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Detective Old Time Radio Shows

Bogart Bacall on the Radio
Conflict is essential to any good story, but it is rarely as obvious as it is in crime fiction. The conflict in crime fiction rarely involve man against nature or the elements like a straight adventure story (but the Genre is broad enough to allow these elements in). Rather crime fiction is a man against man competition, but it is usually a tale of good versus evil.
crime fiction, both in Literature and on the radio, is a large category. At its most basic, it is a story that involves a crime of some sort, and the forces that attempt to bring whoever committed the crime to justice. Edgar Allan PoeThis definition may be too broad- Fibber McGee wheedling out of a parking ticket or the Great Gildersleeve taking shortcuts on his income tax may be crimes as well as good stories, but hardly great crime fiction. So an important factor in crime fiction is the severity of the crimes. Which leads to the popularity of mysteries involving murder, the most severe crime of all.

Edgar Allen Poe is generally acknowledged as one of the earliest crime writers with his C. August Dupin stories of "ratiocination", the Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter. The first two stories involve murder, but the third introduces a new crime, blackmail.

While Poe and others began the world of crime fiction, no one had as much influence in making the genre popular than Arthur Canon Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has become synonymous with Detective work. Arthur Canon Doyle would only write four Holmes novels and 56 short stories, but the stories and adventures of Victorian England's most spectacular sleuth didn't end there. The character has appeared in numerous works by other authors and in many different films and TV adaptations. And he has made a number of appearances on the Radio. Beginning in the 1930s, Holmes, and his partner, Dr. Watson, have been portrayed in numerous series and adaptations.

Edgar Allen Poe Weird Circle "Murder in Rue Morgue":

Father Ronald Knox

Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction, 1928

  1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  4. Ronald KnoxNo hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

The Holmes stories are both praised and criticized for their formulaic conventions. The "Whodunit" detective story becomes a puzzle for the listener or reader as the audience tries to solve the mystery before the protagonist reveals the answer. English clergyman and mystery writer Father Ronald Knox half joking went so far as to publish a set of Ten Golden Rules for Detective Fiction. (Of course other authors make it a point to break as many of the rules as they can.)

Many times the sleuth in a rules based whodunit is an amateur detective, or one who has left the police force. Part of canon Doyle's inspiration for Holmes was the seeming incompetence of Scotland Yard, and Holmes began a long tradition of detectives showing up the professionals. Some of the greatest Whodunit characters are Agatha Christie's retired Belgian Policeman, Hercule Poirot, Crime Fiction writer Ellery Queen, Hearthstone of the Death Squad, and Philo Vance. Some of the common elements to these stories is that the detective, whether associated directly with the Police or not, tend to be somewhat aristocratic, and the crimes are committed against, and usually by, members of the British middle and upper classes.

Hercule Poirot:

Ellery Queen:


Philo Vance

This very British fantasy of such polite murders and the detectives who solved them didn't set well with American sensibilities. The reaction would evolve into the Hard-boiled Detective.

Gerald Mohr as Philip MarloweThe Hard-boiled style was born in the Pulp magazines of the '20s and '30s, and from there is was a short leap to the screen and the radio airwaves. The Hard-boiled school took an unsentimental view of violence and sex, many of the Western stories in the pulps were as hard-boiled as the detective stories. Among the earliest of the hard-boiled detectives was Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, introduced in the story "The Maltese Falcon" in 1929. Spade would only appear in four other stories besides the 'Falcon, but it was the portrayal of the San Francisco-based detective in the film starring Humphrey Bogart that helped to invigorate the popularity of the hard-boiled detective during the 1940s and beyond.

Sam Spade:

Another hard-boiled character forever associated with Bogey is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow. Fat ManMarlow first appeared in "The Big Sleep", published as a novel in1939, but elements of the character appeared in several of Chandler's earlier short stories (most of which would be rewritten and published as Philip Marlow stories.) Like most of the hard-boiled detectives, Marlow prefers to work alone, he is usually poor, but upholds his personal code of honor (not unlike the cowboy heroes of western fiction), he carries a gun, but will take a beating if it will lead him to solving the case. Although the hard-boiled detective has a strong sense of right and wrong, he holds most authority, especially the cops, in a degree of disdain- and the cops usually would prefer to keep the Private Eye out of the way as well.

Philip Marlow:

Other noteworthy hard-boiled detectives include The Falcon, The Fat Man, Barry Craig, Dan Holiday of Box 13, Danny Clover of Broadway is My Beat, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Johnny Madero, and Pat Novak for Hire.

Barry Craig:

Box 13:

Broadway is My Beat:

The Falcon:

The Fat Man:

Pat Novak for Hire :

Yours Truly Johnny Dollar:

In contrast to the loner hard-boiled detectives, the cops of the police procedural dramas are ultimately team players. The long drudgery of police work contrasted with the low-life criminals they have to deal with often gives them a hard out look on life that can make them just as tough as the most hard-boiled loner. Some of the earliest examples of the police procedural, like Police Reporter, Calling All Cars, and Gangbusters, were more than a little sensationalist. However the true crimes they dramatized where in fact gruesome and sensational in their own right.

Police Reporter:

Calling All Cars:


The most influential of the police procedural dramas was Jack Webb's Dragnet. The program was not immediately accepted by network executives.It was felt that the day to day stories of Policemen told "straight" wouldn't sell without resorting to melodrama.Jack WebbDragnet became known for its high degree of realism along with the incorruptibility of the police officers it portrayed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, from patrol and paper work, to investigation and the questioning of witnesses and suspects. The personal lives of the detectives was mentioned, but usually as background, not as central to the story. Webb would state in an interview "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee."


In direct contrast to the hard-boiled detectives and the hard edge of the real police dramas, we have the Soft-Boiled Detectives. The element that makes them Soft-boiled is that they aren't Hard-boiled! Think of them as "Murder for the fun of it!" Some of the Soft-boiled detectives fall squarely in the camp of the traditional, rules based mysteries from the Golden Age of Mystery Fiction, while others are more up to date, and even with a murder in the mix, a lot of fun.

In hard boiled detective stories the girl is usually either "the poor damsel in distress" that the detective is helping, or the Femme Fatale who makes even more trouble for our hero. However there are a number of "Dame Detectives "who are rather soft boiled (with nice soft curves!) Phyl Coe Mysteries was an early show that was sponsored by the Philco Radio Company and featured a number of promotions along with the mystery.Mercedes McCambridge The Candy Matson character was originally written as male role, but after a talk from the writer's mother-in-law, he cast his wife in the role instead! Candy had a few elements borrowed from Hard-boiled detectives; she tried to present herself as being completely mercenary in her detecting. But her adventures, even when they involve murder, tend to be light hearted enough to count her as soft-boiled. Mercedes McCambridge's portrayal of Marty Ellis Bryant in Defense Attorney and The Defense Rests (same character in both shows) is one of the most entertaining mystery shows available. Attorney Ellis always finds herself defending some one who has been framed for murder, and with the help of her News Reporter boyfriend, manages find the guilty party.

Candy Matson

Phyl Coe Mysteries:

The real appeal of the detective story of course isn't the crime or the criminal, but the solving of the crime. Often the victim himself and what has happened to him is unimportant to the enjoyment of the story. And this is so completely opposite of real life. But crime fiction is ultimately a fantasy, even the Hard-boiled detective. While solving the crime may require more or less intellectual power, the audience enjoys the illusion that they have the same of greater intellectual power of the detective.

As macabre as the subject matter of murder is, the appeal of the detective story, no matter what medium, is that the best are just plain fun. See also: Espionage in Old Time Radio.


Some of our Favorite Detective Compilations:

Rare Detective & Crime Shows
Rare Detective Shows

Hardboiled Detectives
Hardboiled Detectives

Softboiled Detectives
Softboiled Detectives
Espionage & Spies

Detective Couples
Detective Couples

Defective Detectives
Bungling Burglars

Fatal Females
Fatal Females

Dame Detectives
Dame Detectives

Frank Lovejoy
Frank Lovejoy Collection

Jeff Chandler
Jeff Chandler Collection

Jack Webb
Jack Webb Collection

Bob Bailey
Bob Bailey Collection
Best of Dragnet
Best of Dragnet

Agatha Chistie
Agatha Christie

John Dickson Carr
John Dickson Carr


Radio Detectives
Quick Reference

Radio Show Title Date Lead Slueuth
(& Sidekick)
Stars Radio Show Premise
A Case for Dr Morelle 1957   Cecil Parker and Sheila Sim Dr. Morrelle is a very wise sleuth, but too confident of his own intelligence for many peoples taste. His secretary, Miss Frayle seem to be the only one who can deal with him, and she is worth being around. As irritating as he is, Morrelle always solves the crime in his very British way.
Address Unknown 1954- 1971   Lionel Stevens, Harp McGuire, Joe McCormick and Ray Barrett Each show dramatizes a real case of a missing person taken from the Missing Persons Bureau files in London.
Adventures of Ellery Queen 1943- 1967 Ellery Queen and his father, Richard Queen Sydney Smith, Marian Shockley, Santos Ortega, Ted de Corsia Ellery Queen was an author who solved mysteries in his spare time and then wrote about his harrowing adventures; his sidekick was his own father, Richard Queen.
Adventures of Frank Race 1949- 1950 Frank Race, Marc Donovan Tom Collins, later Paul Dubov Frank Race was an attorney before the War, but after working for the OSS, his business is now Danger! Race. Now he works as an insurance investigator, sort of a cross between James Bond and Johnny Dollar.
Adventures of Harry Lime (The Third Man) 1951- 1952 Harry Lime Orson Welles Hardly a Good Guy, Harry Lime was killed in the movie, "The Third Man". He recalls his sorted adventures in this series.
Adventures of Maisie 1945- 1953 Maisie Ravier Ann Sothern Based on the Maisie movies that made Ann Sothern famous. Maisie is a sassy and street-smart American working woman turned woman of the world
Adventures of the Abbotts   Jean and Pat Abbott Les Damon and Claudia Morgan In each episode, Jean helps her husband, a well-renowned San Franciscan private eye, to solve yet another mystery.
Amazing Mr Malone 1947-1951 John Joseph Malone Gene Raymond, George Petrie, Frank Lovejoy Socialite John Joseph Malone (Gene Raymond, George Petrie, Frank Lovejoy) is a tough Chicago criminal lawyer who takes on a new case in each episode. Malone never gives up until justice is done
Are These Our Children 1946- 1948 San Francisco juvenile court   "Dramatizations of actual case histories taken from the files of juvenile delinquency court."
Avengers (South African) 1971- 1973 John Steed and Emma Peel Donald Monat, Diane Appleby Spy Adventures adapted for South African Radio
Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator 1951- 1955 Barrie Craig William Gargan Hardboiled New York Private Investigator, "The Man when you can't go to the Cops."
Best of Dragnet 1949- 1957 Sgt. Joe Friday Jack Webb One of the original Police procedural dramas, Dragnet brings us the drudgery and boredom of police work with the heroism and bravery.
Big Guy 1950 Joshua Sharp Henry Calvin Unusual collection that follows the adventures of single dad detective, Joshua Sharp, as he tries to juggle parenthood and his detective agency
Big Town 1937- 1952 Steve Wilson, managing editor of the crusading Illustrated Press Edward G. Robinson Crusading Editor takes on crime and issues
Black Museum 1951 Scotland Yard Detectives Orson Welles Orson Welles presents stories from the objects in the Scotland Yard Black Museum, always stories of grisly murder.
Blackstone the Magic Detective 1948- 1949 Real-life magician Harry Blackstone Real-life magician Harry Blackstone Magician solves mysteries with his knowledge of magic and powers of deduction.
Bold Venture 1951- 1952 Sate Shannon and Sailor Duval Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall Havana Hotel owner Slate Shannon and his wise cracking side kick Sailor Duval seem to attract the roughest sort, but always come out on top.
Border Patrol 1941 1941- 1942 Border Patrol Agents   Agents of the US Border Patrol keep aliens and outlaws from crossing our borders.
Boston Blackie 1945- 1950 Boston Blackie Chester Morris Boston Blackie, "a modern Robin Hood, a little on the gangster side, wise to all the tricks but always reversing to do a lot of good."
Box 13 1948- 1949 Dan Holiday Alan Ladd Writer Dan Holiday has a an ad: "Adventure wanted : will go anywhere, do anything " Box 13." And he gets more adventure than he could want.
Broadway is My Beat 1949- 1954 Detective Danny Clover Larry Thor Hardboiled detective Danny Clover covers is a police detective who grew up on the hard streets of New York City.
Bulldog Drummond 1941- 1954 Bulldog Hugh Drummond George Coulouris Bulldog was a methodical crime-solving sleuth who let nothing get in his way of his goal, which was to put a stop to crime!
Call the Police 1947- 1949 Recent graduate of the FBI academy, Bill Grant Joseph Julian, Joan Tompkins Call the Police was billed as "a new series of realistic radio dramas inspired by the courageous work of police departments all over America."
Calling All Cars 1947 - 1949 New Officer in Each Episode Charles Frederick Lindsley (narrator) One of the earliest Police Procedural dramas, considered a precursor to Dragnet.
Calling All Detectives 1945- 1950 Detective Browning Paul Barnes, master of many voices, played all characters. "The Sealy Mystery Quiz". Paul Barnes, "the Man of a Thousand Voices" does a one man show presenting a short detective play. After the mystery Barnes calls a listener in the Chicago area and asks a question about a detail of the story.
Candy Matson 1949- 1951 Candy Matson, Lt Ray Mallard, Rembrandt Watson Natalie Parks, Henry Leff, Jack Thomas. Many feel that Candy Matson was the finest of all lady detectives on radio. Not only is she smart, tough and beautiful, but the show is peppered with references to San Francisco locations.
Case Dismissed 1954   Local Chicago Talent Brought to you by the Illinois Bar Association, high-lighting the services of professional Attorneys
Casebook of Gregory Hood 1946- 1951 Gregory Hood, Sanderson Taylor Gale Gordon, others Gregory Hood is a wealthy San Francisco Antiques importer whose globe trotting often lands him in the way of crimes having to do with the items he is after.
Cases of Mr Ace 1947 Edward Ace, sole owner of Ace Detective Agency George Raft Cases of Mr Ace is a typical Tough Guy detective, and not above lifting plots from other Gum Shoes. He tells his stories to a criminal psychologist who is doing research.
Casey Crime Photographer 1943- 1955 "Flashgun" Jack Casey, reporter Ann Williams. Matt Crowley, briefly by Jim Backus, and Staats Cotsworth. "Flashgun" Jack Casey takes crime scene photos for his newspaper, and usually winds up involved in the crimes he covers.
Charlie Chan Late 1940s Charlie Chan & Number One Son Ed Begley Sr The Honolulu based Chinese Detective was originally an answer to the "Yellow Peril" stereotypes like evil Dr Fu Manchu. Detective Chan would turn up all over the world and solve crimes with a combination of shrewd observations and taking advantages of the Bag Guy's slow wits. Chan was usually aided but often impatient with his Number One Son.
Cloak & Dagger 1950 Agents of the OSS   This great piece of Espionage Adventure has many of the elements of Crime Fiction. Based on the cases of the OSS, forerunner of the CIA.
Clutching Hand 1936 Professor Craig Kennedy, newspaper reporter Walter Jameson. William Farnum Professor Craig Kennedy uses scientific methods to find the bad guys, and foils the kidnapping of Professor Gironda who has discovered the secret of synthetic Gold
Confession 1953     True crime drama based on the true confessions of real criminals. Show features dramatic recreations of the crimes.
Crime & Peter Chambers 1954 Palyboy detective Peter Chambers Dane Clark & Bill Zuckert Playboy detective with an eye for crime-solving and a taste for women.
Crime Classics 1953- 1954   Host Thomas Hyland "A series of true crime stories from the records and newspapers of every land, from every time. Your host each week, is Mr. Thomas Hyland- connoisseur of crime, student of violence, and teller of murders."
Crime Club 1946- 1947 The Librarian Raymond E. Johnson A Sort of Book Club on the Air for Crime Books, the stories are Dramatized and introduced by "The Librarian."
Crime Doctor 1940- 1947 Dr. Benjamin Ordway Ray Collins Criminal Phil Morgan suffers amnesia and rebuilds his life as criminologist Dr Benjamin Ordway, who is now a member of the parole board. Each Saturday night the audience tries to guess the one mistake the crok makes which proves his guilt.
Crime Does Not Pay 1949- 1951   Bela Lugosi, Everett Sloane, Ed Begley, John Loder and Lionel Stander. Anthology based on MGM short film series. Mostly B-List Hollywood actors, but occasional big names. The show tried to take high morale tone to direct away from sensationalism.
Damon Runyan Theater 1948 - 1950s "Broadway", side kick and narrator John Brown, Others The world of Damon Runyon is peppered with Gangsters and their Molls. The seamy underbelly of the Big Apple is given delicate treatment; Crime may not pay, but the cliche's and humor work well.
Dan Dunn, Secret Operative #48 1934 Dan Dunn   Hard Nosed, no-nonsense detective in the Dick Tracy mold: Dan Dunn sets out to foil spies and other international bad guys
Danger Dr Danfield 1946- 1947 Doctor Dan Danfield, and his secretary Miss Rusty Fairfax Michael Dunne Dr Dan Danfield is a Criminal Psychiatrist who winds up wrapped up involved in the cases he studies. He also pointedly ignores the advances of his pretty secretary, Miss Rusty Fairfax.
Danger with Granger late 1950s Private Eye Steve Granger, reporter Cal Hendrix, and Police Detective Jake Rankin   Hard Boiled NY P.I. Steve Granger is a predictable but enjoyable Detective show, filled with the typical cliches.
Dangerous Assignment 1949- 1953 Steve Mitchell, international operative Brian Donlevy Cold War Spy Drama, a kind of precursor to James Bond.
David Harding Counterspy! 1942- 1950 David Harding Don MacLaughlin The Counter-Spies are a fictional department of the government which investigates all reports of Espionage. Plots stretch from WWII Nazis and Japs to Cold War trouble makers.
Defense Attorney 1951- 1952 Defense Attorney Martha Ellis Bryant Mercedes McCambridge Hard hitting crime drama, with a distinctive feminine touch
Detectives Black and Blue 1933- 1935 Jim Black and Frank Blue   A pair of Duluth shipping clerks get involved in the Detective Racket, and solve crimes with more dumb luck than smarts or hard boiled bravado.
Diamond Dramas 1940s     Stories of thievery, smuggling, and skulduggery, around and about diamonds.

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These old time radio detective shows take me back to the 40's and 50's and it is so great to listen to them as it is just like being in a time machine. I recommend them to anyone who loves a mystery.


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