Issue 6

Famous Radio Programs of the 1940s

Decades before the age of television, radio was the biggest source of information and entertainment of the day. Radio was the medium that connected the average person to the national consciousness and brought news of the world. These were days when people sat down and tuned in, listening eagerly to the latest news,
or a President’s Fireside Chat or the all too important - weekly radio drama or comedy.

Abbott and Costello

One of the most popular radio shows of the 1940s was the vaudeville-style variety show – The Abbott and Costello Show, featuring the brilliant comedic routines of Lou Costello and William Bud Abbott. The show gained notoriety when it began as a summer substitute for another popular radio personality, the Fred Allen Show, in 1940. In 1942 they got their own radio show sponsored by Camel cigarettes and kept audiences in stitches through 1949.

The show incorporated a variety of guests and the same vivacious, rapid-fire comedy routines that eventually carried over into the movie and television careers that made the comedic pair a legend in the industry. Some famous guests of the show included Mel Blanc, Lana Turner and Jack Benny.

Lou Costello, the youngest of the comedy team, also became known as “Hard-Luck Lou”. After returning to the air for his first radio broadcast following a year-long bout with rheumatic fever in March 1943, he was called home only to learn that his young son, Lou, Jr. had drowned just a few days shy of his first birthday. Costello, the consummate performer, went on the air that night with a weeping Lana Turner at his side.

The Adventures of Ellery Queen

Famous for his mystery books, Ellery Queen, the author and part-time detective invites listeners to solve his radio mysteries. The Adventures of Ellery Queen was heard on various networks for ten years between 1939 and 1948.

The character Ellery Queen, a conglomeration of Sherlock Holmes and
Dr. Watson rolled into one, was created for a very prestigious 1920s writing contest by two cousins with a wicked sense of humor, Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. After winning the contest, the cousins proceeded to write novels about Ellery Queen and his mystery-solving sidekick – his father, Richard Queen. The weekly radio show was developed from the novels that followed the duo around on their escapades.

During this pre-paparazzi era, the cousins would often fool the media, who was hungry for a glimpse of the brilliant author/detective, by having Fred Dannay shroud his face and pose as Ellery for certain mysterious sightings about town. The media bought the entire charade.

Manfred B. Lee, left, and Frederic Dannay, shown reading a radio script in 1942.  

In 1932 the cousins developed a series of novels in which the main crime-solving character was Barnaby Ross, a character that was later mentioned in several Ellery Queen books. Noted masters of successful publicity stunts, after publishing four novels, Lee and Dannay announced that Barnaby Ross was actually Ellery Queen. The publishers then went back and changed all the Barnaby Ross novels into Ellery Queen novels which in turn spun even more old time radio shows that lasted from 1943 to 1967.



The Whistler


“I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes… I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.”

This famous opening narration, from the radio mystery The Whistler, chilled radio audiences from 1942 to 1955. The weekly program opened to the ominous narration spoken over the echo of footsteps and the haunting 37 notes theme song whistled by Dorothy Roberts.

One of several
crime melodramas, this popular genre captured the imagination and brought tales of mystery and terror to its listening audience in an age when people were more innocent to the type of television and newscast violence that dominates the airwaves today. The Whistler himself hosted the show and narrated each episode with fatalistic glee and, following the tale that always took an unexpected twist, ended each show with the telling phrase “the strange ending to tonight’s story….”

George Allen produced and directed the show and Bill Forman served as the Whistler for most of the run, although several actors also portrayed the character at various times. Among those who played the Whistler were Gale Gordon (who later starred as Lucy’s boss, Theodore J. Mooney, on The Lucy Show and then appeared as her brother-in-law/boss, Harrison Otis Carter, on Here’s Lucy), Joseph Kearns (the first Mr. Wilson on the TV series Dennis the Menace), Marvin Miller (Michael Anthony on the TV show The Millionaire) and Bill Johnston (who played The Shadow on radio from 1938 to 1943).

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