Finishing Johnny

Yesterday I completed listening to the entire run of the old time radio program, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. When running errands in my car I listen to old radio programs, streamed from the Internet via my phone. Listening to the news or commentary has been too distressing for the last several years and listening to music doesn’t occupy my mind the way radio drama does. So, for example, when I drove to work five days a week I would listen to one episode on the way to work and another on the way home. Except for a few months in 2020 when I worked entirely from home I commuted a few days a week to work until February 2021 when I changed jobs. Now I work entirely remotely and it’s slowed down my radio listening progress.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar began airing in 1949 and continued right until 1962. Its last episode aired on September 30, 1962, the second to last regularly scheduled radio drama to end production. Right afterwards the last episode of Suspense aired and that brought the curtain down on the Golden Age of Radio.

YTJD recounted the adventures of insurance investigator Johnny Dollar. He lived in Hartford, Connecticut. His cases took him all over the world. YTJD featured one of the cleverest devices in radio: a reading of Johnny’s expense report. That was one of the show’s tags: “The man with the action-packed expense account”.

Over the years eight actors voiced Johnny Dollar. They were in chronological order:

Actor When My ranking
Dick Powell Unaired pilot 1948 1
Charles Russell 1949 – 1950 8
Edmond O’Brien 1950 – 1952 4
John Lund 1952 – 1954 7
Gerald Mohr Unaired audition 1955 5
Bob Bailey 1955 – 1960 2
Bob Readick 1960 – 1961 6
Mandel Kramer 1961 – 1962 3

More than 800 episodes were produced of which about 500 are extant and publicly available. Most episodes are about a half hour long although in 1955 they adopted a somewhat different format: five 15 minute episodes a week which told a single story. For me that was the high point of the series. You could just pack more character development, atmosphere, and action into it.

I had never listened to any of the Mandel Kramer episodes until I determined to listen to the entire series. He was topnotch. If it hadn’t been for the great Bob Bailey he would’ve been the best Johnny Dollar to air. And Dick Powell? Nobody did hardboiled detective better than he, whether in the movies (Murder, My Sweet) or radio. If you’ve never listened to his radio series, Richard Diamond, you have a treat. The talent involved in that show was tremendous. Powell starred, Blake Edwards wrote most of the episodes, and the greatest radio actress of them all, Virginia Gregg, voiced Diamond’s girlfriend, Helen.

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