Friday, September 20, 2013

Dragnet: The "Lost" Premiere Radio Broadcast

Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday
The evolution of detective programs on old-time radio began in the late twenties when most original detectives were inspired by the murder mystery stage plays often dramatized on stage on Broadway. By the early thirties, Philo Vance and Charlie Chan began inspiring imitations and programs of their own... sometimes adapted from the novels themselves -- others to help promote major motion pictures.

In 1946, CBS began offering The Adventures of Sam Spade and those early adventures revealed a different kind of gumshoe -- one who stole money out of a dead man's wallet and shot a crooked thief (a woman) in the back when she tried to escape. Radio listeners (and script writers) took note and began their own imitations of the Sam Spade series, more tame than the Sam Spade character. By 1947, radio detectives became a common staple in network broadcasting -- so much so that concerned parents formed organizations in an effort to curb the vicious murders that intrigued impressionistic young minds. But after you listen to a dozen of those programs -- Philo Vance, Boston Blackie, Nero Wolfe, Richard Diamond, etc. -- the conclusion is the same. The detective programs are relatively the same -- each with their own variation-on-a-theme.

Then came Jack Webb and Dragnet, which was far more original than any detective program on the airwaves. So original that it is difficult to name another radio program that attempted to imitate Dragnet. (It is far easier to name a number of programs that spoofed Dragnet.) Many collectors today know that the first broadcast of the series, June 3, 1949, does not exist in recorded form. There are numerous stories of why that disc was accidentally broken before it could be transcribed but thankfully I was able to find the original script and it is reprinted below for your enjoyment.

Vintage radio advertisement with Jack Webb
A few small notes to point out: the theme song for the first two radio broadcasts was not the classic theme you hear today. It was not until the third broadcast of the series that Webb began using an excerpt from Miklos Rozsa's soundtrack score for The Killers (1947). The second episode of the series does exist in recorded form. Listen to that one beforehand and get a general idea what the theme song was for the premiere broadcast.

There is no origin for the Sergeant Friday character.
The earliest episodes never had an official script title. Some people created their own title for the earliest episodes but be aware that not all of them really had a title -- just because a recording in your collection has a title doesn't mean the information is accurate.

There is a big misconception that the radio program is in the public domain. This is usually stated on websites providing free downloads in an effort to play stupid... and use as a scapegoat should they get into trouble for offering the recordings. The script here is reprinted with permission from the copyright holders.

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