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”Stories start in many different ways…”


Habitual old-time radio listeners have no difficulty identifying their favorite actors and actresses; while some radio thesps possessed the talent to disguise their voices in the roles they were assigned, others have a distinctive “tell” that gives them away immediately. There’s no mistaking, for example, Frank Lovejoy in a part. Lovejoy wasn’t able to master dialects in the way someone like, say, Hans Conried could…still, Frank’s authoritative tough-guy voice, blended with concern and compassion, leaps out at you if you happen to be listening to him on broadcasts of Suspense or Escape. Frank Lovejoy had regular roles on such old-time radio classics as Mr. and Mrs. North, Murder and Mr. Malone (a.k.a. The Amazing Mr. Malone) and This is Your FBI (he was the narrator in the early years of the program); and his best-remembered series, the short-lived but first-rate Night Beat, which premiered over NBC on this date sixty-five years ago today.

lovejoy4Lovejoy played journalist Randy Stone, who penned a column for a fictitious newspaper known as The Chicago Star. The title of Night Beat was just what it implied: Stone worked the swing shift, and in order to gather material for his column walked the streets of the Windy City in a Whistler-like fashion, encountering a colorful array of individuals—some good, others often menacing. Stone in many ways served as the narrator for an anthology program that could feature a terrifying series of events on one broadcast…and the following week, a decidedly humorous and light-hearted tale. He chased down members of the criminal element while at the same lending a sympathetic ear to those in need of assistance; Randy Stone provided a “voice” for those without influence or power, marginalized on the edges of society.

lovejoy1The origins of Night Beat began with a May 19, 1949 audition recording that would have cast Edmond O’Brien in the role that Frank Lovejoy would make famous. O’Brien’s character answered to “Hank Mitchell” in that audio pilot (and his newspaper of record was The Examiner), in which he becomes trapped in an elevator in the pursuit of a murderer named George Bailey. (Does anyone in Bedford Falls know about this?) The Powers That Be at NBC liked the “Night Beat” concept, but didn’t feel that O’Brien had what it took for the lead role. (O’Brien later replaced Charles Russell as “fabulous freelance insurance investigator” Johnny Dollar, so he wasn’t out of work for long.) The same script (by veteran scribe Larry Marcus) was recycled for a second audition (in January of 1950), now featuring Lovejoy as the new lead, “Lucky” Stone. NBC greenlighted the series for a February 6, 1950 premiere, with a final name change to the now well-known “Randy” Stone. (Though if you listen to that inaugural broadcast, “Zero,” announcer Frank Martin identifies the protagonist as “Rudy” even though Lovejoy introduces himself by his more familiar moniker two lines earlier.)

lovejoy2Night Beat had a relatively brief radio run (its final broadcast was September 25, 1952). It’s mindboggling that a series of such quality scripting (much of it from co-creator Marcus, with contributions from first-rate writers like Russell Hughes, Kathleen Hite, John and Gwen Bagni, and David Ellis) struggled in its two-year stint over the airwaves, but NBC did little to promote the program and constantly switched Night Beat’s time slot around as if they were challenging listeners to a game of three-card monte. The acting on the show was nothing short of tremendous; in addition to Lovejoy, many of Radio Row’s “usual suspects” appeared on the broadcasts—such as Lawrence Dobkin, Parley Baer, William Conrad, Jeanette Nolan and Georgia Ellis. Its distinctive timpani-accompanied opening remains one of radio’s most memorable, as does Lovejoy’s trademark cry of “Copy boy!” at the program’s close. Because NBC inexplicably chose to orphan Night Beat, it was difficult for the show to attract sponsors; it was sustained for most of its broadcast run, save for a brief period where General Mills’ Wheaties made sure Randy got his paycheck each week.

20439Despite the network’s indifference, Night Beat became one of old-time radio’s true “success stories.” Special care was taken to preserve its transcriptions by fans of the show, and during the nostalgia boom of the 1970s, it was prominently featured among the offerings on the syndicated The Golden Age of Radio Theatre and other old-time radio-themed shows.

Radio Spirits enthusiastically endorses this absorbing radio drama: there are several Night Beat broadcasts available on our Stop the Press! collection, and a March 27, 1950 episode (“Flowers on the Water”) on our new Great Radio Detectives set. For pure undiluted Randy Stone, we invite you to check out Lost Souls.

One Comment

  1. carrico says:

    Why did NBC chose to orphan the series? Something to do with the Red Scare hitting America? Randy was always protecting the rights of the little guy. I can see how this could feel threatening to the sponsors. The writers–were some of them ‘blacklisted’? Regardless, it’s a great series, Lovejoy’s got the perfect voice. I think his wife often played opposite him.

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