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Espionage, Spies, and Secret Agents in Radio

Peter Lorre: Secret Agent

"There's a man who leads a life of danger
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes, another chance he takes
Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow ..."

Spy Camera 1940s<span ">

The spies and the detectives in old time radio shows have a lot in common on the surface. Both are forced to deal with some of humanities worst specimens, which makes a measure of cynicism part of their make-up. And in spite of the cynicism, both are essentially hopeful that their mission will make the world a better place.

What makes spies and the detectives such great characters in radio entertainment is the danger that is part of the air that they breathe. For the Detective, the danger comes from the Bad Guys that he is pursuing. We know that the Bad Guys motivation stems from evil; that is how they got to be Bad Guys in the first place. For the Spy, the enemy is a sovereign state, or a representative of that state.

I Was A Communist for the FBIAnother essential difference between Espionage fiction and Crime Drama; the Crime story is a conflict between the Bad Guys in the form of criminals and the Good Guy Cops or Private Eyes. The Espionage Story, although it takes place on a personal level, is a competition between States, with the protagonist nation being the one the audience most identifies with.

The spy in fiction is often a loner, often with a loose hold on morality, often with a greater or lesser degree of ostentation. Fictional spies are of course, much more colorful than their real life counterparts. In reality, spies do all they can to prevent attracting any attention that could give away their identities. But audiences and producers would be lost without a showy shootout and a chase scene.

As players in the competition between states in real life, spies and their stories can be great fodder for propaganda. It is interesting and educational to see how the antagonists in Espionage stories change with the times.  In the late 30s, when rumors of War were swirling from Europe, the spies chased by Agent K-7 were European, and though enemies of democracy, generally not established as Nazi's.

As World War II descended on Paris, the couple in Lux Theater's "Winter in Paris" is hiding from not only German agents, but Russian as well. The Counter Spies deal mostly with Nazi's during the War Years, but after the War the enemy becomes drug smugglers, black-marketeers, and eventually Atomic competitors.  Cloak and Dagger's stories took place in both the European and Pacific theaters of WWII. The Soviet's and their minions were the very evil enemy in I Was a Communist for the F.B.I.

Radio came of age during WWII and the early years of the cold war. But Radio Spies have been around much longer than that. Espionage Radio between the World Wars was much more melodramatic than what we are used to today:

Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48: Sabotage of the Giant Bomber

Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48 was taken almost directly from the funny papers. Dunn was a copy of Dick Tracy in many ways, except for the bad guys he chased. Tracy fought fanciful inner city hoods, where as the enemies of Dan Dunn were after world domination, or at least sabotaging America's military might.

Secret Agent K7 Returns: Bombing Planes 1939

Secret Agent K7Secret Agent K7 Returns was being produced and broadcast at a time when rumors of war in Europe were swirling . Agent K-7 is a "former United States secret agent who operated in 22 countries." The stories themselves are the adventures of other agents, B-9 and Agent Z, and their lovely sidekicks, while K-7 narrates the tales. Poison gas, Sabotage, Defense secrets, and Suicide Ships are all part of the world of Secret Agent K-7. The stories seem somewhat simplistic, especially compared with modern espionage tales, but they are very effective in their 15 minute time frame.

Lux Radio Theater: British Agent (June 7, 1937)

Lux Radio Theater, the long running radio anthology series, was started by adapting Broadway plays for the radio, before turning to Hollywood movies. Espionage was a favorite of movie makers. The June 7, 1937 episode, "British Agent", tells the story of an agent who is left behind when the British Embassy in Moscow is abandoned during the Russian Revolution. Although frustrated with inactivity, the agent falls in love with a lovely Bolshevik.

Ned Jordan, Secret Agent: May 1941 Broadcast

Ned Jordan, Secret Agent was a short-lived, FBI inspired series from the pen of Fran Striker, the original writer of The Lone Ranger, and The Green Hornet. Jordan is a Federal Agent who foils the assassination plans of a secret society that tries to draw the US into war, works with a scientist developing a light for Blackouts, and protects Army plans from terrorists. Ned Jordan starred Jack McCarthy and featured future newsman, Mike Wallace as announcer. In another episode Jordan has to protect an Army Tank expert who is the target of the Fifth Column.

The Gulf Screen Guild Theater: Winter in Paris

The Gulf Screen Guild Theater present an adaptation of "Winter in Paris" on March 3, 1940. An American and Russian Spy fall in love while on the train in Europe. They are married and hide in Paris, knowing that they are doomed if they are found, all on the eve of the Second World War.

Counter Spy: Spy Submarine (Sept 14, 1942)

Fibber McGeeCounter Spy (produced by Philip H. Lord) fought enemy spies during WWII. In the Sept 14, 1942 broadcast a German Spy rows ashore to a small village in Maine. He is immediately recognized as a Spy by the locals, and David Harding, Counter Spy is brought in from Washington. With the aid of the local fisherman, the Spy's submarine is caught on the surface and forced to surrender. On Dec 14, 1942, a spy working in a defense plant kills his wife to throw off suspicion, but attracts Harding's attention. But Harding finds that the spy network is bigger than first suspected!

Fibber McGee and Molly : German Spy (April 18, 1944)

Fibber McGee and Molly even had their share of spy experiences. There may or may not be military secrets in Wistful Vista, but the Nation can rest assured that Fibber McGee and Molly are watching out for Nazi spies. On May 12, 1942, some one has been following Fibber around town and taking pictures, click-click-click! Or is it news photographer doing a story about a small town busy body? On April 18, 1944, Fibber is sure that his neighbor, Frank Schmaltz, is a Nazi Spy.

Douglas of the World: Double Trouble (1953)

Douglas of the World was a 1953 AFRS broadcast about "Brad Douglas , International Reporter" who manages to get in and out of trouble on a regular basis, and the listener can expect a pretty girl to be involved! The episode "Double Trouble" gets Brad involved in a kidnapping case that is also involved in a vote for the unification of Europe. Gene TierneyThe episode "Terrorists" investigates Iran's relationship with the West just prior to Premier Mossadegh's overthrow at the hands of the CIA. A disabled Korean War Vet threatens suicide by jumping off the UN building in "Judgment Day", until Douglas investigates the relationship between the Vet's service and the building.

Of course this just a small sample of the collection. Espionage and spies were so entrinched in popular culture that even comedy shows such as Amos and Andy were apt to meet a Nazi spy. There will be many happy hours of happy listening as the Spies of the Golden Age of Radio take you to worlds of mystery and intrigue. Just don't trust the attractive lady in the corner booth; was she the one in Tangiers? Or was it Singapore? And who has the Secret Formula now?!

See also: Article on Detectives in Old Time Radio.

See our extensive

The Only Good Facist is a dead one!
See also: Old Time Radio Fights Nazi Spies Collection!

Espionage Radio
Quick Reference

Show Title





Academy Award Theater 7/24/46,
CBS Joseph Cotten, Rex Harrison Frank Wilson, Dee Englebach Oscar Winning or Nominated Stories adapted to half hour radio format. "Foreign Correspondent", "Night Train"
Americas Answer 1942   Perry Wood   7Up sponsored report on America's Defense This episode discusses Espionage and Sabotage.
Amos 'n' Andy 6/2/44,
NBC Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll Two White men Playing African Americans who have left the South to find their fortune in the Big City "Nazi Spy" and "Tourist Sight Seeing Agency"
Avalon Time 6/3/1939   Red Skelton Avalon Cigarettes Red Skelton's first Radio show, Western Music  
Behind the Mike 1/26/1941 NBC Graham McNamee   Stories from behind the scenes in Radio  
Pepsodent Show Starring Bob Hope 3/7/1939 NBC Bob Hope, Judy Garland Pepsodent Judy Garland guest stars Hope does a skit where he becomes a Spy for the money.
Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders 11/17/1951 Mutual Clive Rice Herb Rice Children's Western Serial "Salute for a Soldier"
Bob Barclay 10/11/50-9/26/51 WXYZ, ABC Jack McCarthy George W. Trendle, Francis Striker Barclay's cover is as a correspondent for Allied News Service, but from the time he reaches San Francisco to catch the ship for his assignment he is pursued by agents of The Party who try to kill him. His adventures will take him through-out the Orient, the Middle East, and Europe. The production took heat from the State Department for coming a little too close to actual cases. There was also hate mail from journalists because the show made the situation tougher for reporter William Oastis who was being held in Czechoslovokia on espionage charges.
Bulldog Drummond   Mutual George Coulouris Sapper Hard fighting, clean living Englishman, "proto-James Bond" "Blind Mans Bluff"
Cavalcade of America 1940-
CBS A-List DuPont Chemical Presentations of American history and Factual tales  
Captain Midnight 8/14/1946 Mutual Ed Prentiss Hummert Radio Factory The Captain is a WWI Avaitor who now leads the Secret Squadron for the Government. The Captain is protecting a secret Formula that his new assistant is trying to steal. He arranges for the assistant to infiltrate the evil Ivan Shark's organization, not realizing that she is Fury, Shark's daughter.
Chandu the Magician 1932-35,
Mutual, ABC Gayne Whitman, Tom Collins Harry A. Earnshaw American Frank Chandler has learned Eastern Mysticism from an Indian Yogi, now possesses supernatural power "to conquer the evil that threatens mankind." One episode from original series, the rest from the revival.
David Harding, Counterspy 1942 -
NBC Blue/ABC, Mutual Don MacLaughlin Phillips H. Lord Based on a fictional unit of the Government, The Counterspy fought Nazi's and the Japanese Black Dragon in the Early years of the series; later they often fought Atomic Competitors, Saboteurs, and Black Marketeers. Selected episodes from an entire Espionage related series.
Dan Dunn, Secret Agent #48 1933-1940's       "The thrilling exploits of Dan Dunn, Secret Operative Number Forty Eight are brought to the airwaves in a sensational series of new adventures that will enthrall new and old..." Rare Dick Tracy-like adventure serial of Dan Dunn fighting spies and more
Dangerous Assignment 1949 -
NBC Brian Donlevy Bill Karn Agent Steve Mitchell is send by the Commisioner, head of an obscure State Dept agency, to exotic locations to protect the American way of life Many other Great Espionage/Adventure Episodes available for this program
Douglas of the World 1953 AFRS Jack Moyles Will Scott (producer, director), William Tundberg (writer) Brad Douglas, reporter for the NY World, gets involved with International Intrigue and pretty girls. Highly propagandized, but great adventure drama.
Escape 1947 -
CBS Radio A-List, including William Conrad, Jack Webb, Jennette Nolan, Jay Novello, Jack Edwards, Joan Banks, Parley Baer, and Paul Frees William N. Robson, Norman McDonald A half hour of High Adventure, an anthology program with danger coming in expected and unexpected forms, were the protagonist will find himself in a life of death situation. Considered one of Radio's best Anthology productions. Escape is a sister program to the long running Suspense.
Europe Confidential mid-1950s   Basil Rathbone   Hosted by Basil Rathbone, this mystery old time radio show follows the newspaper reporter, Mike Connoy (Lionel Murton) in "the world's greatest mysteries."  
The Falcon 1943 - 1953   Les Tremayne, Les Damon, and others Michael Arlen Film and short stories as well as radio adaptations featured the hardboiled detective The Falcon later turned to espionage near the end run of the series.
Federal Agent 1943 - 1953       Dramatization stories of federal crime fighting from around the world Stories include jailbreaks and other crime, but also espionage.
Fibber Mcgee And Molly 1935 - 1959 NBC Jim and Marian Jordan Jim and Marian Jordan, and Writer Don Quinn One of Radio's Longest Running Situation Comedies, the adventures of a well known Busy-body and his Long-suffering Wife. Spies in Wistful Vista? Well, Fibber seems to think so...
Frank Race 1949 - 1950   Tom Collins, Paul Dubov   Frank Race carried the intellect from his former career as an attorney, and added the cachet of experience with the OSS "Johnny Dollar meets James Bond."
I Was a Communist for the FBI 1952 -
Syndicated Dana Andrews ZIV Productions Based on the true-life adventures of Matt Cvetic who infiltrated the highest ranks of the Communist Party of the USA Terrific Cold War and Radio Noir Drama
Jungle Jim

1935 -

Syndicated Matt Crowley, Gerald Mohr Alex Raymond, Don Moore Hunter Jim Bradley deals with wild beasts, fierce tribes, foreign spies, poachers and traders, wily tribal leaders and warriors in this fun serial porgram.  
Lux Radio Theater 1934 -
NBC Blue, CBS, NBC Hollywood A-list Douglas Garick Live adaptations of Major Hollywood movies, often feature the picture's Stars.  
The Man Called X 1944 - 48,
1950 - 52
CBS Herbert Marshall Bernie Schoenfeld Intelligence Agent Ken Thurston deals with smuggled guns, explosives, drugs, art, radioactive material, murders, kidnappings, rogue scientists, leaked secrets, sabotage, secret documents, notorious politicians, corpses, wetbacks, revolutionaries, foreign ports… even zombies! Initially a Summer replacement for Lux Radio Theater, Man Called X was also performed with a live studio audience.
Secret Missions 1949       Stories from the Office of Naval Intelligence during WWII and the early Cold War  
So Proudly We Hail 1950 -
  Lee Tracy US Army An Army Production for Troop Morale and Recruiting, many forms of entertainment are used, including music and Dramatic Mystery and Adventure presentations.  
The Screen Guild Theater 1939 -
CBS Ethel Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead, Dinah Shore, Dana Andrews, Lionel Barrymore, Nelson Eddie, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and more. Motion Picture Relief Fund Movie Stories adapted for radio and palyed by the Hollywood Actors. The Actors would often waive their fee, donating it to the Motin Picture Relief Fund. A small sampling of the available episodes, these reflect some of the best Espionage Pictures of the period.
Adventures of Superman 1940 -
Mutual Bud Collyer Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster In addition to the usual bunch of Super-villians, during the War Years Superman would face down spies, Nazis, Japanese, and saboteurs. Many aspects of Superman's world, such as Kryptonite, copyboy Jimmy Olson, and editor Perry White originated on the Radio, not the comic pages.
Suspense 1940 -
CBS Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Lena Horne, Cary Grant and more William Spier Anthology Program featuring suspense-thriller story lines. The program used material from the best authors and storytellers, and was able to attract the best of Hollywood and Radio talent.  
Top Secret 1950 NBC Ilona Massey Harry W. Junkin Ilona Massey portrays Baroness Karin Geza who gets wrapped up in the world of intrigue during WWII. Ms Massey was a dedicated anti-Fascist and anti-Communist from seeing what those philosophies did to her Austria-Hungarian homeland.

Atomic Radio and Radio Detectives >>

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Some of these shows are amazing, some are a little corny, but they're all a lot of fun.


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