This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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PHYL COE MYSTERIES
by Paul Urbahns © 2007
(From Radio Recall, August 2007)
PHYL COE RADIO MYSTERIES
AKA Philco Mysteries On The Air
or Philco Mystery Contest
(1937, syndicated on 16 inch
transcription disks to over 240 stations)
Extant 12 episodes (15-minute)
Radio Theme – Procession Of the Sadar
composed by Mikhail Mikhaylovich
Phyl Coe Radio Mysteries was a murder mystery radio contest program developed by Geare-Marston, Inc. of Philadelphia, an advertising agency with production and syndication handled by World Broadcasting System, Inc of New York City with the lead character's name designed to reflect the sponsor, Philco Radio and Television Corporation.
The program featured a young "beautiful girl detective" named "Phyl Coe" (short for Phyllis Coe),played by Peggy Allenby, daughter of Phillip Coe world famous criminologist. She was a private investigator who was smart, aggressive, and a "take-charge" lady. In one episode a magician is shot on stage, Phyl, who is attending the performance with her boy friend Thomas Taylor, referred to as "a well known mystery novelist" (played by Bud Collyer), leaps to the stage, barks orders to theatre personnel, calms the audience, summons a doctor and solves the crime before the cops even get there. All this takes place in less than 15 minutes!
In other mysteries, she identifies the thief of a famous painting, solves the mystery involving a new death-ray gun, and solves a murder aboard an aeroplane. Every week is a murder mystery which must be solved.
Listeners were encouraged to visit their Philco dealers and pick up a "Philco Mystery Book" which covered 4 weekly adventures. Many times the program refers to the specific pages in the book dealing with that particular episode. Each radio adventure story was given 2 pages in the mystery book which had clues and diagrams to help the listener to solve the mystery along with Phyl Coe. The book also included the weekly entry blank, necessary to win, and a complete list of prizes. The announcer is very specific when he reminds listeners "You cannot win without this free book!" The whole program was quite well planned and presented.
Coe indicates the suspect in a murder in every episode, then listeners at home must fill in the entry blanks answering questions on how "Phyl Coe" solved the murder to win big cash prizes announced on the program as $50,000 in cash prizes, over 2,000 weekly prizes and 51 huge Grand Prizes.
One interesting aspect of the series is the relationship between Phyl Coe and Tom Taylor. Philco print advertising makes Phyl Coe appear to be a youth in the mold of the successful Nancy Drew novel character, which debuted in 1930. It is apparent that Phyl's father is deceased and no mention is made of other family members.
The actual radio broadcasts are written to present her as a very womanly lady even having a boyfriend, Thomas Taylor. Tom is referred to by the announcer as her "admirer". In the first episode Coe tells him, "Quiet Tom" and he replies "Yes, Dear." The second episode explains their relationship further when Phyl explains to Dr Benson, "I've taken the liberty of bringing my friend Tom Taylor with me. You see, Tom writes mystery novels. The boy's pretty good too. I'm afraid he uses me as a blood hound to sniff out plots." Tom adds, "Why Phyl, darling, I pursue you because you are a charming woman as well as an efficient plot hound..(chuckle)".
By the time the adventure "Murder in the Sky" was broadcast, the relationship suggests to be more than just casual friends. The two are returning by airplane to New York, from their adventure in the West. At the airport lobby their tickets and sleeping accommodations are examined (confirmed) by the airline official at the desk. The plane is referred to as a "sleeper" so accommodations appear to be similar to a "sleeper car" on a railroad train of the period. Tom asks, "Wanna go out side and watch her land Phyl?" "I don't think so Tom," she replies. "Let's wait in here until the porter gets our bags aboard". To that Tom dutifully says, "OK Darling, no other woman but you could keep me from watching an airplane land... I think I'll just sit here and gaze at you."
The relationship gets even more adult in the same episode when Mr Guy Johnson, a fellow traveler at the airport states, "I guess the three of us are going to be sleeping companions, eh?" Tom clarifies, "Not exactly, but we're all going on this plane, if that is what you mean. (everyone chuckles)" Johnson, who is the husband of the movie star Rita Rogers, gives Tom some advice, "Never marry a famous woman." "That settles it Phyl," Tom says jokingly, "Now I'll never marry you, no matter how hard you coax" Phyl comes back with, "Tom you’re breaking my heart". Regardless of the hints sprinkled throughout the series, the relationship does not appear to progress past friendly chit chat and comments.
This style of writing mixed with "Superman" type delivery may have been an attempt to produce a show that would appeal to both young people, who would look over some of the innuendo, and the adults who caught every word.
Speaking of catching every word, the sponsorship of Philco is played as an important part of solving the mystery. Our closing announcer reminds us on one broadcast that "listeners with Philco radio tubes in their sets are going to have an advantage. Did you stop and think of that? In this contest you'll going to need to get good reception, so that you won't miss anything that is done or said. And the best reception is what you get with Philco radio tubes!"
There were 12 surviving episodes known to have been broadcast between September 7, 1937 and November 23, 1937. Each episode mentions next week's show title, except program 12 indicates a new Phyl Coe mystery would be broadcast next week, but does not state title. It is belived tthat four more programs were broadcast through December.
37/09/07 1 The Case of the Dead Magician (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 1, pages 4 and 5) Program states first case.
37/09/14 2 Missing Masterpiece (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 1, pages 6 and 7)
37/09/21 3 Mystery of The Death Ray Tube (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 1, pages 8 and 9)
37/09/28 4 Murder In The Sky (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 1, pages 10 and 11)
37/10/05 5 Death Boards The Sea Serpent aka Murder on the High Seas (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 2, pages 4 and 5)
37/10/12 6 Double X Mystery (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 2, pages 6 and 7)
37/10/19 7 Last Will and Testament (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 2, pages 8 and 9)
37/10/26 8 Stolen Sable (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 2, pages 10 and 11)
37/11/02 9 Who Murdered Senator Floyd (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 3, pages 4 and 5)
37/11/09 10 Laughing Ghost (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 3, pages 6 and 7)
37/11/16 11 The Fallen Star (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 3, pages 8 and 9)
37/11/23 12 Jagged Rock Mystery (Phyl Coe Mystery Book 3 – pages 10 and 11)
Program 12 indicates a new Phyl Coe mystery would be broadcast next week, but does not state title.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Urbahns, retired federal worker from Ft Knox, Ky., began a career in radio during the late 60s, but shortly converted to computers in the very early 70s. Interested in OTR since hearing early 60s radio broadcast reruns of WXYZ programs (The Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, etc). Today, his interests are local Ft Knox area history: he maintains a website on the history of Hit Records of Nashville TN. at www.hitrecordsofnashville.com