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Welcome to Down These Mean Streets, a weekly trip back to the Golden Age of Radio where we rub elbows with the era's greatest private eyes, cops, and crime-fighters. Since 2013, I've been podcasting everything from cozy mysteries to police procedurals, spotlighting characters ranging from hard boiled gumshoes to amateur sleuths. 

Be sure to tune in each Sunday for adventures of a radio detective and the behind-the-scenes stories of their shows. Join me as we spend time with Sam Spade, Johnny Dollar, Sgt. Joe Friday, and more!

"The lonesomest mile in the world..."

Feb 27, 2019

Broadway is My Beat, the story of Detective Danny Clover and “the gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world,” premiered on CBS on February 27, 1949. Thanks to the expert direction, the sharp writing, and an impressive lead performance, Broadway is My Beat broke the mold of a police drama and holds up today as one of the best shows from the era.

Admittedly, it got off to an inauspicious start.  The series premiered as a competently made police drama with a capable lead performance from Anthony Ross as Danny Clover.  It attracted little attention from the public and the series left the air after four months.  Originating from New York for the first go-round, CBS moved production across the country to Los Angeles and engaged a new production team to retool the series.

The reins were turned over to Elliot Lewis, who was about to break out as one of the great radio talents of the era.  Lewis was best known in 1949 as an actor; he starred in the Mutual adventure series Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, and he played Frankie Remley, the dim bulb sidekick of Phil Harris on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.  He cut his teeth in the Armed Forces Radio Service and learned the ins and outs of radio, from scriptwriting to directing, during World War II.  Lewis wasn’t interested in making just another police drama.  He wanted to make the city of New York as much a character on the show as the cops and the criminals.  To that end, he employed a team of three sound effects artists to create one of radio’s richest soundscapes.  It was rare that the sounds of traffic and the hustle of the city weren’t heard as Danny Clover walked up flights of stairs at apartment houses or ducked into bars still waking up from the previous’ nights revelries.

Lewis added scriptwriting duo Morton Fine and David Friedkin to the Broadway is My Beat team.  This veteran radio duo (who would later create the classic 1960s TV series I Spy) put a spin on Danny Clover that was more in line with Jack Webb’s Joe Friday than brilliant super-cops.  Clover cracked cases through determination and hard work; he was no deductive genius but he wasn’t a dullard either.  In a June 15, 1950 article in The Sherbrooke Telegram, Fine and Friedkin described Danny Clover as “a nice, human guy who is a policeman and who solves crimes by piling human emotion against human emotion.“

But Clover wasn’t going to be the man Fine and Friedkin imagined without the right voice at the microphone.  Fortunately, the right man got the job.  Larry Thor was a CBS announcer (he could be heard introducing Rocky Jordan and other programs) who started acting along with his announcing chores.  He brought a dignity and determination to the work of a policeman, and he delivered the lyrical dialogue of the scripts effortlessly.  Supporting Clover at police headquarters were Charles Calvert as the quirky desk sergeant Gino Tartaglia, and Jack Kruschen as Clover’s sidekick in the field, Detective Muggavan.  Just like Clover, these weren’t the typical radio cops, but they added some color and levity to the downbeat scripts and harsh world of the series.

The things that set Broadway is My Beat apart from the crowd also made it hard to sell to a sponsor.  For much of the run, the show was sustained by CBS and was used to fill gaps on the network’s lineup.  it moved consistently, which is never the right way to build an audience.  The series left the air in 1953, but one listen to Broadway is My Beat today reveals a show that succeeded in spite of its scheduling woes; it wasn’t just another radio cop show, and it may be a program that plays better to a 21st century audience more accustomed to realism and morally complex plots than some of the white-hat derring do of the Golden Age of Radio.