The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.
I…am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, many secrets hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes… I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak!
That (with minor variations) was the introduction for each week’s episode of The Whistler, which I have always thought to be one of the more unique programs of the OTR period. While it was ostensibly a simple crime/mystery anthology, what made it stand out was its use of second-person narration to set the scene and in its wrap-up.
The main character, the only continuing one, is known only as “The Whistler”, and we are never given any kind of backstory on him, nor do we need any. Each episode begins with a whistled melody, and then the voice of The Whistler intoning the intro quoted above. From that point, The Whistler begins his story, often addressing the protagonist directly (though he is heard only by the audience, and never by the characters). Throughout the story, The Whistler often comments directly on what is happening in the story, often acting in the way of a Greek chorus, taunting the characters, guilty or innocent, from an omniscient perspective.
The show was also kind of a “twist” show, with each episode following someone who had committed a criminal act, and then having that act undone or receiving their comeuppance through some overlooked detail or minor flaw in their plan. This generally led to the episodes ending with some ironic twist
The Whistler ran from May 16, 1942, until September 22, 1955, on the west-coast regional CBS radio network. The show was also broadcast in Chicago and over Armed Forces Radio. On the west coast, it was sponsored by the Signal Oil Company:
As is true with many long running radio shows, where since the only truly identifiable characteristic was the actor’s voice, making substitution at times much less obvious than on a TV show or in a movie series, the title character of The Whistler was portrayed by many actors over the years. Bill Forman had the longest run in the title role, but he was also portrayed by Gale Gordon, Joseph Kearns, Marvin Miller, Bill Johnstone, and Everett Clarke.
The Whistler also spawned a series of eight films, all but one of which starred Richard Dix in the lead role (playing a different character in each movie) with Otto Forrest providing the voice of The Whistler who was never seen in the films. There was also a short-lived syndicated television series produced in 1954.
Here are some episodes from the series:
As a special treat, here’s an episode of the Whistler TV series: