I’ve been listening to the old Dragnet radio program for some time now. You can take in quite a few programs driving back and forth between Chicago and Racine, something I’ve been doing a couple of times a week for the last six weeks or so. There are about 300 programs known to be extant and I’ve listened to about 250 of them. There’s no question in my mind that it’s the second best radio drama ever (the best, of course, was Gunsmoke).
After it debuted in 1949 Dragnet wasn’t just a radio program; it was a phenomenon. It won scores, maybe hundreds of awards: from the Academy of Radio Broadcasting, the Mystery Writers Association of America, various publications, and dozens of police forces, cities, and organizations gave it awards. That’s understandable. Its portrayal of working police officers was extremely realistic; the show went a long way to rehabilitating the image of the Los Angeles police force, notorious for corruption.
The show covered a wide range of topics including decidedly adult fare including drugs, prostitution, traffic accidents, and bunco as well as homicide and theft.
In short order it became not just a radio program but a comic book, a television program, and books.
It made Jack Webb who created, starred in, wrote, and produced the show not just a star but a major Hollywood figure. He produced more than a half dozen different television series some successful (Adam-12, Emergency) some not (O’Hara, U. S. Treasury, Temple Houston).