The Adventures of Superman on the Radio

The Adventures of Superman on the Radio

The Adventures of Superman radio series first aired on WOR 710 in New York City on February 12, 1940. The transcription discs were played that week on stations in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles. Detective Comics owner Harry Donenfeld paid $230 to hear the premiere in Cuba. The series aired in different formats until March 1, 1951, after a total of 2,088 episodes.

The Adventures of Superman, WOR 710 (1940)

The show was developed by publicist Allen "Duke" Ducovny and Robert Joffe Maxwell. Maxwell was a former pulp writer hired by Harry Donenfeld to oversee licensing for Superman Inc. Audition discs for four episodes were produced in late 1939. Ducovny and Maxwell co-wrote the original opening phrase: “Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets. ‘Up in the sky – look!’ ‘It’s a bird.’ ‘It’s a plane.’ ‘It’s Superman!’ ”

Ducovny and Maxwell were initially rejected by CBS, NBC Red, NBC Blue, and Mutual. Transcription discs were sold to regional stations and then shared with affiliates. Macy's was an early sponsor through a partnership with WOR. To promote the program, Macy's and Superman, Inc. organized "Superman Day" at the New York's World's Fair on July 3, 1940. According to the New York Times, an estimated 3,000 people attended the festivities. Part five of "Hans Holbein’s Doll Factory" was played twice for "Superman Day" guests.

George F. Lowther was brought on the staff in October 1940. Lowther was an experienced radio writer known for work on Dick Tracy and The Shadow. On August 31, 1942, the program began broadcasting live for five days a week on the Mutual network with Lowther as a director. During downtime between seasons, Lowther authored The Adventures of Superman novel published on November 2, 1942.

The series aired in various timeslots on ABC Radio from February 7, 1949, until the last episode on March 1, 1951. Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth reworked the show into a screenplay for Superman and the Mole Men starring George Reeves. The film was released on November 23, 1951, by Lippert Pictures. The feature served as pilot for the Adventures of Superman television series that premiered on September 19, 1952. Maxwell left the production staff after the first season.

Jackson Beck, Joan Alexander, Bud Collyer

Bud Collyer, born Clayton Johnson Heermance, Jr., starred as the first actor to voice Clark Kent and Superman on the radio and cartoons. Bud Collyer originally pursued a career in law before becoming a prominent voice in broadcasting on all four major networks. Collyer famously switched from a mild-mannered tenor as Clark to a rich baritone for Superman. The roles were originally written for two different actors. The audition script embarrassed Collyer, but Maxwell convinced him to stay.

Collyer also voiced both characters for the Fleischer and Famous Studios animated shorts released from 1941–1943. The January 21, 1950, episode "Dead Men Tell No Tales" was the final radio appearance of Collyer as Clark and Superman.

Bud Collyer later reprised the roles in the The New Adventures of Superman animated series from 1966–1968. Collyer's final performance as Superman was on the April 22, 1969, broadcast of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. The program reenacted part one of "Lois and Jimmy Disappear," originally broadcast on January 5, 1944. Johnny Carson read the role of Jimmy Olsen.

Bud Collyer (1946)

Actor Michael Fitzmaurice provided the voices of Clark Kent and Superman for 78 episodes from June 5, 1950, until the series finale on March 1, 1951. Michael Fitzmaurice worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before becoming a newsman on KNX radio known as Mike Kelly. Fitzmaurice was the primary announcer for the Hearst-MGM News of the Day newsreels and he regularly appeared in ABC radio dramas.

Michael Fitzmaurice, Radio and Television Mirror (December 1941)

In the 1939 audition episode "The Origin of Superman, Part 2," Miss Lane is a secretary at the Daily Flash. Miss Lane was originally voiced by actress Agnes Moorehead. The character was later rewritten as Miss Smith.

Reporter Lois Lane first appeared on radio in the February 26, 1940, episode "Dr. Dahlgren's Atomic Beam Machine." The first actress to voice Lois Lane was Rosalind "Rolly" Bester. Lois first meets Superman in the March 1 episode, "Threat To The Daily Planet." Rolly Bester portrayed Lois in four episodes broadcast from February 26 to March 4, before she was fired by Robert Maxwell.

Rolly Bester began her career as a Broadway performer before appearing on radio, television, and film. Rolly was married to science fiction author Alfred Bester, creator of Solomon Grundy and the Green Lantern oath. Rolly Bester later became head of casting and vice president of the Ted Bates & Co. advertising agency in New York.

Rolly Bester, With These Hands (1950)

Lois Lane remained absent from the show from March 6 through March 15, 1940. Lois returned in the March 18 episode "The Prison Riot" voiced by actress Helen Louise Choat, sometimes credited as Choate. Helen Choat departed the series after three storylines and her final appearance aired on April 26.

Choat began broadcasting at WNAC-Boston in 1928 and later starred in the major soap operas of the era. After the decline of radio, Helen Choat briefly worked in television and co-authored books about metaphysics.

Helen Choat, Radio Digest (October 1931)

Joan Alexander, born Louise Abrass, voiced Lois Lane for over 1,600 episodes from June 9, 1940, until the series finale on March 1, 1951. Alexander was fired by Robert Maxwell after about three months, but she regained the role of Lois in a blind audition. Alexander had studied acting in Europe under the tutelage of renowned director Benno Schneider. She took her stage name after actress Joan Crawford.

Joan Alexander also provided the voice of Lois Lane for the Fleischer and Famous Studios cartoons from 1941–1943. She would reprise the role in 1966 for one season of The New Adventures of Superman animated series. Alexander later expressed disappointment about being remembered for Lois Lane instead of major productions by Shakespeare or Shaw.

Joan Alexander (1946)

The radio show established elements of Superman mythology that remain in current continuity. The ability for Superman to fly was introduced in the 1939 audition episode "The Origin of Superman, Part 2." In the comic books, Superman first flew in Superman #10 (May–June 1941) due to a misunderstanding by artist Leo Nowak. Superman flies in the first Fleischer Studios animated short released on September 26, 1941. The power of flight officially debuted in Action Comics #65 (October 1943).

In "The Shark" pilot, the Daily Star was originally named Daily Flash. The Daily Planet first appeared in the newspaper strip on November 13, 1939. Editor Perry White was created for the radio series, voiced by actor Julian Noa and later by Jackson Beck. The character was originally named Paris White. In the comic books, the original editor was George Taylor. The name was officially changed to Perry White in Superman #7 (November 1940).

On April 15, 1940, the Daily Planet copy boy was introduced as Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy Olsen was first played by Jackie Kelk and later by Jack Grimes. The character first appeared as an unnamed "office-boy" in Action Comics #6 (November 1938). Jimmy Olsen officially made his comic book debut in Superman #13 (November–December 1941).

The first appearance of the word "kryptonite" was an advertisement for the Krypto-Raygun from Daisy in Action Comics #8 (January 1939). Kryptonite later appeared in "The Meteor from Krypton," first broadcast June 3–11, 1943. The seven-part storyline was written and directed by George Lowther. The metal kryptonite "glowed like a green diamond" and weakened Superman within five feet. The meteorite caused Superman to see visions of Krypton and his parents, Jor-el and Lara. "I know now, for the first time, who I really am, where I came from." The series also established lead as the only substance able to shield the deadly kryptonite radiation.


"The Mystery of the Wax Men" aired from February 28, to March 15, 1945. The February 28 episode features the first radio appearance of Dick Grayson and Robin, voiced by Ronald Liss. The March 2 episode features the first appearance of Batman on radio, although no lines are spoken. Jackson Beck provided the voice of Alfred Pennyworth. Superman first appeared with Batman and Robin on the cover of New York World's Fair Comics: 1940 Issue (April 1940).


Superman faced the Ku Klux Klan in the 14-part "Clan of the Fiery Cross" from June 10 through July 1, 1946. The hate group targets a Chinese American teen named Tommy Lee. After burning a cross in front of the Lee home, Tommy is kidnapped, tarred and feathered. Perry White is threatened after offering rewards to expose members. Superman ultimately stops the Klan from murdering Tommy.

Stetson Kennedy was a civil rights activist who had infiltrated KKK meetings. Kennedy claimed to have supplied Superman producers with secret knowledge of Klan rituals and weekly passwords, but the information presented in the script was public knowledge. No secret passwords were revealed throughout the story. The "Grand Scorpion of the Clan of the Fiery Cross" holds emergency meetings – in his garage. The "Grand Imperial Mogul" describes membership as a multi-level marketing scam, "hokum."

The message of tolerance from Superman contrasts the anti-Asian themes of World War II. In the summer of 1942, the Superman newspaper strips drew nationwide criticism after praising a Japanese concentration camp. In a letter to the Office of War Information dated April 12, 1943, show creator Robert Maxwell declared his intent to teach hatred towards the enemy. Maxwell wrote, "A German is a Nazi and a Jap is the little yellow man who 'knifed us in the back at Pearl Harbor.'"

Tune In (September 1946)


Early WOR 710 advertisements were distributed by Macy's for "Superman Day" at the New York World's Fair on July 3, 1940. Early regional sponsors included Hecker's Oat Cereal, Force Wheat Flakes, Proctor & Gamble, Skippy Peanut Butter, and Stroehmann's Bread. The show was sponsored in Canada by Ogilvie Flour Mills Company. In 1941, various stations and bakeries stamped branding on cards from the Superman Junior Defense League of America.

Kellogg's PEP cereal was the official sponsor on Mutual, first appearing on January 4, 1943. Superman is featured in all five series of "Comic Buttons" included with boxes of PEP from 1945 to 1947. Superman also appeared on twelve different PEP box-panel comics dated 1945.

A "Superman Crusader" premium ring was available by mail order for one boxtop and 10 cents during the fall of 1946. The "Superman Crusader" ring was featured in the "Counterfeit Money" storyline from October 17 to November 5, 1946. A commercial advertising the ring was included on transcription discs of Part 8. The ring was marketed as a "symbol of Superman's fight for tolerance and good sportsmanship."

The Exhibit Supply Company (ESCO) of Chicago issued collector cards for Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander in the TV and Radio Stars series. The American Card Catalog reference is W409. The sets are cataloged by variations in the "Made in U.S.A." font. Each card measures approximately 3.375 x 5.375 inches, smaller than a standard postcard.

The black-and-white Exhibits were dispensed from penny arcade vending machines during the 1940s and 1950s. A cropped variant of the Bud Collyer card includes "Superman" under the facsimile autograph.

Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) A - Bud Collyer Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) B - Bud Collyer Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) - Joan Alexander

Bud Collyer appears with actor and singer Bert Parks on an Exhibit card for Break The Bank, a quiz show that aired on ABC Radio from July 5, 1946, until September 23, 1949. Parks and Collyer co-hosted the radio and televisions broadcasts for ABC beginning October 22, 1948. Bert Parks is best known for hosting the annual Miss America pageant from 1955 to 1979. Collyer made appearances as co-host and emcee on Break The Bank from 1948–1953. Bert is misspelled as "Burt" and both actors are mislabeled on the Exhibit card.

Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) - Break The Bank

Bud Collyer appears on card No. 31 in the 1953 Television and Radio Stars of NBC series from Bowman Gum. The American Card Catalog reference is R701-15. Collyer appeared on Break the Bank from 1948–1953, but the biography information on the card back incorrectly states "since 1945."

1953 Bowman - Television and Radio Stars of the NBC - 31 - Bud Collyer


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Brown, Tweed. "He Makes Like Superman." Tune In, Sept. 1946, pp. 27–29.

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Hayde, Michael J. Flights of Fantasy: The Unauthorized but True Story of Radio & TV's Adventures of Superman. BearManor Media, 2009.

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Kobler, John. "Up, Up and Awa-a-y! The Rise of Superman, Inc." The Saturday Evening Post, 21 Jun. 1941, pp. 14–15, 73–76.

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Radio Superman - Look - September 3, 1946

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