Home Videos FAQ Meetings Join Radio
Library Links

This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

Click here to return to the index of selected articles.

by Karl Schadow © 2012
(From Radio Recall, December 2012)

As of February 14, 1942, The Spirit was being promoted at a new time of 6:30 pm as the result of a new program, This is War, directed by Norman Corwiin to be broadcast on all network stations across the country at 7 pm.

The Spirit Radio ShowContinuing the promotion in March, The Record was still alerting new readers of The Spirit's 6:30 pm airtime (see illustration). Also in March, accompanying the short plot summaries were such episode titles as: "Mr. Hush Runs an Election" (March 7th), "The Men Who Time Forgot" (March 21st) in which The Spirit clashed with Seventeenth Century Spanish explorers, to "Dr Jekyll & Mr. Ebony" or "Dr. Ebony & Mr. White" (March 28th) where Ebony exhibits some bizarre behavior after ingesting a noxious, blue liquid found in The Spirit's lab. In one of his last radio adventures (May 9th), The Spirit foiled Nazi spies in their attempt to sabotage a coastal artillery base.

During The Spirit's tenure on radio, the program received favorable reviews from Philadelphia critics, as both Maurie Orodenker (The Billboard, December 14, 1940) and Si Shaltz (Variety, February 4, 1942) praised the program's writing, acting and overall production. Orodenker commented that each episode was complete. Does this imply that that the entire story of the Sunday comics was told in contrast to the cliff-hanger style Shaltz reported the following season? Or, did both series' stories leave listeners pondering The Spirit's fate and that Orodenker was informing his audience that The Spirit was not a serial with a continuing plot from week·to·week?

The advantage of the cliff-hanger of course, was to entice listeners to purchase The Sunday Record with accompanying Comic Book Section so that one could obtain the solution to the mystery. As no scripts or audio have been located of The Spirit, this and many other questions regarding the program remain unsolved. In his review, Orodenker mentions the names of the two prominent cast members, Sam Serata (as The Spirit) but most probably long-time Philadelphia entertainment personality and executive-Sam Serota with Salvatore Benigno as Ebony.

It is unknown if these individuals were credited at the end of the broadcast, or if their voices were recognized by Orodenker who gave them the proper acknowledgement. Serota would have been a choice candidate for the lead, as he had previously amassed a great following impersonating the comics as 'Brother Bill' on WIP, a rival of WFIL in Philadelphia. It is unknown if Serota continued as The Spirit in the second season and who assumed the role of Ebony when Benigno was inducted into the Army in March, 1941.

The Record noted that Private Salvatore Benigno was to make an appearance in the episode of December 21 1941 portraying Private Chuck Magoo, a former gangster encouraged by The Spirit to join the Army. This was one of the rare instances in which individual cast members of the program were identified in The Record. The other two names cited in The Billboard review, were author/producer Enid Hager and WFIL organist Mil Spooner who provided the music. One name not mentioned in the review, but who was included in those of other WFIL programs was sound effects expert Jeff Witt. If not directly involved in each episode, he supervised those performing The Spirit's physical battles, especially the ferocious punches.

Noteworthy, is that The Spirit program also received high praise from Will Eisner, though he only had scripts sent to him by Enid Hager which to critique. In a November 29, 1941 Jetter (transcribed copy available on Ken's blog) to Miss Hager thanking her for the scripts, Eisner states that • ... the dialog is great and the continuity positively absorbing ... "

Was this the first time that Eisner had intimate knowledge of the program (he was unable to receive the program on his set in New York City)? Had The Spirit's creator not been consulted over a year earlier when a radio program had been initially proposed?

Other interesting admonishments are illuminated in the letter. There was no mention of Eisner in the scripts as he had informed the program's author of this situation. He firmly suggested as a favor to himself that she include the by-line 'Will Eisner' following The Spirit in the opening. Moreover was Eisner alluding to any possible copyright infringement?

On the front page of each of the weekly Sunday Comic Book Sections was found in tiny print, copyright credited to Everett M. Arnold. It would be years later before Eisner actually acquired the full rights from the QCG publisher. Furthermore, to what extant Arnold was involved in the radio program awaits additional documentation.

In his letter, Eisner was optimistic that " ... we can spread this idea far and wide ..." Perhaps this is when the program was developed in other markets yet to be discovered. Finally. it is unknown if Eisner was provided with any recordings. And, what of the fate of those scripts he received? There are none in his collection at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Ubrary & Museum (http://cartoons.osu.edu).

Why The Spirit did not return for a third season in Philadelphia remains a mystery. In March, 1943, Enid Hager departed The Record for a position with Philadelphia's WPEN. Later that year she deservedly achieved the position of manager of the newly-formed radio department of Qualiy Comics. According to Mike Kooiman, who with Jim Amash have completed a comprehensive history of QCG entitled Quality Companion (Two Morrows, 2011), virtually nothing is known regarding the endeavors of this ancillary Quality component.

Although The Spirit was technically not a OCG product, there may have been attempts by Enid Hager and colleagues to the promote the radio program in the mid 1940s. In the Program Producer section of the 1944 Radio Annual. Quality elevates their entity to the Radio & Motion Picture Department still headed by Enid Hager. Unfortunately, the seemingly lofty aspirations of QCG may have not come to fruition as no further projects have been identified. However, the popular Blackhawk, a major OCG title did make a brief run on radio in the early 195Os. This author encourages his fellow researchers in both fields to continue to investigate the obscure radio tenures of such pertinent comics.

So how did The Spirit find its way to The Record and subsequently WFIL? One thought is that The Record was not subjectecl to comics from a single syndicate as titles from seven such firms graced the pages of the daily and Sunday issues. The Register & Tribune Syndicate was a newcomer to those already supplying comics to the newspaper and the Sunday Comic Book Secion was evidently an admirable addition. The Record had much experience in promoting itself on the airwaves.

Prior to The Spirit, the newspaper had solidified relations with WIP for its Nine o'Clock Scholars program and also WFIL for the musical quiz, Sound Your A. These programs expanded the usual time-for-space agreement in that live productions were utitized instead of the banter going for spot announcements.

WFIL had a top-notch promotional campaign and was on its way to winning the 1940 annual exploitation award from The Billboard in the Regional Station Division when The Spirit was launched in October 1940. The station had been at the forefront in producing local dramatics since its founding in 1935; the result of the merger of stations WFI and WLIT More on the history of WFIL and Philadelphia radio may be found at the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers website www.broadcastpioneers.com.

George Lilley, radio editor of The Record in his December 22, 1940 column, echoed the praise for WFIL and its program director James Allan for their efforts in developing the current array of programs not only The Spirit, but also Drama Laboratory, Mystery History and the daily serial, The Ghost of Thunder Island. The extensive exploitation of WFIL included: ads, merchandising, billboards, school bulletins. and cards in cars, subways, busses, trains and even windows.

There is no doubt that The Spirit was afforded his share of such publicity in addition to the newspaper copy illustrated above. Moreover the discovery of such items is crucial to further chronicling The Spirit on WFIL and other stations. Furthermore, this exploitation may have been a major factor WFIL was selected rather than WHAT, a station which had been purchased by The Record just months prior to The Spirit making its radio debut. WFIL was a full-time station rated for 1000 Watts, but was soon to be upgrading its signal strength to 5000 Watts. This IS compared to the 100 Watt, part-time status of WHAT On his blog, Ken also suggests that general program format of WHAT precluded The Spirit from airing on the station.

Enid Hager who had previously been a member of the WFIL production staff before engaging in her current position as radio promotion chief of The Record, took on the added task of script author in addition to her duties as producer of The Spirit. During the course of researching OTR, one may find a major source of pertinent material to be located in various advertising and ad agency archives. In the case of The Spirit however, this potential resource is not available. The Record had negotiated directly with WFIL, thus no agency was employed, ultimately saving The Record a tidy sum. This author does not imply however that correspondence, publicity, a script or even a transcription of the program would not have eventually made its way to any such archive.

Additional leads on The Spirit are being pursued at Temple University (www.temple.edu), and other academic institutions along with collections of The Free Library of Philadelphia (www.freelibrary.org) and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania(www.hsp.org) . The Spirit is still being elusive in Washington, Baltimore and in other markets but attempts are ongoing to remedy this sltuation. Thus, as of this writing, The Spirit can be classified as a local and not syndicated program. Readers may contact this author at <bluecar91@hotmail.com>