It’s a short story that follows the style of the Old Time Radio, or OTR detective stories that filled the airwaves from the late 1920’s, to the fall of 1962. They made a few tries at comebacks in later years, and some had a decent run, but they just couldn’t compete with television. That’s what I’d like to talk about today, OTR.
Starting in the late 40’s, the detective drama really took off, with programs like The Adventures of Sam Spade, and Casey, Crime Photographer. Sam Spade is familiar to most as the protagonist from the movie The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart. It was based on the book of the same name by Dashiell Hammet. In the book, and the movie, Spade was a dry and humorless man for the most part. This characterization of the hard-boiled detective, walking alone through the fog in his trench coat and fedora, persists to this day. It was added to and built upon by Raymond Chandler’s creation of Philip Marlowe, and later by Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.
The Sam Spade of the radio program was a lot different.
On the radio, Sam was a fun loving, flirtatious, character often trading one liners with his secretary, Effie Perrine. There was a much lighter, almost campy feel to the radio stories most of the time, and they all followed the same general style. The show would open with Sam calling in with a teaser, telling Effie the highlights of the case in a way to get her as worried as possible. Then, he’d come into the office and dictate the case, or caper, to her. At the end, she’d ask a question or two to wrap things up.
Around this same time, Jack Webb got into the field with his first big series, Pat Novak, for Hire. These featured Raymond Burr as Police Inspector Hellman, who always arrived just as Pat was coming back to consciousness beside a freshly murdered body. There would be a hostile exchange of very fast, and often obscure, one-liners between them, then the inspector would give him 12 hours to solve the crime or be arrested for it.
In these programs, realism was less important than in some later programs like Dragnet, another show starring Webb and the grandfather to TV programs like Law and Order, CSI. and NCIS.
Many of these programs are available for download from various archive sites, and download them I did. While I wrote Cue the Sax, as well as the other stories featuring my very own hard-boiled private eye, Raymond Jaye, I listened to three or four of these old shows per day.
Ray takes a little of that attitude from the lighter Sam Spade, and blends it with the attitude of Pat Novak and personal honor of Philip Marlowe. I also took the general style of these old shows to heart when I wrote my own.
I hope those familiar with the old programs can see them shining through this new take on the style. I also hope that those who have never listened to these old programs would consider giving them a chance. Literally thousands are available online for free.