Gang Busters


Gang Busters (or “Gangbusters” as it gradually became one word when the term became accepted into the US English vernacular) was a very successful radio series that began in 1936 and went off the air in 1957. It was so popular it spawned movie, television, and comic book series. An earlier radio series, G-Men , was created by Phillips H. Lord. The production had a relationship with the FBI, but Lord ended the series as style and content demands of the organization (and J. Edgar Hoover, himself) were too limiting for Lord’s vision of the program. That program ended, and Gang Busters was born. A new phrase entered the vocabulary of Americans, “coming on like Gang Busters,” because of the loud series of sound effects at the program's open: a police whistle, convicts marching in formation (created by pegs suspended by string net in a wooden frame with the pegs bounced up and down in a march cadence), a police siren, machine gun firing, and tires squealing. The story of the week’s criminal would be narrated by a police chief or commissioner or police officer, “by proxy” (meaning it was played by one of the actors), and the drama would unfold accordingly. The criminal was always caught by the end of the program. Two of the real-life law officers who appeared on the program for a while was retired New Jersey State Police superintendent Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf who was involved in the investigation of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping (and whose son would become famous as US general in the Persian Gulf War), and former New York City police commissioner Lewis J. Valentine. The highlight, for many listeners, was the plea for assistance in capturing criminals being sought by the police and other law enforcement agencies. The physical descriptions of the criminals would highlight distinguishing facial and other features of them in ways that almost sounded cartoonish about the shape of their noses, visible scars, and notable aspects of their demeanor. These “Gang Busters clues,” it was claimed, helped bring almost 300 criminals to justice. Many disagreed with the practice. An editorial in the 1941-03-07 Miami Herald said broadcasting the clues was “… a practice which we consider a lot of hokum” and that “we feel the federal government and the police should take over the practice instead of leaving it up to a liniment sponsor.” Gang Busters was sponsored, at the time, by Sloan’s Liniment, a skin lotion for sore muscles. The show’s supervisor, Leonard Bass, defended the practice. In the first five years of the program about 1600 clues “ which have resulted in the direct apprehension of 165 wanted persons.” Numerous radio and future television stars were in the cast. Art Carney (yes, “Norton” from The Honeymooners was a highly respected radio actor), Frank Lovejoy, Joan Banks, Santos Ortega, Leon Janney, Alice Reinheart, Richard Widmark, Robert Dryden, Roger DeKoven, and many, many others. A Gang Busters comic as published by Dell is at https://archive.org/details/GangBusters04 Part 1 of the Gang Busters movie serial is at https://archive.org/details/GangBusters1 (all thirteen episodes are available at archive.org) A Gang Busters television episode is at https://archive.org/details/Gangbusters-theBaylessCase * * * These recordings are part of the Joe Hehn Memorial Collection. Mr. Hehn (1931-2020) was a pioneering collector of radio recordings when the hobby emerged in the 1960s. Digitizing his collection of reel tapes and discs is the effort of a wide range of North American volunteers, and includes assistance of some international collectors. The groups supporting this effort with their funds, time, technology and skills are the Old Time Radio Researchers and a small group of transcription disc preservationists who refer to themselves as the "The Knights of the Turning Table."

This recording is part of the Old Time Radio collection.