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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Black Moon Mysteries: Baltimore, Beer, and Baffling the Best
by Karl Schadow © 2016
(From Radio Recall, October 2016)
The anonymous critic raved, "Most ambitious and one of the best things of type Bailto radio listeners have ever been accorded from a local broadcasting source." This was the opinion of Variety (January 1, 1935) regarding Black Moon Mysteries, a series of weekly, thirty-minute thrillers originated by Baltimore's pioneer station WFBR. This station is probably best-known as the original home of Arthur Godfrey. Other significant contributions of a national scale include the Quiz of Two Cities and The Adventures of Skull John, a juvenile adventure series featuring the exploits of a pirate which aired on Mutual in the early 1940s.
Black Moon Mysteries commenced Thursday, December 18, 1934, 7:15 pm and was fed by WFBR to its NBC neighbor WRC in Washington, DC. In July of 1934, the two stations had arranged to exchange selected commercial series. Their first joint venture was the National Beer Quarter Hour, a musical show. Several months later, Gunther Brewing Company signed on to sponsor Black Moon Mysteries. Gunther's ad agency, I. A Goldman & Company negotiated the two-station deal on behalf of the brewery.
This was the firm's second commercial program after commencing its radio advertising endeavors on WFBR the previous April with a sports commentary feature. Noteworthy, is that a report in the Washington Post (December 14, 1934) indicated that the series which was initially slated to be produced and originate at WRC had recently been changed to WFBR. The reasons for the late switch are currently unknown.
Though the Variety review cited Margaret Sanger (then prominent women's reproductive health advocate) as the script writer, each episode was actually crafted by Joan Eliasberg Sanger, a crime novelist residing in New York City. She was best known for her 1936 tome, The Case of the Missing Corpse. The native of Selma, Alabama had moved to Baltimore as a child and attended Goucher College in that city. Her obituary in New York newspapers (April 19, 1960) stated that she was a writer of short stories and radio scripts but declined to cite specific titles for either medium.
Though episode plots for Black Moon Mysteries are unknown, evocative titles include "The Case of the Very Blonde Lady" and "The Case of Frenzied Hour" among others which were frequently highlighted in newspapers of both cites. (See accompanying ads and log below). Moreover, the blood-dripping moon illustration is a gruesome component of each ad.
Each installment featured the story of a journalist which always commenced at the Black Moon Cafe as outlined in the Variety review, "Each yarn in the series will open with the crack crime-tracking reporter seated before a stein of Gunther's (the sponsor) beer; that works in the appropriate plugs fore and aft programs." Does the "fore and aft" survey indicate that there was to be no commercial interruption at the mid-point of the story? If so, then credit is due to the sponsor for keeping the suspense intact throughout the entire half-hour. Amusingly, one might wonder if the reporter knew either Casey or Anne over at the Blue Note? Also, who was Ethelbert's counterpart at the Black Moon?
Both the Variety scrutiny and newspaper publicity indicated the cast as being members of The Vagabond Players of Baltimore. This organization which was founded in 1916 is the oldest continuously performing little theater group in the nation. Such organizations made significant contributions to the development of radio drama in the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, it was estimated that there were some 600 groups performing on the ether waves. The Vagabond Players had been entertaining radio audiences in Baltimore with their performances since the late 1920s.
Neither the name of the intrepid reporter, his newspaper nor the identification of individual cast members of Black Moon Mysteries were identified as the Variety report stated "Cast was totally unbilled." Additionally, the program's musical director and WFBR production staff are still to be determined. Interestingly, there is no mention of Black Moon Mysteries or any of the troupe's other radio endeavors in Linda Lee Koening's history of the organization which was published in 1983.
Starting with the fourth episode (January 7, 1935), Gunther instituted a Slogan Contest which continued for several weeks. With three cash prizes offered, this stunt undoubtedly increased listeners and sales of Gunther products. On January 31, 1935, the series switched to Thursday's at 6:15 pm and continued in that slot until its eighteenth and concluding chiller on April 11, 1935.
As readers of Radio Recall have probably noticed during the past few years, this author has presented research on obscure programs for which there was previously a minute amount of information available. It is this author's belief that even though OTR fans are unable (as of this writing) to listen to audio or peruse a script of several of these entities, there is value in this research as it presents material on programs that contribute to the overall preservation and legacy of OTR. Black Moon Mysteries was initially "discovered" several years ago while perusing the list of literally thousands of individual program titles which are to be found in volumes of the Variety Radio Directory (1937-1940).
Research on Black Moon Mysteries will continue as the author acknowledges those who have previously assisted in this investigation: Tim Evans, Historian of The Vagabond Players; JoAnn Fruchtman daughter of the former owner of Gunther Brewing Company; Al Hubin, crime fiction guru; and most recently, Ed Gunts, nephew of Brent Gunts, Sr., a pioneer in Baltimore radio and television
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Black Moon Mysteries Log:
12/1 7/1 934 "Adventure of the Absent-Minded Professor"
12/24/1934 "The Case of the Missing Bride"
12/3 1/1934 "The Case of the Frightened Tenant"
01/07/1935 "The Case of the Unseen Witness"
01/14/1935 "The Case of the Very Blonde Lady"
01/21/1935 "The Case of the Chinese Buddha"
01/28/1935 "The Case of the Lonely Lighthouse"
01/31/1935 "The Case of the Vanished Pilot"
02/07/1935 "The Case of the Blue Death"
02/14/1935 "The Case of the Strange White Body"
02/21/1935 "The Case of the Frenzied Hour"
02/28/1935 through 04/11/1935 ... ... Titles Unknown