Monday, November 10, 2008

The Blue Coal Radio Revue

I should admit now that The Shadow history is messy. It was on 3 different networks, had 2 different producers and 5 different voices. It moved from pulp fiction magazines to radio. We all eventually get to the infamous evil laugh. The radio programs ran for hundreds of episodes. The main sponsor throughout was Blue Coal. The program and the product were tightly tied in the beginning. More here.

Blue Coal was the trade name of the coal sold by the DL&W Coal Mine . They actually dyed the coal blueish with a dyed fuel oil. DL&W stood for Delaware, Lackawanna and Western. When Antitrust actions forced DL&W to slim down, Glen Alden bought out their coal titles. DL&W focused on it's rail lines but remained the exclusive retailer of coal mined and processed by the Glen Alden Coal Company. In the great depression coal sales tanked. Output dropped from 11 million tons annually to under seven million.
In 1953 it was sold to the Moffat Coal Company. Glen Alden Coal suffered through declining demand and the stockholders liquidated it after it floundered. But that was 4 years after The Shadow was canceled. In 1966 sold it's remaining tiles to the new "Blue Coal Corp."

The program launched in July of 1930 as the Detective Story Hour. Radio listeners tuned to CBS and heard "The Shadow" as played by James La Curto. Street and Smith publishers sponsored the program. They were the publishers of the pulp fiction magazine "The Shadow, A Detective Monthly." The tie-in was big for them but they dropped the program after about a year.
In September 1931,The Blue Coal Radio Revue relaunched it. The Shadow was played by Frank Readick, Jr. and The Shadow was the narrator. The introduction.. after the laugh went like this "Your neighborhood Blue Coal dealer brings you the thrilling adventures of The Shadow. Creative camps in the writers and producers found it out with the sponsor continually. In some regards the early radio Shadow, the later radio Shadow and the one of Pulp Fiction were different characters. In The Detective Story Hour was a participant, not the narrator.

In 1932 the program moved to NBC, but stuck with Blue Coal as the sponsor. Readick was usually the shadow but somtimes La Curto still was the voice. In 1937 The Mutual radio Network picked up the series. It is that network that transitioned the Shadow into a part of the tales. The Shadow had secret identities. On Radio it was Lamont Cranston and on mututal that became Orson Welles. (In print it had been Kent Allard. ) But most of the many different voices that played the part still were playing Cranston. In 1938 that was Bill Johnson, the in 1943 it was Bret Morrison.

Blue Coal floundered and drops it's sponsorship for most of 1938 but returned later that year. They held on until 1949. After that the program passed form sponsor to sponsor somtimes having more than one, somtimes none. The program was cancelled in 1954.


  1. Hello, thanks for the article. I'm not sure how to get in contact with you. But I was wondering if you could solve a bit of trivia for me.

    Do you know who was the announcer for Blue Coal during most of The Shadow episodes? His voice comes in at the 1:52 mark.

    Thanks, and great blog article!

  2. Ken Roberts was the announcer in most of 1930 so I'd guess it was him.

  3. Gordon Cooke Jr11:22 PM

    My father was president of Blue Coal in the 40's and we have some glass 78 records of a couple of episodes. They even wrote him in as the villian in a mini-episode. He also reads a commercial in one of the episodes, "The Exploding Cabinet"
    Gordon Cooke Jr

  4. This is why I keep blogging. Many people don't realize that these kind of things still exist. Those discs are important historical documents. They should be digitized and archived. Please do consider the thought... that their final residence be a museum. There is no more famous radio drama than The Shadow.