My old time radio shows

Dragnet

Dragnet, syndicated as Badge 714, is a radio and television crime drama about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a "dragnet", meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters (Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor). Gradually, Friday's deadpan, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop, tough but not hard, conservative but caring." (Dunning, 210) Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a longtime radio actor. Raymond Burr was on board to play Captain Ed Backstrand. When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top-rated shows.

Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated and sparse, influenced by the hardboiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving but didn’t seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step by step: From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. The detectives’ personal lives were mentioned but rarely took center stage. (Friday was a bachelor who lived with his mother; Romero was an ever-fretful husband and father.) "Underplaying is still acting", Webb told Time. "We try to make it as real as a guy pouring a cup of coffee.” (Dunning, 209) Los Angeles police chiefs C.B. Horrall, William A. Worton and (later) William H. Parker were credited as consultants, and many police officers were fans.

While "Just the facts, ma'am" has come to be known as Dragnet's catchphrase, it was never actually uttered by Joe Friday; the closest he came were, "All we want are the facts, ma'am" and "All we know are the facts, ma'am". "Just the facts, ma'am" comes from the Stan Freberg parody St. George and the Dragonet.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fenneman intoning the series opening ("The story you are about to hear is true; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.") and Hal Gibney describing the basic premise of the episode. "Big Saint" (April 26, 1951) for example, begins with, "You're a detective, Sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job: break it."

After the first commercial, Gibney would officially introduce the program: "Dragnet, the documented drama of an actual crime. For the next thirty minutes, in cooperation with state, federal and local authorities, you will travel step-by-step on the side of the law through an actual case history, transcribed from official police files. From beginning to end—from crime to punishment—Dragnet is the story of your police force in action."

The story then usually began with footsteps and a door closing, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like: "Tuesday, February 12. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of robbery division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrand, chief of detectives. My name's Friday."

Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours, or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time: in "City Hall Bombing" (July 21, 1949), Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb.

 

At the end of the episode, usually after a brief endorsement by Jack Webb for the sponsor's product, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually tried by a court "in and for the City and County of Los Angeles", convicted of a crime and sent to "the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California" or "examined by [#] psychiatrists appointed by the court", judged mentally incompetent and "committed to a state mental hospital for an indefinite period". Murderers were often "executed in the manner prescribed by law" or "executed in the lethal gas chamber at the State Penitentiary, San Quentin California". Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet. In 1950, Time quoted Webb: "We don’t even try to prove that crime doesn’t pay ... sometimes it does" (Dunning, 210)

Specialized terminology was mentioned in every episode but was rarely explained. Webb trusted the audience to determine the meanings of words or terms by their context, and furthermore, Dragnet tried to avoid the kinds of awkward, lengthy exposition that people would not actually use in daily speech. Several specialized terms (such as "A.P.B." for "All Points Bulletin" and "M.O." for "Modus Operandi") were rarely used in popular culture before Dragnet introduced them to everyday America.

While most radio shows used one or two sound effects experts, Dragnet needed five; a script clocking in at just under 30 minutes could require up to 300 separate effects. Accuracy was underlined: The exact number of footsteps from one room to another at Los Angeles police headquarters were imitated, and when a telephone rang at Friday's desk, the listener heard the same ring as the telephones in Los Angeles police headquarters. A single minute of ".22 Rifle for Christmas" is a representative example of the evocative sound effects featured on "Dragnet". While Friday and others investigate bloodstains in a suburban backyard, the listener hears a series of overlapping effects: a squeaking gate hinge, footsteps, a technician scraping blood into a paper envelope, the glassy chime of chemical vials, bird calls and a dog barking in the distance.

Episode Title [Total of: 377]CategoryRating
1 - Dragnet - Big Ben Ep.92
Episode date: 1951-3-15
Detective / Crime
2 - Dragnet - Big Bill Ep.372
Episode date: 1956-12-18
Detective / Crime
3 - Dragnet - Big Crime Ep.88
Episode date: 1951-2-15
Detective / Crime
4 - Dragnet - Big Drills Ep.100
Episode date: 1951-5-10
Detective / Crime
5 - Dragnet - Big Family Ep.81
Episode date: 1950-12-28
Detective / Crime
6 - Dragnet - Big Jules Ep.158
Episode date: 1952-6-19
Detective / Crime
7 - Dragnet - Big Little Jesus Ep.279
Episode date: 1954-12-21
Detective / Crime
8 - Dragnet - Big Lover Ep.94
Episode date: 1951-3-29
Detective / Crime
9 - Dragnet - Big Market Ep.124
Episode date: 1951-10-25
Detective / Crime
10 - Dragnet - Big New Years Ep.91
Episode date: 1951-3-8
Detective / Crime

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