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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ALL WE WANT ARE THE FACTS: Eddy King and DRAGNET
by Michael J. Hayde, © 2004
(From Radio Recall, June 2004)
"The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed, to protect the innocent."
Those two lines, which opened all 318 "Dragnet" radio episodes, instantly conjure up the image of Sgt. Joe Friday and one of his partners patiently solving another puzzling mystery. The lines even outlived the medium: by changing the word "hear" to "see," the phrase, as spoken by George Fenneman, has aired over television at least as many times as "Why can’t I be in your show, Ricky?" or "One of these days, Alice… POW! Right in the kisser!"
In "My Name’s Friday," I wrote that announcer Eddy King was the first to speak the famous introduction. I obtained that information from Jack Webb's copy of the first script, which is housed at UCLA's Special Collections department. As it turns out, though, I didn’t have "all the facts, ma'am."
Mr. King, who recently subscribed to the internet OTR Digest, contacted me with the whole story of his contribution to Dragnet Production #1. To begin with, King was yet another member of the distinguished alumni who began their radio careers in San Francisco. Webb was working at KGO - the ABC station, and King was employed at NBC's KPO:
"It so happened that NBC and ABC shared the studios in the same building. At one point, I had to sign on the NBC net in the morning and Jack Webb had to sign on ABC. The booths were back to back. At any rate, Jack was always late… so I would sign on for NBC, run right next door to do the same for ABC, then dash right back to NBC. I really didn't mind, because Jack and I were friends, and I knew it was his habit to show up a few minutes late."
Webb was never one to forget a friend... so once both men were settled in Los Angeles, it was natural that he would invite King to participate in "Dragnet." Says King, "Jack asked me to do the initial voice on the audition. I remember him telling me to get very close to the mike, and just almost whisper the opening...which I did. Jack said that was exactly what he was looking for."
On June 3 1949, Webb, Barton Yarborough, Charles McGraw, Barney Phillips, Jack Petruzzi, David Wolfe, Peggy Webber, Herb Ellis and Harry Bartell filed into NBC's Hollywood studios to perform in the very first "Dragnet." Accompanying them were the two announcers, Eddy King and Don Stanley. The script called for King to intone the introduction, followed by Stanley speaking one word: "Dragnet!"
Unfortunately for King, that’s not what transpired. Apparently there was some concern over exactly how the show’s title should sound: "The director's booth was filled to capacity. It so happened that one guy after another came out of the booth, and each one had a different interpretation of how to say the damn word. It got to the point where I hid behind the curtains, because I knew what was going to happen... they were going to give Don Stanley my line, and ask me to just say 'Dragnet.' And that's exactly what happened."
There was more bad news to come: "The upshot of it was there was a Program Director at NBC who took it upon himself to make a lot of changes. He also changed the two announcers, which broke my heart. Jack himself came to me and apologized, telling me that the show wasn't his, but belonged to NBC, and there was nothing he could do." In fact, the show was owned by Webb's agent, George Rosenberg, but even so, NBC had more say than Webb at this stage. The following week, Frank Barton came aboard to speak King's original lines, while Hal Gibney said "Dragnet!" to NBC’s - and Webb’s - satisfaction.
Fortunately, King was able to hold his own in Hollywood, and is philosophical about his "Dragnet" experience: "At least I did the very first one. But life goes on, right?" King and Jack Webb remained friends, and even shared an apartment during one of Webb’s periodic separations from his wife, Julie London. "I have wonderful memories of those days at the apartment with Jack," says King. "I had a little record player, and it turned out that Jack was a jazz buff. He played my great records 'til they wore out!"
And those are the facts, ma'am... just the facts.
About the author: Michael J. Hayde is a MWOTRC member and the author of My Name's Friday, a superb book that received an Edgar nomination in 2002. He is now writing a book on the comedy team of Martin and Lewis.