1950s radio detective show
from archive.org

Dragnet, the brainchild of Jack Webb, may very well be the most well-remembered, and the best, radio police drama series. From September, 1949 through February 1957, Dragnet's 30 minute shows, broadcast on NBC, brought to radio true police stories in a low-key, documentary style.

The origins of Dragnet can be traced to a semi-documentary film, "He Walked by Night" from 1948, in which Webb had a small role. Both employed the same Los Angeles Police Department technical adviser, used actual police cases and presented the case in "just the facts" manner that became a hallmark of Dragnet. It is interesting to note that Webb employed that format in other radio series, some pre-dating the film mentioned above.

Dragnet was a long running radio and television police procedural drama, about the cases of a dedicated Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday, and his partners. The show takes its name from an actual police term, a Dragnet, meaning a system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Dragnet was perhaps the most famous and influential police procedural drama in American media history. The series gave millions of Americans a feel for the boredom and drudgery, as well as the danger and heroism, of real life police work. Dragnet earned praise for improving the public opinion of police officers.

Actor and producer Jack Webb's aims in Dragnet were for realism and unpretentious acting. He achieved both goals and Dragnet remains a key influence on subsequent police dramas in many media. The shows cultural impact is demonstrated by the fact that even after five decades, elements of Dragnet are known to those who have never heard nor seen the program. The ominous four note introduction to the brass and tympani theme music, titled Danger Ahead, is instantly recognizable as well as the shows opening narration:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday ran on radio from June 3rd, 1949 to February 26th, 1957; and on television from December 16th, 1951 to August 23rd, 1959, and from January 12th, 1967 to April 16th, 1970. All of these versions ran on NBC. There were two Dragnet feature films, a straight adaptation starring Jack Webb in 1954, and a comedy spoof in 1987. There were also television revivals, without Webb, in 1989 and 2003.

Dragnet debuted inauspiciously. The first several months were bumpy, as Webb and company worked out the program's format and eventually became comfortable with their characters. Friday was originally portrayed as more brash and forceful than his later usually relaxed demeanor. Gradually, Friday's deadpanned, fast-talking persona emerged, described by John Dunning as "a cop's cop: tough, but not hard; conservative, but caring". Friday's first partner was Sergeant Ben Romero, portrayed by Barton Yarborough, a long time radio actor

When Dragnet hit its stride, it became one of radio's top rated shows. Webb insisted on realism in every aspect of the show. The dialogue was clipped, understated, and sparse -- influenced by the hard-boiled school of crime fiction. Scripts were fast moving, but didn't seem rushed. Every aspect of police work was chronicled, step-by-step. From patrols and paperwork, to crime scene investigation, lab work and questioning witnesses or suspects. Webb was a stickler for accurate details, and Dragnet used many authentic touches, such as LAPD's actual radio call sign, KMA-367, and the names of many real department officials, such as Ray Pinker and Lee Jones of the Crime Lab, or Chief of Detectives, Thad Brown.

Two announcers were used. Episodes began with announcer George Fennemen intoning the series opening:

"The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

Hal Gibney described the basic premise of the episode. For example, "Big Saint", from April 26th, 1951, begins with:

"You're a detective sergeant. You're assigned to auto theft detail. A well organized ring of car thieves begins operations in your city. It's one of the most puzzling cases you've ever encountered. Your job -- break it."

The story usually began with footsteps and a door closing, followed by Joe Friday intoning something like:

"Tuesday, February 12th. It was cold in Los Angeles. We were working the day watch out of Robbery Division. My partner's Ben Romero. The boss is Ed Backstrom, Chief of Detectives. My name's Friday."

Friday offered voice-over narration throughout the episodes, noting the time, date, and place of every scene as he and his partners went through their day investigating the crime. The events related in a given episode might occur in a few hours or might span a few months. At least one episode unfolded in real time, in "City Hall Bombing", from July 21st, 1949. Friday and Romero had less than 30 minutes to stop a man who was threatening to destroy the City Hall with a bomb. At the end of an episode, announcer Hal Gibney would relate the fate of the suspect. They were usually convicted of a crime, and sent to the state penitentiary or a state mental hospital. Murderers were often executed in the manner proscribed by law. Occasionally, police pursued the wrong suspect, and criminals sometimes avoided justice, or escaped, at least on the radio version of Dragnet.

Scripts tackled a number of topics, ranging from the thrilling (murders, missing persons, and armed robbery) to the mundane (check fraud and shoplifting) -- yet, Dragnet made them all interesting due to the fast moving plots and behind the scenes realism. In "The Garbage Chute", from December 15th, 1949, they even had a locked-room mystery. Though rather tame by modern standards, Dragnet, especially on the radio, handled controversial subjects, such as sex crimes and drug addiction, with unprecedented and even startling realism. The tone was usually serious, but there were moments of comic relief. Romero was something of a hypochondriac, and often seemed hen-pecked. Though Friday dated women, he usually dodged those who tried to set him up with marriage-minded dates.

Due in part to Webb's fondness for radio drama, Dragnet persisted on radio until 1957, as one of the last old time radio shows to give way to television's increasing popularity. In fact, the TV show would prove to be effectively a visual version of the radio show, as the style was virtually the same. The TV show could be listened to, without watching it, with no loss of understanding of the storyline.

NOTE: Updated Release! Version 3: Added numerous sound upgrades and alternative (AFRS or sponsored) versions of episodes (01-May-2013).

NOTE: Updated Release! Version 2.1: Added ARFS version of episode 194 "The Big Laugh", and removed erroneous episode 93 "The Big Trunk" and 94 "The Big Lover" (28-Nov-2009).

NOTE: Updated Release! Fixed Episode 301 "The Big Siege", added some AFRS episodes, and about a dozen other miscellaneous changes(19-Nov-2009).

From the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group. See "Note" Section below for more information on the OTRR.

  1. Production 2 aka Homicide aka The Nickel Plated Gun (27.2Mb)
  2. Production 3 aka The Werewolf (13.5Mb)
  3. Production 4 aka Homicide aka Quick Trigger Gun Men (27.4Mb)
  4. The Helen Corday Murder (27.3Mb)
  5. Red Light Bandit (27.1Mb)
  6. Attempted City Hall Bombing (27.5Mb)
  7. Missing Persons - Juanita Lasky (27.4Mb)
  8. Benny Trounsel - Narcotics (27.2Mb)
  9. Production 10 aka Homicide aka Maniac Murderer aka Mad Killer At Large (27.4Mb)
  10. Production 11 aka Sixteen Jewel Thieves (27.2Mb)
  11. Police Academy - Mario Koski (26.9Mb)
  12. Dragnet_49-09-01_013_Auto_Burglaries_-_Myra,_the_Redhead (27.4Mb)
  13. Eric Kelby - Body Buried In Nursery (27.3Mb)
  14. Sullivan Kidnapping (26.9Mb)
  15. James Vickers - Cop Killing - Tunnel Chase (16.7Mb)
  16. Brick-Bat Slayer (16.7Mb)
  17. Truck Hi-jackers - Tom Laval (16.8Mb)
  18. Dragnet_49-11-24_026_Mrs._Rinard,_Albert_Barry_-_Mother-In-Law_Murder (16.8Mb)
  19. Spring Street Gang - Juveniles (16.8Mb)
  20. George Quan - The Jade Thumb Rings (6.7Mb)
  21. 22 Rifle for Christmas (26.9Mb)
  22. The Roseland Roof Murders (7Mb)
  23. Max Tyler - Escaped Convict (16.8Mb)
  24. The Big Man Part 1 (Narcotics) (16.8Mb)
  25. The Big Man Part 2 (Narcotics) (6.7Mb)
  26. Dragnet_50-02-02_035_Claude_Jimmerson,_Child_Killer (16.8Mb)
  27. The Big Girl (16.8Mb)
  28. The Big Grifter (16.8Mb)
  29. The Big Kill (26.9Mb)
  30. The Big Thank You (27.2Mb)
  31. The Big Boys (27Mb)
  32. The Big Gangster Part 1 (27.4Mb)
  33. The Big Gangster Part 2 (16.8Mb)
  34. The Big Book (28.2Mb)
  35. The Big Watch (26.9Mb)
  36. The Big Trial (26.8Mb)
  37. The Big Job (16.8Mb)
  38. The Big Badge (16.8Mb)
  39. The Big Knife (16.8Mb)
  40. The Big Pug (16.8Mb)
  41. The Big Key (6.8Mb)
  42. The Big Fake (6.8Mb)
  43. Dragnet_50-06-08_052_Big_Smart_Guy_AFRS#46 (22.5Mb)
  44. The Big Smart Guy (6.8Mb)
  45. The Big Press (16.8Mb)
  46. Dragnet_50-06-22_054_Big_Mink_AFRS#48 (22Mb)
  47. The Big Mink (16.8Mb)
  48. The Big Grab (16.7Mb)
  49. The Big Frame (16.8Mb)
  50. The Big Bomb (16.8Mb)
  51. The Big Gent Part 1 (16.7Mb)
  52. The Big Gent Part 2 (16.8Mb)
  53. The Big Dare (16.8Mb)
  54. The Big Actor (16.8Mb)
  55. The Big Youngster (16.8Mb)
  56. The Big Chance (16.8Mb)
  57. The Big Check (16.8Mb)
  58. The Big Poison (16.8Mb)
  59. The Big Make (16.8Mb)
  60. The Big Pair (16.8Mb)
  61. The Big Death (20.1Mb)
  62. The Big 38 (20.1Mb)
  63. The Big Quack (6.7Mb)
  64. The Big Grandma (16.8Mb)
  65. The Big Meet (16.8Mb)
  66. The Big Church (16.8Mb)
  67. The Big Mother (16.8Mb)
  68. The Big Parrot (16.8Mb)
  69. The Big Betty (16.8Mb)
  70. The Big Car (16.8Mb)
  71. The Big Picture (16.8Mb)
  72. The Big Break (13.4Mb)
  73. 22 Rifle for Christmas (13.5Mb)
  74. The Big Family (5.9Mb)
  75. The Big Holdup (13.9Mb)
  76. The Big Jump (6.8Mb)
  77. The Big Dance (13.5Mb)
  78. The Big Tomato (13.9Mb)
  79. The Big Children (6.7Mb)
  80. The Big Cast (13.4Mb)
  81. The Big Crime (6.7Mb)
  82. The Big Couple (27.2Mb)
  83. The Big Partner (6.1Mb)
  84. The Big New Years (6.1Mb)
  85. The Big Ben (6Mb)
  86. The Big Friend (26.9Mb)
  87. The Big Threat (6.8Mb)
  88. The Big Speech (27.1Mb)
  89. The Big Saint (27.1Mb)
  90. The Big Casing (13.5Mb)
  91. The Big Drills (6.1Mb)
  92. The Big Blast (13.5Mb)
  93. The Big Mailman (13.5Mb)
  94. The Big Bindle (13.5Mb)
  95. The Big Imposter (13.5Mb)
  96. The Big Building (27Mb)
  97. The Big Run (27Mb)
  98. The Big Cliff (27Mb)
  99. The Big Love (26.9Mb)
  100. The Big Set-Up (27.1Mb)
  101. The Big Sophomore (26.8Mb)
  102. The Big Late Script (27.1Mb)
  103. The Big Screen (27.2Mb)
  104. The Big Winchester (26.8Mb)
  105. The Big In-Laws (27Mb)
  106. The Big Crazy (27Mb)
  107. The Big 17 (27.1Mb)
  108. The Big Waiter (24Mb)
  109. The Big Sour (23.2Mb)
  110. The Big September Man (24.2Mb)
  111. The Big Want Ad (6.3Mb)
  112. The Big Shoplift (27Mb)
  113. The Big Story Man (11.9Mb)
  114. The Big Market (24.2Mb)
  115. The Big Lease (27Mb)
  116. The Big Hit and Run Killer (27.3Mb)
  117. The Big Bungalow (27.1Mb)
  118. The Big Hands (13.4Mb)
  119. The Big Affair (6.9Mb)
  120. The Big Canaries (6.9Mb)
  121. The Big Overtime (6.8Mb)
  122. 22 Rifle for Christmas (5.8Mb)
  123. The Big Sorrow (6.8Mb)
  124. The Big Red Part 1 (27Mb)
  125. The Big Red Part 2 (27Mb)
  126. The Big Juvenile Division (6.8Mb)
  127. The Big Almost No Show (27.1Mb)
  128. The Big Honeymoon (26.9Mb)
  129. The Big Phone Call (27.1Mb)
  130. The Big Producer (27Mb)
  131. The Big Plant (26.9Mb)
  132. The Big Evans (27Mb)
  133. The Big Fire (27.1Mb)
  134. The Big Border (27Mb)
  135. The Big Rose (27Mb)
  136. The Big Streetcar (27Mb)
  137. The Big Show (27Mb)
  138. The Big Bunco (27.3Mb)
  139. The Big Elevator (26.9Mb)
  140. The Big Safe (13.5Mb)
  141. The Big Gamble (13.5Mb)
  142. The Big Mail (13.4Mb)
  143. The Big Shakedown (13.4Mb)
  144. The Big Fourth (16.9Mb)
  145. The Big Whiff (16.8Mb)
  146. The Big Jules (6.3Mb)
  147. The Big Roll (13.4Mb)
  148. The Big Trio (27.1Mb)
  149. The Big Hate (26.8Mb)
  150. The Big Signet (26.9Mb)
  151. The Big Impression (27Mb)
  152. The Big Drive (26.8Mb)
  153. The Big Paper (27.1Mb)
  154. The Big Test (27Mb)
  155. The Big Ray (27.1Mb)
  156. The Big Tear (6.3Mb)
  157. The Big Bull (27.1Mb)
  158. The Big Shot (27Mb)
  159. The Big Brain (5.8Mb)
  160. The Big Jolt (26.8Mb)
  161. The Big Lie (6.8Mb)
  162. The Big Pill (13.5Mb)
  163. The Big Number (13.6Mb)
  164. The Big Light (13.6Mb)
  165. The Big Dive (27Mb)
  166. The Big Walk (26.9Mb)
  167. The Big Guilt (26.9Mb)
  168. The Big Shirt (26.9Mb)
  169. The Big Mole (27Mb)
  170. The Big Eavesdrop (26.5Mb)
  171. 22 Rifle for Christmas (6.1Mb)
  172. The Big Mask Part 1 (6.8Mb)
  173. The Big Mask Part 2 (6.5Mb)
  174. The Big Small (27Mb)
  175. The Big String (26.9Mb)
  176. The Big Lay-Out (27.2Mb)
  177. The Big Strip (13.6Mb)
  178. The Big Press (27Mb)
  179. The Big Tooth (27Mb)
  180. The Big Smoke (27.1Mb)
  181. The Big Want (26.9Mb)
  182. The Big Laugh (13.5Mb)
  183. The Big Laugh (AFRS) (5.8Mb)
  184. The Big Impossible (27Mb)
  185. The Big Informant (27.2Mb)
  186. The Big Dream (27.2Mb)
  187. The Big Chet (26.5Mb)
  188. The Big Compulsion (27.5Mb)
  189. The Big Rip (13.2Mb)
  190. The Big Scrapbook (26.9Mb)
  191. The Big Carney (13.5Mb)
  192. The Big Joke (26.9Mb)
  193. The Big False Move (27.2Mb)
  194. The Big Gun Part 1 (7.1Mb)
  195. The Big Gun Part 2 (6.6Mb)
  196. The Big Will (27.1Mb)
  197. The Big Lilly (26.8Mb)
  198. The Big Revolt (27Mb)
  199. The Big Ham (26.9Mb)
  200. The Big Bop (27Mb)
  201. The Big Lift (27.1Mb)
  202. The Big Cab (27Mb)
  203. The Big Slip (27Mb)
  204. The Big Try (27.2Mb)
  205. The Big Little Mother (27Mb)
  206. The Big Plea (27.2Mb)
  207. The Big Paint (27.2Mb)
  208. The Big Fraud (6.7Mb)
  209. The Big Rain (6.7Mb)
  210. The Big Kid (17Mb)
  211. The Big Kid (5.8Mb)
  212. The Big Flight (8.8Mb)
  213. The Big Present (27Mb)
  214. The Big Present (5.9Mb)
  215. The Big Odd (27.1Mb)
  216. The Big Odd (5.8Mb)
  217. The Big Pick (26.1Mb)
  218. The Big Pick (5.9Mb)
  219. The Big Brink (27Mb)
  220. The Big Brink (5.7Mb)
  221. The Big Little Jesus (26.8Mb)
  222. The Big Steal (26.6Mb)
  223. The Big Steal (5.9Mb)
  224. The Big Listen (27Mb)
  225. The Big Listen (5.7Mb)
  226. The Big Switch (16.6Mb)
  227. The Big Switch (5.8Mb)
  228. The Big Bill (23.4Mb)
  229. The Big Bill (5.7Mb)
  230. The Big Bid (13.4Mb)
  231. The Big Bid (5.6Mb)
  232. The Big Filth (26.8Mb)
  233. The Big Filth (5.9Mb)
  234. The Big Broad (16.9Mb)
  235. The Big Broad (5.7Mb)
  236. The Big Sucker (27Mb)
  237. The Big Sucker (6Mb)
  238. The Big Pipe (13.7Mb)
  239. The Big Pipe (23.3Mb)
  240. The Big TV (13.3Mb)
  241. The Big TV (5.5Mb)
  242. The Big Cup (13.4Mb)
  243. The Big Cup (5.9Mb)
  244. The Big Rod (27.3Mb)
  245. The Big Rod (8.3Mb)
  246. The Big Mustache (27.1Mb)
  247. The Big Mustache (5.7Mb)
  248. The Big Confession (27.3Mb)
  249. The Big Confession (6Mb)
  250. The Big Saw (26.8Mb)
  251. The Big Saw (6Mb)
  252. The Big Note (26.8Mb)
  253. The Big Note (6Mb)
  254. The Big Net (26.9Mb)
  255. The Big Net (5.9Mb)
  256. The Big Lift (26.7Mb)
  257. The Big Lift (5.8Mb)
  258. The Big Stop (26.9Mb)
  259. The Big Stop (6Mb)
  260. The Big Look (26.5Mb)
  261. The Big Look (5.9Mb)
  262. The Big Help (23.2Mb)
  263. The Big Watch (6Mb)
  264. The Big Cowboy (22.8Mb)
  265. The Big Student (5.9Mb)
  266. The Big Cat (6Mb)
  267. The Big Customer (5.9Mb)
  268. The Big Chick (6Mb)
  269. The Big Search (5.9Mb)
  270. The Big Rescue (6Mb)
  271. The Big Heel (5.9Mb)
  272. The Big Match (6Mb)
  273. The Big Stand (26.7Mb)
  274. The Big Stand (5.9Mb)
  275. The Big Wish (6Mb)
  276. The Big Cad (6Mb)
  277. The Big Shock (5.9Mb)
  278. The Big Office (5.9Mb)
  279. The Big Trunk (5.8Mb)
  280. The Big Cut (26.9Mb)
  281. The Big Cut (5.9Mb)
  282. The Big Try (6Mb)
  283. The Big Bible (26.7Mb)
  284. The Big Bible (6Mb)
  285. The Big Handsome Bandit (6Mb)
  286. The Big Tar Baby (27.1Mb)
  287. The Big Tarbaby (6.1Mb)
  288. The Big Mannikin (26.8Mb)
  289. The Big Mannikin (6.1Mb)
  290. The Big Key (6Mb)
  291. The Big Locker (27Mb)
  292. The Big Coins (22.9Mb)
  293. The Big Dog (22.8Mb)
  294. The Big Switch (5.9Mb)
  295. The Big Gone (6Mb)
  296. The Big Dig (5.9Mb)
  297. The Big Lens (6.1Mb)
  298. The Big Little Jesus (12.5Mb)
  299. The Big Underground (5.9Mb)
  300. The Big Mug (6Mb)
  301. The Big Complex (5.8Mb)
  302. The Big Token (23.4Mb)
  303. The Big Bounce (22.8Mb)
  304. The Big Bird (5.9Mb)
  305. The Big Gap (5.9Mb)
  306. The Big Hat (5.8Mb)
  307. The Big Slug (5.9Mb)
  308. The Big Set-Up (5.9Mb)
  309. The Big Father (5.8Mb)
  310. The Big Set (23.1Mb)
  311. The Big Set (5.9Mb)
  312. The Big Talk (22.8Mb)
  313. The Big Talk (5.8Mb)
  314. The Big Death (5.6Mb)
  315. The Big No Tooth (22Mb)
  316. The Big Tie (5.7Mb)
  317. The Big Deal (5.6Mb)
  318. The Big Child (5.8Mb)
  319. The Big Momma (5.8Mb)
  320. The Big Revision (5.9Mb)
  321. The Big Squealer (5.8Mb)
  322. The Big Siege (23.5Mb)
  323. The Big Sisters (26.9Mb)
  324. The Big Sisters (5.8Mb)
  325. The Big Limp (5.7Mb)
  326. The Big Fall Guy (13.5Mb)
  327. The Big Grab (23.2Mb)
  328. The Big Convertible (23.2Mb)
  329. The Big Rush (5.6Mb)
  330. The Big Genius (5.7Mb)
  331. The Big Bobo (13.3Mb)
  332. The Big Housemaid (8.6Mb)
  333. The Big Sheet (5.7Mb)
  334. The Big Missus (13.4Mb)
  335. The Big Beer (12.1Mb)
  336. The Big Blonde (11.4Mb)
  337. The Big Fellow (5.6Mb)
  338. The Big Ruling (13.4Mb)
  339. The Big Daughter (22.9Mb)
  340. The Big Close (23.2Mb)
  341. 22 Rifle for Christmas (5.8Mb)
  342. The Big Dream (6Mb)
  343. The Big Scrapbook (5.9Mb)
  344. The Big Present (5.9Mb)

MP3 files hosted by archive.org.