Women in distress were a staple for this kind of adventure.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1933
Creators: Eddie Sullivan (writer) and Charlie Schmidt (artist)
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In the wake of Dick Tracy, the most popular theme in American comics was law enforcers in pursuit of criminals. In one capacity or another, Red Barry, Secret Agent X-9, Dan Dunn and many other comics stars operated within that scenario. But Radio Patrol, which started …

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… during August, 1933, didn't fit the mold, which was of a guy in a regular suit, foiling high-profile crime lords, who did larger-than-life dastardly deeds. It was about ordinary cops on patrol, keeping ordinary people safe from shoplifters, hold-up men, pickpockets and other ordinary crooks.

Radio Patrol started in a single newspaper, in an out-of-the-way corner of the Hearst corporate empire, when the managing editor of Boston's Daily Record decided the paper needed a comics feature of its own. In the fast-paced world of daily news, it took night city editor Eddie Sullivan and long-time art department stalwart Charlie Schmidt only two days to fulfill their assignment of creating one from scratch. What they came up with was Pinkerton Jr., about a crime-fighting kid called "Pinky" Pinkerton, who wasn't related to either the real-life crime-fighting Pinkertons or Mr. Scarlet's sidekick. Pinky was assisted by his dog Irish (an Irish setter), neighborhood cops Stuttering Sam and Sgt. Pat in Car 11, and plainclothes policewoman Molly. (References to Sam's speech patterns were later dropped.)

The new strip met with strong public acceptance, and within a couple of months, was voted tops in a reader survey, beating out many comics that had been beneficiaries of national promotion campaigns. William Randolph Hearst was known for glomming popular cartoons such as Henry and The Little King, from disparate sources, for his King Features Syndicate. He could hardly be expected to miss one in his own company. Retitled Radio Patrol, and with Sgt. Pat as its star (it was later retitled Sgt. Pat of Radio Patrol), the Sullivan/Schmidt creation started as a King Features daily on April 16, 1934. A Sunday version soon followed.

Like Professor Otto & His Auto before it and Della Vision after, Radio Patrol was associated in its very title with new technology. The public had been familiar for generations with neighborhood cops stopping minor crimes, but putting a two-way radio right in the car made an old concept seem fancy and new — enough to make a media sensation, if only a minor one, out of the property.

First, it was a radio show, then a movie serial. Universal Studios (Don Winslow, Tim Tyler) released the first of 12 chapters on October 15, 1937. Grant Withers (Jungle Jim) played Pat, with Catherine Hughes (who has also played minor parts in a couple of Dick Tracy films) as Molly.

Three Radio Patrol Big Little Books were published during the late 1930s by Whitman, which had also exploited Popeye, Mickey Mouse and many other properties in that medium. In comics, it was reprinted in the back pages of King Comics, alongside Bringing Up Father and Barney Google. (But it wasn't related to the feature with a similar name, Radio Squad, that ran in the back pages of DC's More Fun Comics)

The fact that antagonists tended not to be world conquerors or crazed murderers didn't hinder the action-filled stories. But as radio communication in big city police departments became more common and less noteworthy, the series seems to have lost the interest of the public. It ended in 1950.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features Syndicate.