NEWS COLUMNS

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014

RADIO CATTS AND COMMERCIAL ADS

By James Johnson

Originally printed in the Woodstock Independent
March 10, 2004

The Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum recently received an interesting e-mail from Heather West of Washington. Her grandfather had been a fraternity brother of Chester Gould at Northwestern University in the early 1920′s. His name was Raymond Kraft, a saxophone player. West wondered if he might have appeared as a character in one of Gould’s early cartoons, a 1924 strip called “Radio Catts.” The Museum is researching this, as Gould sometimes put his friends and acquaintances into his strips, varying their names and appearances.

The radio was brand new in the 1920′s and Gould sold the Chicago Evening American on the idea of doing a humorous cartoon series on how radio was entering the American mainstream. It featured a family of cats, the “Radio Catts,” talking about crystal sets, programming and how a listener could hear “Cleveland, Kansas City and Davenport.” They listened to music, “Just a Song at Twilight,” news broadcasts and the early adventure series. Perhaps to broaden the appeal, the cats morphed into humans, and the strip was renamed “Radio Lanes.” One panel on display in the Museum shows “Kitty Lane” waiting with earphones attached to her crystal set to hear the Prince of Wales make a broadcast speech.

After Gould moved to Chicago from his native Oklahoma, he enrolled at Northwestern University, worked days and attended classes at night. His newspaper career slowly advanced as he drew commercial advertising. One small ad was for “Calox Tooth Powder,” just 14 cents per can. Another showed an immense unidentified touring car, possibly a Locomobile, and its happy occupants. Cartoons were his dream, however. The radio series and another effort called “Fillum Fables” (about the movie industry) were among the 60 cartoons he created before “Dick Tracy” finally clicked.

Visitors to the Museum will see the 1931 telegram from Capt. Joseph Medill Patterson, with the message “Your Plainclothes Tracy has possibilities-stop-Would like to see you when I get to Chicago.” Gould was tireless and knew that persistence would pay off. His philosophy and work ethic showed in his cartoons, as Dick Tracy also never gave up.

Many Dick Tracy adventures were presented on radio during the 1940′s. Occasionally visitors will hear one from the Museum’s collection. The Musuem has contacted Chuck Schaden, who produces the old-time radio show “Those Were the Days” heard on WDCB (90.9) Saturday afternoons. If the Museum can come up with expense money for equipment setup and phone line charges, Schaden would be able to do one of his broadcasts from the Museum. Schaden and his partner Ken Alexander provide their own museum of the airwaves, playing shows from the great Jack Benny and Fred Allen, the thrillers “Suspense” and “The Shadow,” and drama such as “Lux Radio Theatre” or “Grand Central Station.”

Follow-up note: Sadly, we were never able to secure the funding for this remote radio transmission. Chuck Schaden recently retired after 39 years of producing the show, turning over the reins to Steve Darnall. It will continue on WDCB, and Steve’s excellent programming can be heard on-line.

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“The pathways of crime are clearly marked. There's a doublecross on every corner.”
- Chester Gould
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