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Next on the Program is Big Town brandishing its “flaming sword” of freedom of the press February 14, 2007

Posted by William Spear in >> Next on the Program, >> Radio Drama.

From 1937 through 1952, Big Town listeners were greeted by a newsboy’s chant of “Extra, extra, get your Illustrated Press!” And what they heard was sensational.

Big Town told the stories covered by the Illustrated Press and its Managing Editor, Steve Wilson. Spotlighting graft, crime, and corruption, Wilson and his reporters took on everyone from gangsters to crooked politicians.

But bigger than the stories in the pages of Illustrated Press were the stars in the leading roles – Edward G. Robinson played Steve Wilson and Claire Trevor was Lorelei Kilbourne, the Society Editor, and Wilson’s partner in journalistic crusading. Gale Gordon was District Attorney Miller, Lou Merrill played numerous gangsters, and Ed MacDonald was reporter, Tommy Hughes.

The news covered by Wilson, Kilbourne, Hughes, and the other reporters made for dramatic listening. Titles such as “Reform Town,” “Every Sixteen Minutes,” “Blind Justice,” and “Death at the Wheel” had more twists and hard stops than rush hour traffic.

But the show’s initial cast would soon change. Claire Trevor left in 1940 for the series Stagecoach and was replaced by Ona Munson and later, Fran Carlon. Robinson left in 1942; his replacement was Edward Pawley and briefly, Walter Greaza. Other characters were added: Harry the Hack, played by Robert Dryden, Ross Martin, and Mason Adams; Willie the Weep, played by Donald MacDonald; and Mozart, a blind piano-playing club owner performed by Larry Haines. Bobby Winckler was the newsboy and Michael O’Day took over later in the run.

Music was supplied by Leith Stevens and John Gart. Sound effects were performed by John Powers and Ray Erlenborn. Jerry McGill wrote the series. Directors were William N. Robson and McGill. Announcers were Carlton KaDell and Dwight Weist.

For 15 years on radio and another six on television and in comics, Steve Wilson and the reporters of Illustrated Press fought crime by reporting on crime. As their slogan reminded listeners, “Freedom of the press is a flaming sword! Use it justly . . . hold it high . . . guard it well.”

For Steve Wilson, Lorelei Kilbourne, and the reporters of the Illustrated Press, they did exactly that.

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