The Five Best Syndicated Old Time Radio Detective Shows

We’ve already looked at detective shows on every major network including multi-networkABC, CBS, NBC, and Mutual Detective shows.  Now we turn to programs that were aired in  syndication.

Syndicated programming allowed radio stations to fill blocks of programming not filled by network shows and allowed local and regional businesses that couldn’t afford to sponsor network programs.

While network shows were aired once and often lost, syndicated programs aired in different markets for decades after their original creation date which explains why many syndicated shows survive with almost entirely complete runs.  One challenged with syndicated programs is that it’s very hard to determine when shows were first aired, as any number of radio stations may have been the first to play the program.

As always, I asked our Facebook friends to vote and forty-eight  shared their favorites.

5) Mystery is My Hobby

Produced: 1947-49

Glenn LanganMystery is My Hobby starred Glen Langan as Barton Drake, a mystery writer who solves crimes. Each episode was a lighthearted whodunit aided by the upbeat suave performance of Langan as the sleuth. Langan was practically the opposite of Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled sleuth. You can’t get much further opposite of “Trouble is my business” than “Mystery is my Hobby.” At the end of each episode, Barton Drake would remind us that “mystery is my hobby.”

The show was originally called, “Murder is My Hobby” but while the staff thought the original name was funnier, the sponsor who paid for the show’s national run didn’t. The sponsor was Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company of Omaha.

The show features perhaps the most compliant police officer assistant for a sleuth in Inspector Noah Danton who is apparently allowed by his department to serve as the nearly full-time sidekick of Barton Drake. The two are rarely apart and Danton even accompanies Drake when he’s out of town.

Sixty-five years later, the episodes still make for fun and relaxing listening as for twenty-five minutes, mystery becomes our hobby.

Fan vote: 4%

4) The Adventures of Frank Race

Produced: 1949

Paul DubovThe war changed many things – the face of the earth and the people on it.

This exciting syndicated series focused on an Attorney whose World War II service brought him into the O.S.S. After the war, rather than returning to the practice of the law,  he became a freelance troubleshooter. The cases that Race took on ranged from insurance cases to international spying. Thus, Frank Race’s adventures were  a mixture  of Johnny Dollar and the Man Called X.

The show was well-written with a fantastic theme by Ivan Ditmars. Frank Race was played first by Tom Collins (Eps 1-21) and then by character actor Paul Dubov (22-43). Tony Barrett throughout the series provided the voice for Cabbie Marc Donovan, one of radio’s most able sidekicks.  The show also featured some of radio’s best players as guest stars including Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, and Virginia Gregg.

Fan Vote: 0%

3)The New Adventures of Michael Shayne with Jeff Chandler

Produced: 1947-48

Michael ShayneAfter the Mutual Network’s comedy mystery version of Michael Shayne ended, Bill Rouseau took his turn with the character. The result was one of the most sterling of the hard boiled detective shows.

While in the novels, Shayne lived in Miami, Rouseau placed Shayne in New Orleans, a city full of mystery and a perfect place for a Noirish radio series. Jeff Chandler played the role of the two fisted tough guy private eye. The show was also noteworthy, featuring Jack Webb in the recurring role as Lieutenant LeFevre, Shayne’s policeman foil.

The mysteries would never win an Edgar, with often simplistic solutions. However, during its 26-episode run, the show offered plenty of first fights, excitement, Mickey Finns, and femme fatales.  The New Adventures of Michael Shayne continued to be resold and resyndicated well into the late 1960s.

Fan Vote: 4%

2) Boston Blackie with Richard Kollmar

Produced: 1945-50

Richard KollmarBoston Blackie was an epic character for around half a century with silent films, talkies, radio, and finally television. In 1944, Boston Blackie first came to radio with Chester Morris playing Boston Blackie,  the role he was most remembered for in films.  A syndicated version was launched by Frederick Ziv with Richard Kollmar, who was otherwise best known for the live morning radio show he did his wife, Breakfast with Dick and Dorothy.

When Boston Blackie made his first appearance, he was a thief. But by the mid-1940s, Blackie had abandoned his life of crime and was completely law-abiding.  He was “enemy to those who had no enemy and friend to those who had no friend.” Blackie’s problem was that someone hadn’t let Inspector Farraday of the police force in on the development. Practically every week, Inspector Farraday tried to arrest Blackie for a crime, usually murder, only for Blackie to escape  and present Farraday the real criminal, thus clearing his name and guaranteeing his freedom until next week. Over the years, Farraday does begin to ease up and have a more cordial relationship with Blackie. Hearing this development in the relationship between the two characters is one of the noteworthy characteristics of Boston Blackie.

Kollmar played the character as smooth, suave, and wise-cracking. Blackie could handle himself with a gun or his fists, and was a tough man for either the police or criminals to hold onto.

The show’s mysteries are a mixed bag of clever stories and somewhat obvious ones. The score uses a relatively light organ score which fits the mood of the show. It also didn’t have the high profile guest actors that other programs did, but it was still very popular with listeners.

While it wasn’t unusual for a syndicated show to have a second season of episodes, there were nearly 300 individual episodes of Boston Blackie produced, and if you have any doubts as to why the show lasted that long, you only need to take a listen to find out why.

Boston Blackie came to television for two seasons, in a mostly forgotten TV series that didn’t make anyone forget the movies or the radio show.

Fan Vote: 33%

1) Box 13 starring Alan Ladd
Produced: 1947-48

Dan Holiday, a reporter turned mystery writer comes up with an original way to come up with plots his stories, placing an ad in the paper, “Adventure Wanted: Will go anywhere, will do anything. Write Box 13 c/o of the Star Times.”

With Alan Ladd as both star and producer,  Box 13 became one of radio’s most exciting shows. As Ladd was not a professional detective, writers had a free hand in writing adventures for Holiday. His many adventures included infiltrating a car theft ring, going to the bayous of Louisiana to help a man who believes he’s under a voodoo curse, intrigue with a jewel thief in Paris, and encountering a murderous psychopath who has chosen Holiday as his next target.

Ladd’s acting was spot on and his resonant voice was perfect for radio. Ladd was able to draw some of the finest guest actors in radio including Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, and Alan Reed. Sadly, the program didn’t include credits, so for many guest appearances, we can only take educated guesses.

While the show had numerous writers, the scripts were usually good, though occasionally uneven.

Box 13 continued to be resyndicated into the 1990s. The program also helped Ladd to increase his popularity with the American public with Box 13 being a fantastic showcase for his talent. In 1954, Land reprised his role as Dan Holiday on television,  adapting the radio episode, “Daytime Nightmare” as an episode of the G.E. True Theater, “Committed.”

Fan Vote: 58%

Honorable mention:

Dr. Tim, Detective: This was one of the few mystery shows made for kids. The 13 episode serial is a pleasant mix of education and entertainment and education as Dr. Tim’s medical mysteries educated kids about such interesting facts as the uses of blood in vaccination and the treatment of tuberculosis. These 15 minute shows are well-done for both kids and adults.

This concludes our series. Thanks so much for following along.

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Below is a recap of both my rankings  in each category as well as how fans on Facebook voted:


My Pick Facebook Pick
Pat Novak for Hire Pat Novak for Hire
The Fat Man Sherlock Holmes
Defense Attorney The Fat Man
Sherlock Holmes (Tom Conway) I Deal in Crime
I Deal in Crime Defense Attorney


My Pick Facebook Pick
Adventures of Philip Marlowe Johnny Dollar
Yours Truly Johnny Dollar Casey
Adventures of Rocky Jordan Philip Marlowe
Broadway’s My Beat Rocky Jordan
Casey Crime Photographer Broadway’s My Beat


My Pick Facebook Pick
Let George Do It Let George Do It
Nick Carter Hercule Poirot
Casebook of Gregory Hood Michael Shayne
Hercule Poirot Nick Carter
Michael Shayne (Wally Maher) Gregory Hood


My Pick Facebook Pick
Dragnet Dragnet
Night Beat Nero Wolfe
Dangerous Assignment Dangerous Assignment
Barrie Craig Night Beat
Nero Wolfe Barrie Craig


My Pick Facebook Pick
Richard Diamond Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) Richard Diamond
Sam Spade Sam Spade
The Saint The Saint
A Man Called X A Man Called X


My Pick Facebook Pick
Box 13 Box 13
Boston Blackie Boston Blackie
Michael Shayne (Jeff Chandler) Michael Shayne
Frank Race Mystery is My Hobby
A Man Called X Frank Race

  3 comments for “The Five Best Syndicated Old Time Radio Detective Shows”

  1. emily
    December 19, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Thank you for this website. I love all of the shows mentioned on your lists. It is nice to know there are others who enjoy them also

  2. Gary Anderson
    September 28, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Thank you

  3. William Stinson
    April 30, 2020 at 8:13 pm

    Loved your selections. I’m currently working on a book on Old Time radio. Your knowledge of the Detective genre is impressive. I might have included one of my personal favorites, Candy Matson. I also like your selection of Box 13. I think the only negative thing about that show was the character Susie, she didn’t really move the plot along for my tastes. Sam Spade I thought was more annoying than anything because of its format. I loved anything Bob Bailey was including Johnny Dollar, and Let George Do it. Gerald Mohr was another of my favorites. He was alright as Archie Goodwin but to tell the truth, I’ve read all the Rex Stout novels and think the radio series didn’t do them justice. Their saving grace was Sydney Greenstreet. What are ;your thoughts on Mr. Keen and Mr and Mrs North?

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