Radio Review: Secret Agent K-7 Returns

Before there was James Bond, before the Man Called X, and before Steve Mitchell took on a single Dangerous Assignment,  there was Agent K-7.

Secret Agent K-7 began on the radio in 1932 and made the leap into movies with Special Agent K-7. The original K-7 radio series is lost, but in 1939, a new transcribed syndicated series launched called, Secret Agent K-7 Returns.

Secret Agent K-7 Returns  was a series of seventy-eight fifteen minute spy stories.  Secret Agent K-7 didn’t take part in most adventures. Rather, he introduced the stories of what other agents did. In early episodes, Secret Agent K-7 offered the stories as cautionary tales as what aggressor powers were doing to undermine peace. K-7’s role in the story was to explain how the preceding story had been a cautionary tale about what spies were doing to undermine world peace. He would also speak out against the dangers that spies posed to peace, and sought to discourage people from becoming involved in espionage with the same fervor as 1980s anti-drug campaigns.  In later episodes, K-7 took a more active role, handing out assignments to the three agents who starred in the program and occasionally showing up to help with the capture of a bad guy.  Perhaps, my biggest complaint with K-7 is that the voice acting was totally miscast. K-7 was supposed an international man of mystery and intrigue. Yet, the actor sounded more like a kindly high school principal.

Beyond K-7, the series featured three secret agents who rotated: B-9, Z, and M with their assistants Rita Drake, Yvonne Durrell, and Patricia Norwood.  While different actors played each role, in reality the three pairings were indistinguishable from each other, with each agent and each assistant be about the same. Of course, there was good reason for this: these were fifteen minute programs. There were quite a few fifteen minute self-contained mystery and adventure shows and they survived by cutting all the fluff and providing pure mystery and adventure.

The producers did a good job of creating a series of informative and exciting episodes in which K-7’s agents have to break up several plans to undermine world peace including sabotage, blackmail, assassination, border violations, and more.  The shows are well-paced and exciting. The lady assistants while staying in the background have several shining in the course of the series that require them to be involved in gun play, fighting, and thinking on their feet.

Beyond the  entertainment value of the show, it has immense historical interest as well. The show was created against the rise of Hitler and the start of World War II in Europe. The show, like many productions of the time tries to subtly warn America of the danger of Hitler by not naming Germany as the obvious state behind the no good actions, but also having the villain speaking with a German accent.  One particularly moving episode had agents dispatched to investigate whether a nation that was beaten in the last war wanted another one. The secret agents spoke to several people who were war weary and wanted peace, but were afraid to speak up.

Secret Agent K-7’s focus on peace also was reflect of America war-weariness. Americans had lost 100,000 troops in fighting the first World War and wanted little more than peace and trade. Unfortunately, a much longer, harder war was on its way, and wishes for peace wouldn’t stop it.

Secret Agent K-7 is also a helpful look at how intelligence groups subvert nations.  Many of the tactics featured on Secret Agent K-7 would appear time and again throughout the Cold War.

Secret Agent K-7 isn’t the greatest Old Time Radio spy series, but it’s good for some quick spy action when you’re on the go, as well as  a fascinating look inside the world of 1930s episonage.

More information on Secret Agent K-7 is available at the Digital Deli . The episodes themselves are available at the Internet Archive.

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