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Calling All Cars
"Crime Does Not Pay!" Those four simple words sum up the basic philosophy behind "Calling All Cars", a popular crime drama heard over CBS Pacific Network stations from November 29, 1933 to September 8, 1939. In these dramatizations, the point was driven home that a life of a crime was a life wasted and anyone venturing off the straight-and-narrow was fated to meet a sad and sorry end.
As obvious as this moral notion may sound, reality is that for some during the early years of the Great Depression, crime did pay -- and pay very well, too. One of the major results of a stock market plunge, bank failures, Midwestern crop disasters, and mass unemployment was the rise of the criminal as folk hero. Coming out of an era of prohibition, when the mob-controlled speakeasies were the average Joe's best hope for a soothing drink and some lighthearted entertainment after a hard day, the bank robbers of the early 1930s - John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd, and many others - were often seen as headline-grabbing Robin Hoods, robbing from the rich to give to...well, themselves mostly, but occasionally the poor, too. And with President Hoover coming across more as a do-nothing Prince John than a brave King Richard, quite a few common criminals were seen not as the ruthless, uneducated, gun-crazy yahoos they mostly were but, instead, as free-living scalawags who were overcoming the ravages of the depression in their own unique and individual way.
Movie studios - particularly Warner Brothers, with their predilection for gritty newsreel-style docudramas - spent much of the early 1930s glorifying the world of the gangster and the hoodlum, often portraying them as high-living mugs with a taste for a better life. Yes, the Production Code (at least after 1934) required them to either die or get sent up the river at the end of the movie, but at least they went for the gusto when they were around. Cast in these parts were some of the most charismatic actors ever to grace the silver screen - people like hoofer-turned-screen hoodlum James Cagney in "The Public Enemy", classical actor Edward G. Robinson as "Little Caesar", and Yiddish Theater actor Paul Muni as the legendary "Scarface", based in part on the career of Al Capone. In the end, is was true that crime didn't really pay (all of these characters died in a hail of bullets in the last reel), but the luxury of taking what you wanted and enjoying it while you lived looked pretty good to audiences who were getting less and less and struggling more and more every day.
It took the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the subsequent promotion of such equally charismatic men as Melvin Purvis, J. Edgar Hoover, and Elliott Ness to finally turn the tide against the criminal element. The rise of the heroic "G-Men" and their well-funded crime-fighting organizations finally began to defeat the seemingly heroic bank robbers and mob kingpins who had dominated the headlines since the 1920s. Careful investigations, often followed by bloody shootouts, turned lawmen into heroes and, eventually, the common man against the criminal element.
Radio, too, played a part in stemming the tide against crime - and never more so than in "Calling All Cars", one of the earliest and most durable police procedural shows. Dramatizing true crime exploits, and introduced by real-life law enforcement officials, "Calling All Cars" offered listeners the gritty details of criminal activities in true "ripped from the headlines" style. Led by writer/director William N. Robson - later to become the well-respected director of such series as "Big Town", "The Man Behind the Gun", and "Escape" - "Cars" offered listeners the audio equivalent of a Warner Brothers crime drama, complete with driving musical themes, car chases, low-life gunmen, high-crime bosses, gum-chewing molls, frightened victims, and criminal cases that often hit close to home, particularly if you lived in Los Angeles where the series was produced. Kidnappings, petty thefts, prison breaks, bunco schemes...all were raw materials for the creators of each show and details of all these crimes and more were used as the basis for the realistic dramas being presented.
The narrator of the program was Charles Frederick Lindsley, a speech professor and radio announcer whose precise diction and enunciation put the real-life professionals appearing on the show to shame; the only other regular heard each week was real-life L.A.P.D. dispatcher Jesse Rosenquist, whose unique voice and name became the show's trademark, contributing to the American lexicon both the program's title and the now time-honored phrase "that is all", ensuring his stay for the show's entire run. Like many radio programs of the period, none of the other actors on the series ever received on-air credit, but sharp-eared radio fans can hear the likes of Elvia Allman, Charles Bickford, Gale Gordon, John Gibson, Richard LeGrand and Hanley Stafford, to name just a few.
Radio enthusiasts might also notice that "Calling All Cars" acted as sort of a blueprint for a later police procedural series that emphasized the painstaking work and day-to-day detail involved in tracking down the criminal element, that program being none other than the celebrated "Dragnet", which was brought to audiences by actor-producer Jack Webb in June 1949. "Cars" even has a jaunty opening theme reminiscent of Walter Schumann's "Dragnet March" - though a few have noticed that it also sounds remarkably like "The Bible Tells Me So" played slightly sideways. Although this nearly seventy year old series may sometimes sound a bit unsophisticated and primitive to modern-day audiences used to realistic television docudramas, it still makes for cracking good entertainment; broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod, in an entry in Jim Cox's reference book "Radio Crime Fighters," states that "Calling All Cars" is "an excellent example of what a well-produced dramatic show was like in the mid-thirties. Early radio drama tends to get a bad rap from people who've only heard the really cheap syndicated serials of the 1930s, but given a decent budget and a good production team, I think thirties drama stands up quite favorably."
The program's long-time sponsor was the Rio Grande Oil Company and, in fact, the show itself ran only in those areas where their patented brand of "cracked" gasoline and "Pennsylvania" lube was sold. To promote the series, in the mid-1930s, Rio Grande service stations offered a much-in-demand free premium: a monthly periodical entitled "Calling All Cars News," which spotlighted stories that would soon be aired on the program. But because the program was also sent via transcription to Southwestern markets served by Rio Grande but beyond the reach of CBS' West Coast stations, a whopping 299 of the 302 programs that were originally broadcast have more or less survived the ravages of time and are extant today - including the twenty half-hour episodes in this fourth collection, newly restored and remastered from the original transcription recordings by Radio Archives.
#135 Reefers by the Acre
Thursday, June 25, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#137 The Crimson Riddle
Thursday, July 9, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#139 The Corpse in the Sack
Thursday, July 23, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#140 A Chance Meeting Murder
Thursday, July 30, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#144 All That Glitters
Thursday, August 27, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#146 Twenty Keys to Death
Thursday, September 10, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#147 The Verdugo Hills Murder
Thursday, September 17, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#149 Hard to Kill
Thursday, October 1, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#155 Nine Years a Safecracker
Thursday, November 12, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#156 The Corpse in the Red Necktie - Third Anniversary Show
Thursday, November 19, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#160 Multiple Murder
Thursday, December 17, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#161 The Milk Bottle Murder
Friday, February 21, 1936 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#164 Curiosity Killed a Cat
Monday, January 11, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#165 Death is Box Office
Monday, January 18, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#166 Dr. Nitro
Monday, January 25, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#167 The Whistling Snowbirds
Wednesday, February 3, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, syndicated
#169 Ten Tortured Extortionists
Wednesday, February 17, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#170 Banker Bandit
Wednesday, February 24, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#171 The Honor Complex
Wednesday, March 3, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline
#173 Hit and Run Killer
Wednesday, March 17, 1937 - 30:00 - CBS Pacific Network, sponsored by Rio Grande Gasoline