Friday, April 24, 2015

The Green Hornet: The "Lost" 1936 Radio Broadcasts

Fran Striker wrote in a number of inside jokes throughout The Green Hornet radio program, with characters on rare occasion making reference to The Lone Ranger. One of these jokes can also be credited as the most important and influential factor in the expansion of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

During the broadcast of January 13, 1938, The Green Hornet pays a late-night visit to the house of Judge Woodbury, known for being strict in his courtroom and in need of a little push to set a trap and expose a crooked attorney. The Green Hornet climbs through the window of the judge’s bedroom. As the announcer describes ...


ANNOUNCER: The slick black car of The Green Hornet with its super-powered motor was parked in the drive of Judge Woodbury’s home a few minutes later. The Judge was listening to The Lone Ranger, one of his favorite radio programs, half dozing in his chair.

To accomplish this trick, Striker’s notes on the script suggested playing back a recording of The Lone Ranger. But to date, Trendle had never recorded any of the Ranger broadcasts. The series had always been broadcast live on a coast-to-coast hookup. So the Ranger broadcast of December 17, 1937, was recorded solely for the purpose of this Green Hornet scene and was the spark that launched Trendle into the transcription business, leading to a transcription of every episode of The Lone Ranger beginning with the broadcast of January 17, 1938.  

The earliest announcement came on Monday, January 10, 1938, when King-Trendle released a public statement that The Lone Ranger was riding cross country and not just the western plains. Coincident with the Republic Pictures movie serial in February, King-Trendle announced it would market transcriptions of the radio series for February 1 assignments. The strong growth of the series since it premiered four years previous showed promise and broke all records for mail response for WXYZ. Then heard over 27 stations, Trendle wanted to expand his empire with transcription discs and began advertising the series, claiming the discs would be available for broadcast starting February 15. Sales were certainly impressive and profitable, leading to Trendle’s second transcribed series, Ann Worth, Housewife

Advertisement for renting transcription discs.
By August 1938, King-Trendle Broadcasting was still feeding The Green Hornet live to Mutual stations and it was not transcribed. A business meeting in July 1938 discussed the possibility of expansion. Sponsor interest was growing in various sections of the country, giving them guide to how many transcriptions would need to be produced to meet the demand. On August 16, Richard O. Lewis, general manager of KTAR in Phoenix, Arizona, wrote to WXYZ. The station was featuring The Lone Ranger and Lewis wanted pricing information about The Green Hornet, as well as a sample transcription. Lewis asked that the material be sent to J.R. Heath, KTAR’s commercial manager. Charles Hicks sent a case history of The Green Hornet program, which featured a brief background of the premise, the characters, statistics in ratings, reviews from nationwide periodicals and the success of the Detroit and Ebling creameries as sponsors. Hicks also said the cost for an audition transcription was $10, which would be refunded if the recording were returned in good condition or if the station contracted for The Green Hornet.

At least three transcriptions were made during the month of May 1938, possibly copied for stations out of range of network outlets carrying it live which expressed an interest in reviewing the show. J.R. Heath wrote to Hicks on September 6, requesting the audition record so that “after auditioning the show we will then be in a position to advise you as to the account’s interest.” Hicks replied with hesitation, stating: “Before we send the audition recording in accordance with your request, it might be proper for you to consider this one angle. The date of producing Green Hornet transcriptions for a nationwide market is still to be decided upon and how soon it will be known is dependent upon just such requests as yours. The more requests we receive the better we will be able to judge the importance of an earlier date than what has been planned. Therefore, at the present time the indefiniteness of the production date may cause you a problem if your client became interested as a result of hearing the audition recording and ordered the program to start earlier than what it could be made available in transcription form.”

KTAR was not the only station to submit an inquiry. On August 18, Dale Robertson, general manager of WBAX in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, asked for sales materials regarding The Green Hornet. In late September, Fred A. Palmer of KOY, another Phoenix station, submitted a similar request. In early January 1939, James M. Kennedy of WBAL in Baltimore requested via telegram a sample Green Hornet transcription. By the fall of 1938, Trendle decided to expand The Green Hornet via transcriptions in the same manner as the masked rider of the plains. Through special arrangement with NBC’s Chicago office, Trendle agreed to foot the bill for the series to be transcribed to disc. While transportation charges on test pressings for 18 of the first 24 broadcasts cost Trendle $3.55, the cost to have each episode transcribed was much more — $90 per program. By August 1938, Striker had begun assigning a title for each of the radio scripts. Prior episodes had no title assigned by Striker, Trendle, or any member of the production crew. Beginning with the broadcast of April 6, 1939, every episode of The Green Hornet was recorded and King-Trendle was already making preparations for the series to be available to local station managers. 

Green Hornet transcription discs at Audio Archives.
The transcription of the May 26, 1938 broadcast was assigned the title of “Frame Up That Misfired” and transcription No. 1. The transcription of the May 24, 1938 broadcast was assigned the title of “There Was A Crooked Man” and transcription No. 2. For the remainder of the transcription discs offered to radio stations, the April 6, 1939 broadcast began as transcription No. 3. (None of the other May 1938 transcriptions were included with the discs when the series was syndicated across the country, including the broadcast of May 5, 1938, which today circulates among collector hands.) 

Transcriptions may have been costly, but The Green Hornet, Inc. saw a much larger profit when it rented the discs to various stations at various prices, which more than made up for the investment. The cost for each station was adjusted according to station size and number of listeners. A smaller station in the Midwest paid much less for renting the discs than a larger station in the East. In anticipation of using artwork and photographs of the title character in advertisements, Al Hodge signed a release granting use of his likeness in photos and images for promotional purposes on November 18, 1938. This was primarily to please the executives at NBC, who wanted to cover all the bases. Other cast members appeared in similar photographs and it can be assumed they, too, signed similar releases.

With the advent of transcription discs, Fran Striker had to exercise extra caution, avoiding any specific reference to prior Hornet adventures unless it was absolutely necessary. Episodes such as the broadcast of September 9, 1937, had Kato returning from vacation and Fawcett, the special investigator from the State Attorney office, mentioning the drug ring smashed a few weeks ago and “the blackmail ring last week.”

Striker had written a number of two-part and three-part stories, with each episode featuring a resolution for that particular broadcast, but generally, he maintained single-adventure plots for the series. A press release with a brief plot summary which could be used as a local newspaper promotional piece accompanied the transcription discs. Reprinted below are a few of those summaries. 

(“The Trapped Witness,” originally broadcast February 26, 1940)
Transcription No. 422-B9
A murder in a Chinese restaurant prompts Britt Reid, youthful publisher, to assume the role of the Hornet to unearth a cigar store racket and discover the slayer.

(“The Tricky Tankers,” originally broadcast February 28, 1940)
Transcription No. 423-B10
When a high pressure promoter goes into the gasoline business to undersell his competitors, Britt Reid, crusading young publisher, assumes the role of The Green Hornet to expose a plot to swindle thousands of motorists. 

(“Income From Immigrants,” originally broadcast March 4, 1940)
Transcription No. 424-B11
Reid dons the mask of the Hornet to uncover a scheme whereby racketeers provide “doubles” to take final citizenship examinations for foreigners, and then blackmail them later.

© The Green Hornet, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
The transcription discs contained a second series of numbers with the letter “B” before the number as a procedure ordered by Charles Hicks to straighten the numbering system. As of April 1, 1940, it became apparent that The Green Hornet synopses provided to NBC-Blue did not help with keeping the recordings consistent, because the network was using different program numbers than what the sheets revealed.

Another problem was that someone in the recording department was putting a Hornet seal over the program numbers. The stations had to listen to the programs in order to find out which episode number it was. This was specifically an issue with KTAR in Phoenix, which decided not to bother with verifying the sequential numbers and chose to broadcast the episodes out of sequence.

On the evening of Thursday, August 25, 1944, a number of radio listeners expressed curiosity when WMAQ in Chicago started in at 10:30 with a fascinating, but unscheduled, episode of The Green Hornet, ran it for nine minutes, then switched into Everything for the Boys, normally heard at that time. An announcer explained briefly that it had all been a mistake. The boys at WMAQ recorded both programs earlier in the evening as network features, at which time they were recorded as transcriptions for broadcast at a later time. Apparently an employee typed out labels for both transcriptions, then put the Hornet label on the Everything for the Boys record, and vice versa. The Green Hornet boiled merrily till 10:39 until it was verified that the traffic department hadn’t scheduled a last minute change. Then the announcer broke in while the engineer put on the right record, measuring off approximately nine minutes from the beginning so Everything for the Boys would end at the proper time. 

The system was not foolproof, causing confusion not just with the station operators, but with the listeners as well. KFMB in San Diego, California, part of the Worchester Broadcasting Corporation, paid Trendle $28 for each episode played over their network. On March 5, 12, 19 and 26, 1945, episodes 688 through 691 were played in sequence. For the broadcast of April 2, however, an error occurred. Half of each episode was featured on one side of two separate discs. When the first half of an episode concluded on one disc, the second half picked up almost instantly from the other disc. The opposite side of those two discs featured the two halves of the next episode. Due to an error in labeling before the transcriptions were received by KFMB, the network broadcast the first part of episode No. 692 titled “Load of Cigarettes,” and the second part of No. 693 titled “The Bigger They Are.” The mistake was not caught until the recording was being played over the air, and the network began receiving phone calls from listeners asking for an explanation. KFMB could not charge its sponsor for the broadcast because of the error, and the network applied for a credit with King-Trendle to compensate for the mistake. (On April 9, the network continued with the next sequential episode, No. 694.) KFMB’s request for a credit was approved by Trendle, but not until eight months later because he insisted the source of the error had to be verified first. 

© The Green Hornet, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

With this explained, radio broadcasts pre-May 1938 of The Green Hornet do not exist in recorded form. They simply were not recorded. What follows is a list of 10 "lost" episodes with plot summaries.

Episode #67 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Sunday, September 27, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45033, script received at Registration Office Oct. 1, 1936.
Plot: Kollenberg has been operating a large scale auto racket, repainting and rebuilding the cars, which are then resold. After Kollenberg knocks off one of his own men for fear of exposure, Reid, having learned the district attorney has a car resembling the Black Beauty, schemes to force Kollenberg and his gang to make an attempt on the life of the masked man. Instead, they find themselves facing the D.A. and the police. Kollenberg’s girlfriend — thinking The Hornet is going to kill her on behalf of her lover — tells the police all she knows about his shady operation.

Episode #68 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Thursday, October 1, 1936
 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45158, script received at Registration Office Oct. 8, 1936.
Plot: Denise Grangerfield comes of age next week and will soon inherit the estate left by her parents. The trustees, Thorne, Radlip and Snead, have chiseled almost $70,000, and when Denise gains control of the estate, she plans a complete accounting of every dime. In order to make up the loss, Radlip and Thorne cleverly plan the death of their partner, making it appear as if Snead died when a train smashes into his car. The double indemnity clause gives Thorne and Radlip a chance to cover their monetary misdeed. The Green Hornet sets out to separately trick each of the men into believing the other hired the masked man to murder his partner for additional life insurance. Thorne is the first to crack under the pressure and runs to the police station to confess the crime.

Episode #69 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Sunday, October 4, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45159, script received at Registration Office Oct. 8, 1936.
Plot: Ed Garland, publisher of a weekly newspaper that blackmails clients into paying for advertising space in return for suppressing gossip, is running for office. The Daily Sentinel endorses honest Hamilton Winton, who leads an anti-narcotics crusade in the city. While police keep an eye on The Green Light Tavern, suspected as the gang hideout for Garland’s narcotics distribution, Garland’s men murder young David Winton, Hamilton’s son, after the boy threatened to expose them. Garland makes plans to frame the boy for dope distribution, but The Green Hornet gasses the henchmen unconscious and steals the boy’s body. The Hornet creates a stir when he wrecks a car into the Green Light and makes a speed getaway. The police jump in to discover all the evidence they need for a conviction, and Dave Winton is hailed a hero for standing up against the crooks, cinching his father’s election.

Trivia, etc. The character of Doyle was temporarily replaced with Officer Flannigan, played by Jim Jewell, who makes a number of recurring appearances beginning with this episode.
It appears that Britt Reid had a sister, the only known sibling revealed in the series, as evidenced in episode sixty-nine, broadcast Oct. 4, 1936.

CASE:
And here is the mail. There is a letter here from your sister at college.
BRITT: Susan? Well what’s possessed her to write? Let’s see it.
CASE:
She’s been reading of this Green Hornet. She says that when she comes home for vacation she’s going to spend the time with you and play detective with Michael Axford and try and make a sensational
capture.
BRITT:
(laughs) She probably wants that reward.
CASE: The easiest way for her not to come close is to work with Axford.

Episode #70 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Thursday, October 8, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45239, script received at Registration Office Oct. 15, 1936.
Plot: Wiley Basset arranges for the owner of a small restaurant in the Chinatown district of the city to be killed for refusing to pay for “protection.” Three white men witnessed the shooting but leave before police arrive. Thanks to Kato, who was at the restaurant at the time of the shooting, Britt Reid learns the identities of the men. Reid sends them a note, signed by The Green Hornet, suggesting they leave town — or else. The men race to the police station for safety. The police, afterwards, contact Mazie, Basset’s girl, and Pug, his triggerman, asking their whereabouts at the time of the crime. Mazie attempts to cover for Basset, unaware he is in custody at the station. Having told a lie to the police, now she is in trouble.

Episode #71 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Sunday, October 11, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45240, script received at Registration Office Oct. 15, 1936.
Plot: With the Olympics in Europe, Doctor Bluege lays the groundwork for a clever scheme to smuggle radium into the United States. American tourists in need of a dental filling are unaware that he is planting lead-coated radium capsules in their mouths. A month later, back home, the patients become victims of late-night assaults when they are gassed and the radium fillings replaced with new ones. Britt Reid takes advantage of a set of false teeth, using his Aunt Alicia as bait, to discover the connection and lead the police in a high speed chase to Bluege’s office, where they find the doctor and his assistant trying to clean up their mess. It seems The Hornet created a stir and knocked the radium capsules all over the floor. The criminals are caught red-handed by police.

Trivia, etc. This is the only episode to feature Britt Ried’s Aunt Alicia and her husband (mentioned by name only), Elmer Harrison Reid.

Episode #72 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Thursday, October 15, 1936
Copyright Registration D-2-#45441, script received at Registration Office Oct. 23, 1936.
Plot: When the police smashed the Regan mob, only Jack Regan himself escaped. He begins a new swindle — forcing fruit stand owners to pay $10 a week for protection. Three of them won’t pay, causing their stands to be bombed and riddled by machine gun fire. Regan soon learns about The Green Hornet’s attempts to muscle in on his protection racket, unaware The Hornet’s calling cards are merely a plan to trap and expose the crook. The gunmen responsible for the acts of sabotage, Gus and Smitty, are picked up by Flannigan and Doyle, and Axford gets the scoop.

Trivia, etc. This episode would be slightly revised for “A Racketeer Reborn” (January 29, 1940).

Episode #73 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Sunday, October 18, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45442, script received at Registration Office Oct. 23, 1936.
Plot: An Oriental fakir named Shalimar has established himself as a mystic, offering his services to prominent women, while his companion in crime, Zemo, blackmails their husbands with the information he learns from the mystic. When Britt Reid learns businessman Henry Mason is being blackmailed, he becomes The Green Hornet and attempts to move in on Shalimar’s scheme by offering details of a crime from which the mystic could profit. Shalimar refuses, but the next day, when the police arrive with a warrant because of Zemo’s disappearance, the truth is exposed. Zemo and Shalimar are the same man. Zemo, a blond, applies makeup and a turban to cover his features and pose as the mystic.

Trivia, etc. The script called for the same actor playing the role of Zemo, the slow-speaking blackmailer, to also play the part of Shalimar, talking in an Oriental manner. This episode introduced Lolita Lane, gossip columnist for The Daily Sentinel, who makes her first of two appearances on the series. Her second would be the broadcast of October 22, 1936.

Episode #74 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Thursday, October 22, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45505, script received at Registration Office Oct. 29, 1936.
Plot: While trying to answer a plea for help from a young girl, Doyle is knocked unconscious from behind, drugged, roughed up, and a bit with alcohol poured on his clothes. Suspended from the force in disgrace, Doyle asks Mike Axford to help search for the girl who caused Doyle’s suspension. Grace Saunders, the daughter of prominent Henry Saunders, is kidnapped by Schottin and Zittel, who operate a number of slot machines in the city and attempted to eliminate the nosy Doyle. To ensure protection from Saunders, who works on the force, they kidnapped Grace, hoping to stall a raid before they move the base of their operations. The Hornet learns of the girl’s whereabouts and sets out to rescue her, gassing the kidnappers unconscious, and flees from the scene, exposing the plot to the police.

Episode #75 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Sunday, October 25, 1936 
Copyright Registration D-2-#45506, script received at Registration Office Oct. 29, 1936.
Plot: Ambrose Fleming has defrauded numerous clients and built a country estate covering 10 luxurious acres. When forced to betray his business colleagues in support of the Anderson campaign, Fleming discovers a way out of his mess. A fire in his barn takes the life of an employee and thanks to Peter Lambert, his dentist brother-in-law, dental records verify the charred body as that of Ambrose Fleming. Reid sets out as The Green Hornet to pay Lambert a visit. Strapping the dentist to a chair and threatening to remove all his teeth, the masked man learns the truth. The police arrive and discover Fleming is alive — and his wife is signing all the papers that will liquidate the estate to repay the people her husband cheated.

Episode #76 [NO TITLE LISTED] Broadcast Thursday, October 29, 1936
Copyright Registration D-2-#45636, script received at Registration Office Nov. 5, 1936.
Plot: A federal agent named Jack Savage is investigating the circulation of counterfeit Documentary Stamps. After learning that Pabloff and his female associate, Olga, are involved with the scheme, Britt Reid arranges for Kato to sell used stamps. The Green Hornet busts in and reveals Kato as a federal agent, tricking Pabloff into believing the masked man is on his side. Offering to buy counterfeit stamps for a nice price, The Green Hornet learns how Pabloff’s process washes away the cancellation marks and then re-gums and presses the stamp so it appears like new. Reid drops an anonymous tip in the mail incriminating Pabloff, enclosing a Hornet mask and plans for the next meeting. Savage dons the mask and pretends to be The Green Hornet, paying Pabloff with marked bills and catching the criminals in the act.

Trivia, etc. This script was originally slated for broadcast on September 24.

The information contained in this article contains excerpts from The Green Hornet: A History of Radio, Motion Pictures, Comics and Television, by Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson. The book was published in 2009 by OTR Publishing and is the official 800 page guide to all things involving The Green Hornet, Kato and the Black Beauty.

For more information about this book, please visit www.MartinGrams.com.

5 comments:

Tom Floyd said...

Great info!!!! wow....my all time favorite radio show, and great to read these inside stories! great article!! thanks

Randy said...


I know some younger collectors who cannot be convinced that EVERYTHING doesn't exist somewhere. That there aren't vast warehouses filled with transcriptions, all neatly filed away, of absolutely everything ever broadcast in radio history.

Which, in a way, is understandable, I suppose. They've been raised in an age where everything broadcast does get saved -- or at least it seems that way. Under those circumstances, I guess it can seem pretty inconceivable to imagine an era where nothing got recorded unless there was a reason to record (cutting transcriptions wasn't cheap), and where there often wasn't motivation to hang onto what did get transcribed once the discs had served their purpose.

A fella I know who worked in broadcasting for many years has told me that he remembers one radio studio's facilities being on the second floor of a building, with the station's transcription library looking over an alley. He and the other guys used to amuse themselves by throwing those old transcriptions, Frisbee-style, out the windows, trying to hit the trash cans in the alley with them.

Max said...

Aw geez, the story about the radio station employees Frisbee-ing the transcriptions out the second story window and into the trash cans, I know things like that happened, but it just breaks my heart to hear about it, wondering what goodies ended up shattered to bits out in that alley.

At one of the conventions, someone told about a station out in California, I believe it was, moving out of their long-time home to new offices in the early '60s. Hundreds and hundreds of transcriptions were piled in the back of a truck and hauled to the dump.

Just tears you up to hear about it.

Douglas said...

There are a ton of transcriptions at the Library of Congress. Some 175,000 discs from NBC, 300,000 from Armed Forces Radio, several thousand from WOR-Mutual, and around 8,000 from the Office of War Information.

Unfortunately, most of these discs have never been catalogued and are not easily accessible for listening.

It's possible to get copies of Library of Congress disc holdings. I've tried it, not usually successfully. It's a long, slow process, with no guarantee of success. All it takes is one person, somewhere in the line, to say no, and that's that. And it seems like there usually is somebody somewhere in the line who's going to say no.

Frustrating.

Howard Essanne said...

NBC has very little that is not already in collector hands. I checked out their list which they have printed out at LOC. With so many radio recordings in my collection I am now focusing on upgrades. Bought a lot of CDs from vendors who have been in the business for decades and discovered there is no comparison with the sound quality compared to free m3 downloads so I have been replacing the mp3s with CDs.

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