Friday, September 9, 2011

Interview with Adam Graham (The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio)

I am honored today to have Adam Graham answering a few questions, Mr. Graham runs the nicely done, "The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio" website and podcast.

OTR BUFFET: Tell us a little about yourself and about your website.

Adam Graham: Well, for me, old time radio started indirectly with a Dragnet spoof on the Kids Math show Square One when I was a kid.  This got me interested in the 1960s TV shows, which I watched for a while on Nick at Nite. Then, when it went off Nick at Nite, I spotted some of those deceptive looking DVD sets that have a picture of Joe Friday and Frank Gannon on it but really feature 1960s TV episodes. I liked the 1950s TV episode but quickly found I'd watched all the ones I could find and then on Ebay I found a DVD with 300 episodes of Dragnet on it. 300 episodes! I bought that as quick as I could. Knowing what I know now, it was a bad deal on poor quality 24kbps encodes that I could have gotten for free. However, I was just very happy to be able to listen to Dragnet.

In 2007, I was getting into podcasts and it occurred to me that Old Dragnet episodes would make for an interesting podcast and that others would enjoy the episodes. So, I charged off into the wilds of podcasting with the Old Time Dragnet Show, made a few mistakes (mainly because I didn't know what I was doing), got some helpful criticism, some surpringly nasty comments, and found the difficulties of 24kbps recordings. The sound quality got better as I discovered higher quality encodes of Dragnet, and Andrew Rhynes came on board as my volunteer sound engineer.

Anyway, bit by bit, we built up a great audience from all over the world that liked the show and enjoyed my company as I shared what I was passionate about, and I got a lot of demand to do other Old Time Radio Detectives, particularly Johnny Dollar. I really had not listened to other OTR Detectives, but stumbled onto a few and fell in love with the genre. In 2009, I had an idea for a new podcast called, The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio. My initial idea for the show needed work. I figured we'd podcast five episodes a week, Monday-Friday and go completely through a radio series. I figured to start off with Pat Novak for Hire.

After recording 15 episodes, I realized the model wouldn't work well, because different detective shows appeal to different people. If you Podcasted through Pat Novak for Hire and then you did Sherlock Holmes, you'd lose a bunch of audience. So, I went with a different format. Every day, Monday-Friday would be a different detective.

The initial lineup was Monday-Box 13, Tuesday-Pat Novak for Hire, Wednesday-Let George Do It, Thursday-Sherlock Holmes, Friday-Yours Truly Johnny Dollar. Our Mondays and Tuesdays have changed quite a bit. (Barrie Craig currently is on Monday and Tuesday is Rogue's Gallery) but Wednesday-Friday won't change for quite a while yet. In addition to this, every 50 episodes, we do a Special on Saturdays with a Mystery episode of Suspense, Lux Radio Theater, or some other program.

Our main website not only includes the show notes and the actual radio episodes, but also articles on the weekend, and I really write about a variety of things, but everything ties into detective stories, old time radio, classic television, or classic movies.

Beyond the website, I'll say that I'm a Writer with a day job living in a townhouse with my wife and cat. :)

OTR BUFFET: What's your favorite detective shows and why?

My top three would be Philip Marlowe with Gerald Mohr, Dragnet, Let George Do It, and the Johnny Dollar serials with Bob Bailey.

Gerald Mohr really brought the character of Philip Marlowe to life, with this embodied balancing of contradictions. His Marlowe is a bundle of contradictions. The writing is spot on and the opening of the show can't be beat.

Dragnet is just so well done with some groundbreaking storytelling methods, great sound effects, and the most fascinating minor characters you can imagine. Webb had a great talent for getting his listeners interested in every minor character. We would laugh, we would cry, or do whatever we were supposed to do. Joe Friday has got great lines to close episode and every so occasionally delivers a classic speech.

I love Let George Do It because it really was unique. The show often walked the line between soft boiled and hard boiled schools of detective. Some plots from Let George Do It could easily have been Philip Marlowe stories, while others could have been adapted for Sherlock Holmes. The writing is usually spot on, with the talent of Jackson Gillis (who would later write for Colombo) and great chemistry between Bob Bailey and the two Brooksies (Frances Robinson and then Virginia Gregg) with Wally Maher often providing the perfect police foil in Lieutenant Riley.

I love the Bob Bailey Johnny Dollar serials because they are usually much more complex stories with a lot of twists, and usually fairly good cliffhangers.

OTR BUFFET: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorites.  I love Basil Rathbone as Holmes but I almost like Tom Conway just as much.  What is your opinion of those two and the show in general?

Adam Graham: Tom Conway was definitely a downgrade from Basil Rathbone, there’s no question about that. Rathbone was a true talent, a master actor of stage and screen who was more than Sherlock Holmes. In fact, listening to the last season with Rathbone, the writers worked in a lot of parts where Rathbone had the opportunity to demonstrate his true talent through various accents and occasionally doing a stage role as part of the radio play.  But Conway made the downgrade a much smaller one. He did hit a stride after the first few episodes, and with a voice that sounded a lot like Rathbone’s and he and Bruce began to work fairly well together. Conway had a tough act to follow and he did it admirably.

The Sherlock Holmes radio franchise as a whole is fun because it allows us to see Sherlock Holmes in adventures nowhere else chronicled. While Doyle’s original stories are great, they can also become well-worn. These “New Adventures” really bring the character to life and for that reason will always be a favorite.

OTR BUFFET: What is your opinion of humor in detective shows?  Which detective do you think was the most humorous?

Adam Graham: Humor takes many forms in old time radio detectives: from the wisecracks of the hardboiled eyes to the uncharacteristic chortling of Nero Wolfe to the romantic interplay between the Abbotts or Mr. and Mrs. North, humor is present in the vast majority of shows. As long as it’s not stupid or inappropriate, it definitely is a bonus.

In terms of the most humorous detective show, I’d say without a doubt, it’s Pat Novak for Hire. Other hard boiled detective may throw out a half dozen similes in an episode like they were using a revolver to fire them, Pat Novak is a machine gun. There are dozens of prime quotes in every episode, add to that, the inebriated pontificating of Jocko Madigan, and you’ve got quite a combination.

OTR BUFFET: Obviously, both radio and film detectives were affected by the pulps.  My question is, do you feel like radio affected films more or vice versa?

Adam Graham: I think films had more impact on radio. Take for example, the hard boiled detective genre which Dick Powell launched on the radio in 1945 with Rogue’s Gallery.  Hard boiled detectives had been popular in movies since The Maltese Falcon had been released years before. To the extent that one affected the other, radio was the one that copied from the movies.

OTR BUFFET: What's the best detective show we should be listening to but probably aren't?

Adam Graham: If you haven’t listened to, Let George Do It, you should. It’s not as well known as other detective show due to it being a West Coast only syndication, but you’d have to search hard to find a better one for reasons listed above.

If you do listen to Let George Do It, then I would recommend the very unique series, A Life In Your Hands which features as its hero a rich lawyer who steps into cases as an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) and with the permission of the judge, cross-examines and calls witnesses without working for either prosecution or defense but simply to get at the truth. It was an interesting concept.

OTR BUFFET: Do you consider the newspaper crime fighters to be detectives?

Adam Graham:  As long as they’re dealing in crime and mystery on a regular basis, I’m on-board. It really doesn’t matter whether a crime’s solved by Philip Marlowe or Randy Stone (Nightbeat). While the newspapermen aren’t detectives by professions, if they do the same work as a detective, then it works for me. I do make a distinction between  crime drama shows like Big Town and mystery programs like Night Beat, which are really the best analog for detective shows.

OTR BUFFET:  Who is your favorite female actress in radio detective old-time radio?

Adam Graham: In terms of character and supporting actresses, I’d have to say Virginia Gregg. As a character actress, Gregg could be made anybody. She could just as easily play a teenage girl or an old lady as a femme fatale. She also was the 2nd Brooksie on Let George Do It and played girlfriends to Richard Diamond and Bob Bailey’s Johnny Dollar. It’s hard to imagine what radio detective shows would have been like without her.

In terms of leading actresses, I tend to think most of Alice Frost as Mrs. North and Mercedes McCambridge in Defense Attorney. Frost played Mrs. North as this very sweet and feminine, but also very clever and daring person that made her a great amateur detective. McCambridge’s acting skill and voice talent are very unique and it’s a shame that we don’t have more episodes of Defense Attorney in circulation due to the fact that it broadcast over ABC.

OTR BUFFET: Do you consider the Lone Ranger and Challenge of the Yukon to be detective shows?

Adam Graham: Elements of detective mysteries will show up in the darnedest places. On radio, I’ve heard episodes of the drama series, Mayor of the Town which had elements of detective fiction in it. Ditto for Superman. On television, many episodes of series such as Star Trek or MacGyver, that have strong elements of the detective story in it. These elements are borrowed a lot because they work. It shows the influence of detective fiction beyond strict detective stories.

I tend to look at a series and ask what the series is really about. Is it about someone whose major thing is unraveling mysteries or is the occasional mystery somewhat incidental to the overall plot? Mayor of the Town is a family drama, Superman is a juvenile superhero adventure show, Star Trek is a science fiction series, and Macgyver is an Adventure Series. I feel we could similarly categorize the Lone Ranger and Challenge of the Yukon.

However, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that these are some of the shows that people could spend forever debating. I know Thrilling Detectives considers Have Gun Will Travel to be a private eye series. It’s a fun discussion with good arguments on both sides.

OTR BUFFET: Who are the 5 best radio detectives?

Adam Graham: Recently, I did a series of blog posts where I ranked the best detective shows by Network. I would follow somewhat with that. I think in the list, you’d have to have Philip Marlowe, Dragnet, and Let George Do It. In addition, I would add Yours Truly Johnny Dollar and Richard Diamond to the mix.

OTR BUFFET:  Thank you Adam for your answers and your time!

Adam Graham: Thanks so much. Always a pleasure. 

©Jimbo 2010/2011


  1. Did not get to post the first time I read this interview. I wanted to, but, no time with busy schedule. What I wanted to say I liked most of what Adam said. However, so far with the shows I have listened to from Let George Do It, I would not rate the show as high as Adam does. My wife disagrees with me on this. So far I prefer Box 13 over it. It is possible that when I hear more of this show I will like it better.

    Most of the other things that Adam said I go along with. By the way, I thought it was an interesting interview.

  2. I thought Adam did a very good job too.

    We all have our favorites and not favorites. There was a time when I like LGDI a lot more than I enjoy it now. But I'll come around it again in the future and probably find nice things to say about it again.

    As you and I discussed one time, BB, I'm not even sure LGDI is a detective show, although it may technically be. (But you mentioned Box 13 which is definaitely not a detective show, anymore than TAo Superman is...

  3. My wife agrees with you about LGDI is really not a detective show. She cited a couple of examples why it is not. I guess I hear Johnny Dollar as George and come to the wrong conclusion.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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