Imagine, if you will, a radio drama in which the criminal thinks he gets away with it – everybody involved thinks that he got away with it – heck, even the narrator sorta thinks he got away with it – only to have something trip him up in the final moments. Add some dramatic music, some top radio voices, and you have the 1950’s-era drama The Whistler.
The Whistler was a CBS drama, sponsored by the Signal Oil Company, where narrator and host Bill Forman would introduce the story, act as a Greek chorus for the protagonist, and then watch as that protagonist’s own hubris would bring the villain down every time. There was always a twist ending, to the point where you knew – the moment the Wilbur Hatch Orchestra played that specific fanfare – the jig was up and the cretin was either going to justice, or died as a result of his own misguided machinations.
While The Whistler was a popular radio drama, it did not reach nationwide coverage. The show aired only on CBS’s West Coast stations, since the Signal Oil Company did not have many gas stations in the East. There were a few attempts to bring the show to the East Coast, including a short run sponsored by Campbell’s Soups, but for most of its run – 1942 to 1955 – it was enjoyed by West Coasters only.
There was another way for East Coast fans to enjoy The Whistler – beginning in 1944, Columbia Pictures made a series of Whistler movies, including the one I’ve embedded in this blog post.
There was even a short-lived Whistler TV show in 1954, it was syndicated to various television stations and ran concurrently with the last years of the radio show. Here’s an episode of the TV series.
Today, you can hear The Whistler as part of the rotating lineup of SiriusXM’s “Radio Classics” old-time radio dramas and comedies at Channel 148. Of the more than 600 radio episodes produced from 1942 to 1955, 400 of them are still available, either broadcast through SiriusXM’s channel, or in trade collections from old-time-radio download websites.
Definitely worth listening to if you have a half hour to spare. But definitely stay for the twist ending. Yes.