Before television, people turned to radio to provide entertainment. The era from 1930 to1955 is considered the Golden Age of American Radio. This was a time when radio dramas were what American audiences tuned in for.
Many of today’s modern superheroes got their start on the radio.
The Shadow was a character published by Street and Smith magazine. It was created by writer, Walter B. Gibson. The original role of The Shadow was as a mysterious radio show narrator. It developed into its own literary character. Debuting in 1930, the Shadow would go on to be adapted into comic books, newspaper serials, and video games. Orson Welles provided the voice for The Shadow.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century aired in 1932. It ran until 1936, then again in 1939, 1940, and from 1946-1947. It is credited as the first science-fiction radio show.
The Lone Ranger began in 1933. The story of a masked, former Texas Ranger who fought outlaws was produced as a radio show on WXYZ. Credit for its creation is given to station owner, George W. Trendle, or Fran Striker, who also wrote the show. Several voice actors played the title character including Earle Graser, who was best known for the role, “a man named Deeds,” and George Seaton. Announcer, Brace Beemer took over after Graser’s death in 1941.
Doc Savage first appeared in 1934. Each episode of the twenty-six episodes ran for fifteen minutes and were based on the comic-book version of the character. None of the audio exists from the original series but the scripts are intact. The lead character is described as a “doctor, scientist, adventurer, detective, and polymath who ‘rights wrongs and punishes evil-doers’.”
Flash Gordon was a space-adventure character created and drawn by Alex Raymond which came to radio in 1934. In 1935, the comic strips were adapted into The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon and produced twenty-six serial shows. Each episode followed the comic-strips and were seen as a week-by-week retelling of the story running in the newspapers, at the time. Gale Gordon, an American actor famous for his role on The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy, voiced Flash Gordon.
The Green Hornet, an American radio adventure series about a masked vigilante, began in 1936. It started on WXYZ radio, a Detroit station which also originated The Lone Ranger. Albert E. Hodge voiced The Green Hornet from January 1936 to January 1943.
The Shadow of Fu Manchu, an adventure radio drama adapted from the first nine Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rohmer, aired from 1939 until 1940. Each episode was fifteen minutes long and followed the exploits of a “diabolical criminal mastermind.” Gale Gordon also provided his voice for the character of Dr. Petrie, who often aided the British officer, Nayland Smith.
Blue Beetle played on the radio from May of 1940 to September of the same year. Frank Lovejoy, motion picture and radio actor, voiced the character for the first thirteen episodes. An uncredited actor took over the role afterward. Each segment of the show was thirteen minutes long and were often two-part episodes.
Mandrake the Magician came along in 1940.This show was based on the comic-strip of the same name created by Lee Falk and Phil Davis. What began as a three-day-a-week went on to become a five-day-a-week show with each episode being fifteen minutes.
Captain Midnight, created by radio scripters, Wilfred G. Moore and Robert M. Brutt, first aired in 1938 and ran until 1949. A fifteen-episode serial featuring Captain Midnight, played by stuntman-actor, Dave O’Brien, was produced by Columbia Pictures and ran in 1942.Because of its popularity, a television show of the same name began in 1954 and continued until 1956. Its first season contained twenty-six episodes with its second season having thirteen.
The Adventures of Superman began in 1940. It ran until 1951. It began on New York City’s WOR and was broadcast as a fifteen-minute serial which ran from three to five times per week. In 1949, it ran for thirty minutes three times per week. A total of two thousand, eighty-eight episodes of the show were produced and aired.
The Avenger started on July 18, 1941, and ran until November 3, 1942. Described as “one part Shadow, three parts Doc Savage,” The Avenger was a crime-fighter with super-strength and a sidekick named Mac MacMurdie. Another character of the same name debuted in 1945 and ran until 1946. James Monks and Dick Janaver both voiced the title character.
Blackhawk, an ABC radio series, started in 1950 and was based on a long-running comic book featuring a team of World War II pilots.
Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, inspired by the novel, Space Cadet, by Robert A. Heinlein, the show was developed for radio in 1950. The series follows Tom Corbett, a cadet at the Space Academy, as he trains to become a member of the Solar Guard.
Edited by Rickey Price Illustrated by Dylan Davison
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Encyclopedia of Superheroes in Film and TV: Prologue-Heroes on the Radio
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