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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OLD-TIME RADIO FOSSIL HUNTING
by Stephen A. Kallis, Jr. © 2009
(From Radio Recall, December 2009)
One thing that many of us who lived through the best years of OTR the regret that we didn't have tape recorders when the programs were being broadcast. True, transcription disks have been unearthed, and from those, many fans of the genre have been able to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear. But however great collections grow, there are always those programs that one wishes were available, but seem to have vanished into the mists of time.
Today, with far more sophisticated consumer electronics, experiencing old memories is much easier than back then. In doing some research, though, I found, to my delight, that at least some OTR sequences were preserved, in a fairly unlikely place, at first blush...in Whitman's Better Little Books.
Whitman Publishing produced numerous publications, mostly for younger readers. Many of their i books miniature items, with the story on one page, and an illustration of the events of the text page opposite it. The youngest readers could get the gist of the story by following the illustrations; older readers could peruse the text. Whitman's Better Little Books "novelized" stories from newspaper comic strips, as one source; but another was old radio programs.
When I was researching the radio scripts of the Captain Midnight program, I was surprised to discover that two Whitman Better Little Books exactly matched the story as broadcast. These were “Captain Midnight and The Secret Squadron” and “Captain Midnight vs. the Terror of the Orient.” These two were adapted from the radio scripts, and were both bylined by R. . Winterbotham. He also novelized another Captain Midnight adventure in the hardcover "Books for Girls" series from Whitman, Joyce of the Secret Squadron. "Books for Girls” was a series, aimed at primarily middle-school young ladies, where a central character in each book, was a familiar media figure , as was Joyce Ryan, a teenager who was one of Captain Midnight's primary team.
Because some radio shows were adapted from comic strips, the origin of some adapted stories may not be immediately evident. This was the case with Captain Midnight titles. In addition to the radio program, a newspaper comic strip, written and drawn by "Jonwan" (Irwin Hess) was published in the 1940s, and at least two of the comic-strip stories were novelized into a Better Little Book a (“Captain Midnight and the Moon Woman” and “Captain Midnight and Shriek Jomak Khan”.) The comic strip was based on the radio show, but not adapted from it. Thus, not every Better Little Book title may have its origins in OTR, however, it could be a good place to start one's research.
For those with a real interest in the old shows, it would seem that the Whitman books may prove an interesting and fertile area for research.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Better Little Books (or Big Little Books, as they were originally called) were published in the 30s and 40s. Their size made them look like a 4 inch block sawed off a two-by-four. In the 50s, their size and content varied greatly. Whitman was bought out by Western Publishing in the mid 1970s.