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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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From Comics to Radio
by Karl Schadow © 2012
(From Radio Recall, October 2012)

For years it has been rumored that The Spirit, one of the classics of the comics, had its own radio program. Interest in this seemingly obscure venture was rejuvenated when A.A. King recently posted on the Old Time Radio Digest (www.oldradio.net) a link to Ken "Comic Detective" Quattro's blog http://thecomicsdetective.blogspot.com with Ken's request for any information on this unique incarnation of The Spirit's exploits.

Unique and obscure it is. A radio program of The Spirit is not to be found in any OTR reference including: Radio Crime Fighters by Jim Cox (McFarland, 2002) nor Ron Lackmann's Comic Strips & Comic Books of Radio's Golden Age (Bear Manor Media, 2004). Most compelling however, is that The Steranko History of The Comics 2 (Supergraphics, 1972) is most often cited as the initial source which is reiterated in Ken's blag, for any existence of such a program.

For those of you new to The Spirit, he premiered in the publishing field with no advance publicity in the newspaper trade, on June 2, 1940 as part of a special free Comic Book Section (later known as The Spirit Section) insert of Sunday newspapers across North America. This project was the joint effort of Quality Comic Group (QCG) publisher Everett M. " Busy" Amold, Register & Tribune Syndicate (Des Moines, Iowa) and most importantly comic creator-extraordinaire, Will Eisner brilliant innovator of three crime-fighting characters of the Section: The Spirit, Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic.

The Spirit, former Detective Denny Colt once thought to be dead, had been revived from a state of suspended animation to fight crime in Central City. Accompanied by his faithful African-American sidekick Ebony White, The Spirit whose real identity was known only to Central City's Police Commissioner Dolan, operated from a hide-out located beneath Wildwood Cemetery, the supposed final resting place of Denny Colt.

His escapades in the Sunday Comic Book Section continued into the Fall, 1952. A much anticipated daily strip was added in October 1941 having a prosperous two and one-half year run closing in March, 1944. Over the past few decades, those original stories have been reprinted, predominantly by DC Comics and Kitchen Sink Press In addition to new series of adventures being published. lOW Publishing is soon to release a new compendium of Will Eisner art. The Spirit was produced for TV in a brief 1948 series with a made-for-TV movie in 1987 A feature film of the character was seen in movie theaters in 2008. More on The Spirit and Will Eisner may be found elsewhere in this issue of Radio Recall. at www.willeisner.com and www.deniskitchen.com.

The Steranko History had purported a shortlived program of The Spirit in three Mid-Atlantic cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, DC with scripts penned by Enid Hager On his blog, Ken informs us that Miss Hager had been associated with The Philadelphia Record (moming and Sunday newspaper). Thus, the current research commenced with the perusal of the broadcasting, newspaper, advertising and amusement trade periodicals In addition to the vast pages of The Record and its competitors. Although The Record had been promoting frequently the new Comic Book Section in its daily pages, there was no indication that a sister radio program was soon to hit the airwaves.

The November 1, 1940 issue of Broadcasting reported a swap between The Record and Philadelphia's station WFIL of the three crimefighters comprising the Comic Book Section in The Sunday Record. Each was to be featured on a rotating basis in a weekly 15-minute drama adapted from this Section. Readers of The Record on Saturday, October 26, 1940 were pleasantly surprised that Mr. Mystic (a magician with supernatural powers) was going to be aired at 7:00 that evening on WFIL, with The Spirit slated for next week. On the radio page of The Record the next day (October 27th), The Spirit was affirmed for the upcoming broadcast.

Whether or not the story of Mr. Mystic and his entanglement with Shanghai dope peddlers garnered the initial stanza awaits further study as there was no follow up to confirm which story was actually presented. A preview in The Record the following Saturday (November 2nd) indicated that The Spirit was to be featured that evening but the publicity tacked a plot summary.

With this night's episode, The Spirit had joined his fellow characters, from the well·known Blondie and Dick Tracy, to the even more obscure Lew Loyal as comics who had their founding in the newspaper strips, and who had made the transition to the medium of radio. To date, episodes featuring Lady Luck, that dashing debutante sleuth of the Section have not been identified.

With each succeeding week, a brief story synopsis was published in The Record, usually printed on a page other than that carrying the radio logs. Moreover, in Friday's issues of The Record, the Comic Book Section and its radio companion were promoted with bold, one-line statements at the top of individual comics which probably did not appease the syndicates distributing Alley Oop, L'il Abner or The Phantom. Subsequently in early 1941 these one-liners were reduced to a single comic which varied from week·to-week and featured just The Spirit on WFIL. Though The Spirit was listed in the radio logs of The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, other sheets merely indicated the program as 'Dramatization' or refused to print any WFIL programs at the designated time.

This conundrum illustrates a classic point for all OTR researchers in that all available newspapers in a given market should be consulted when seeking information on programs, especially those locallyproduced. Amusingly, issues of Movie-Radio Guide which included WFIL programs (Edition 2. MidAtlantic versions) listed the program as 'Dramatization' for several months before finally giving the program its official title.

The Spirit's Mask advertisement

With the episode of November 30th, readers of The Record were encouraged to listen so that they could leam how to receive a mask similar to what The Spirit wore in the comics ... and get it FREE. The offer was also plugged on a different page than that of the weekly plot summary thus culminating in publicity for The Spirit on three individual pages of the issue. A Spirit mask is mentioned in The Steranka History and also in Hake's and Tomart's toy/premium guides. However, no direct tie-in with a radio pogram is stated. It is unknown if other premiums were offered during The Spirit's stint on WFIL. Ironically, the radio program was not promoted anywhere in the 16-page, Comic Book Section, an interesting absence of cross-promotion as the basic premise of the radio program was to entice listener's to purchase The Sunday Record.

During the first season which ended in May, 1941, The Spirit encountered a potpourri of criminals from gangsters to dictators and even a few femme fatales, all while having to rescue on occasion, the romantic interest of the strip, Ellen Dolan, daughter of the police commissioner There is no current explanation as to the reason behind the hiatus as the Comic Book Section continued throughout the summer in The Sunday Record. The Spirit returned for a second season Saturday. September 6, 1941 at 7 pm on WFIL. The Record continued to promote the program both on the radio page and elsewhere with a short synopsis. The scripts were again adapted by Enid Hager from stories of the Sunday comics. In September, 1941, The Billboard reported that each episode could now be heard twice each Saturday on a regular basis, now that a rebroadcast was slated for Philadelphia station WHAT.

The Record indicated on September 27th that a transcription of The Spirit was to be aired that evening at 9 pm on WHAT. According to this source, this is the only occasion in which a repeat performance was scheduled either in the radio logs or other publicity. Had The Record encountered technical, contractual or copyright difficulties in procuring and airing a transcription each week? Nevertheless, this situation presents a fascinating scenario that a recording of The Spirit was made and that one may still exist.
(END OF PART 1 - Continued in December issue)