ken Thurston in the Man Called X with 90 + performances out there. Bottom line is that while a lot of detective shows aired, few had the staying power of the six listed above.



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