Somebody Knows and Wanted — Golden Age Radio’s Great Unsolved Mysteries

In the wake of Dragnet‘s success for NBC (after having been rejected by CBS), radio audiences more and more craved authenticity from their crime dramas. Programs like Gang Busters (1936-1957) and This is Your FBI (1945-1953) claimed to be based on authentic cases, but were less realistic and adult in tone than the true crime series of the 1950s. Most of the scores of earlier hard-boiled detective shows were often utterly implausible, even when enjoyable. As they often did, in the summer of 1950, CBS and NBC went head to head with two similar programs that aimed to up the authenticity stakes, Somebody Knows and Wanted.

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SOMEBODY KNOWS

Somebody Knows debuted on 6 July, 1950 as that year’s summer replacement for Suspense (1942-Elizabeth Short1962). Through narration and dramatizations, the known facts of unsolved crimes were presented and listeners who provided information leading to the conviction of a criminal in one of the profiled cases would get $5,000 for their effort (more than $47,000 in 2013, adjusted for inflation). Unable to find a sponsor, independent series creator Jimmy Saphier put up $40,000 of his own money. In a promotional interview Sapphier stated, “I don’t care if we only have one listener. As long as he’s the guy who knows who did it–and will rat on his pals.” 

The series was written by Sidney Marshall. The announcer was Frank Goss. The music director was Milton Charles. It was directed by James Sasser and the prolific Jack Johnstone (The Man Called X, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Hollywood Star Playhouse, Tums Hollywood Theater, The Six Shooter, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar), who also narrated.

Unfortunately for fans, the series only ran for eight episodes. Even worse, only two episodes are currently in circulation, episodes three and eight.

SOMEBODY KNOWS EPISODE LOG

“The Unsolved Murder of Mrs Gladys Kern” (6 July, 1950)
[Title Unknown] (13 July, 1950)
“The Case of Joseph P. Bohanak” (20 July, 1950)
“The Unsolved Killing of Frank J. Christenson, Attorney” (27 July, 1950)
“The Unsolved Murder of L.L. Lambert, Dallas Salesman” (3 August, 1950)
“The Unsolved Murder of Samuel I. Paris, Boston Cab Driver” (10 August, 1950)
“The Unsolved Murder of Mrs Jean Long” (17 August, 1950)
“The Black Dahlia Case” (24 August, 1950)

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WANTED

Willie the Actor Sutton

Meanwhile, NBC’s Wanted debuted the night after Somebody Knows, on 7 July. Unlike Somebody Knows, it avoided dramatizations all together, going instead for radio verite. Instead, the show’s creator, Walter McGraw, and his wife, Peggy, recorded the voices of DAs, newspapermen, police, prison officials, witnesses, etc. The real gimmick, however, was that each episode featured a purported underworld figure familiar with the subject anonymously sharing his view of the criminal at large. Most of the subjects were familiar to anyone who follows the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

The series was directed, hosted and produced by Walter McGraw. It was written by P.L. Mayer and James Kovac. The music was scored by Morris Mamorsky and conducted by Elliot Jacoby. The prolific Fred Collins was the announcer and narrator.

Even though it achieved reasonable ratings (as did Somebody Knows), Wanted too was short lived and wasn’t continued when the program for which it had been a summer replacement returned. Of the thirteen episodes that aired, however, all but one are currently in circulation.

WANTED RADIO LOG

“Willie ‘The Actor’ Sutton” (7 July, 1950)
“Myron ‘Mike’ Selik” (14 July, 1950)
“Edward Sadowski” (21 July, 1950)
“‘Angel'” Fred Tenuto (28 July, 1950)
“Glen Roy Wright” (4 August, 1950)
“Kenneth ‘Two-Gun Kinnie’ Wagner” (11 August, 1950)
“Omar August Pinson” (18 August, 1950)
“James Joseph Sweeney” (25 August, 1950)
“Troy and Thurman Seay” (1 September, 1950)
“Troy and Thurman Seay” (8 September, 1950)
“Henry Clay Tollett” (15 September, 1950)
“Thomas Kling” (22 September, 1950)
“Alvin and Gladys Stewart” (29 September, 1950)

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Both series, which debuted 53 years ago this week, were more influential than their short runs and relative obscurity would suggest. In many ways Somebody Knows was analogous to later TV series like Unsolved Mysteries, whereas Wanted‘s analogue would have to be America’s Most Wanted. For armchair bounty hunters, detectives and Investigation Discovery addicts, both are worth checking out. Recordings of Old Time Radio programs can be found in Amoeba‘s Spoken Word sections.

Special thanks to the good folks at Digital Deli Too for their research

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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