During the war years I was addicted to several radio programs. The first thing I can remember hearing on the radio was Tom Mix’s sidekick, The Old Wrangler, screaming as he fell off a cliff: “Tom, Tom, Toooommm.” I can still hear The Old Wrangler’s voice doing a Doppler as the show ended. Tuning in the next afternoon, however, I learned that he was actually clinging to a bush, and was quickly pulled to safety.

At the end of every show there was always a crisis, which ensured you’d be by the radio the next day. But the voice dropping in the canyon is still with me.

One might see cowboy and detective programs to be an extension of the epic hero cycle. The hero runs a gauntlet designed to test his psychological and physical prowess. The audience experiences a catharsis because, in a fantasy world, good triumphs over evil.

In ancient Greece, heroes wrestled mythical monsters or misanthropic gods. I tuned in about the time that heroes had their hands full of cattle rustlers and land thieves.

Because I like to see good triumph over evil, I keep an entire museum of crime fighters filed away in my mind. Comparing and contrasting them is always fun but nothing new: Hercule Poirot completed the 12 labors of Hercules.

Although neither Sherlock Holmes nor Poirot has a degree from the University of Southern Maine, they do have much in common with Adrian Monk. They are single men who live alone. Only a dedicated biographer could share quarters with Holmes, who used his pistol to shoot a mysterious “VR” on the wall. Monk and Poirot must have everything neatly in place in their homes and in their minds, but Holmes is either oblivious to clutter or unable to cope with it.

Poirot, born around 1854, appreciated older women who still wore a bustle, which was popular when he was in his teens. I like the way women dressed and the automobiles they drove in the early “Perry Mason” films – made before I was 20.

Holmes, Poirot and Monk think logically, which enables them to see far beyond the horizons of ordinary mortals. We all have friends with compulsive behavior and often wonder why they don’t think rationally.

Although Perry Mason and Ben Matlock are both lawyers, they are always out and about like unarmed detectives and seldom fail to find a clue at the crime scene.

If you live in a corner of the world where “Perry Mason” or “Matlock” has never aired, the plot goes like this. A problem presents itself, usually involving money, a love triangle or both. Ten minutes into the show, a very unpleasant person manages to be murdered. Several people profit by the demise of Mr. Bad. Sometimes we see the perpetrator. Sometimes a gloved hand quietly turns a doorknob and brandishes a gun or fireplace poker.

No sooner does the killer leave when the door opens and the prince or princess in distress rushes in. He or she kneels in a pool of gore and picks up the murder weapon as a police lieutenant, wearing a “gotcha” smile, walks in.

In an alternative scenario, the hero has just agreed to represent the accused when the police come in and cart him or her off.

It is possible to train a chicken to push a lever hundreds of times to get one piece of grain.

Police are smarter than chickens, so you’d think that because Perry Mason’s last 200 clients had been exonerated, just seeing him would wind it up right there. Why bother to swear in an officer who will say, “Yes. That’s the murder weapon. It has my mark on it,” then have to tell his wife that evening that Perry Mason skunked him again?

Detective programs are educational. Potential blackmailers learn that you never ask your mark to bring the money to a deserted building at midnight. Also, a witness must never, ever say: “I must to tell you what I saw – OK. It can wait until morning.”

Radio required more imagination than television. I’m glad I didn’t know that two voices on the Tom Mix program belonged to George Gobel and Harold Peary (“The Great Gildersleeve”). I had a clear mental picture of Tom’s Wonder Horse because my father told me that the “clop, clop, clopping” was two coconut shells drumming in the dirt.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:


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