Old-Time Radio Shows Which Feature Cable Cars

by Joe Thompson

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Many old-time network radio shows were set in and/or broadcast from San Francisco:

  • Candy Matson
  • The Adventures of Sam Spade
  • One Man's Family
  • Pat Novack for Hire
  • Johnny Modero - Pier 23

Other shows would visit San Francisco:

I'm searching through these shows and others for references to cable cars. I welcome suggestions.

San Francisco Radio City

Radio City A late 1940's postcard shows Radio City. O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde cable car tracks are visible in the foreground.

The San Francisco Radio City building at O'Farrell and Taylor was built for NBC (the National Broadcasting Company) in 1942. Stations KPO (NBC Red Network, later KNBC, now KNBR) and KGO (NBC Blue Network) were housed there. NBC sold the Blue Network, which became the basis of ABC (the American Broadcasting Company) in 1943. KGO continued to use Radio City until 1954. KNBR moved out in 1967. The building was later used for many years by a UHF television station, KBHK, Channel 44.

The building contained eleven studios. Three were large enough to hold audiences. Many West Coast and national radion programs broadcast from Radio City including Candy Matson.

KPO Mural The restored mural on the Taylor Street side of Radio City. It was designed by CJ Fitzgerald. July, 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

John Schneider's Voices Out of the Fog has many interesting articles about Radio City, KPO, and other facets of San Francisco radio history.

Candy Matson

Thanks to Walter Rice for suggesting this show.

Candy Matson was a green-eyed former fashion model who became a private detective because she had "to maintain a nice apartment on Telegraph Hill, and buy enough clothes to highlight" her attractive "displacement." Her NBC West Coast Network series ran from 1949 through 1951. It was produced at the NBC San Francisco Radio City studios of station KNBC.

In her 07-July-1949 episode, "The Cable Car Case," Candy heads downtown for a shopping trip, "but I couldn't take the F car on Stockton - they were ripping up about 87 blocks, which is par for the course - so I walked down Telegraph Hill and up to Mason. That's where the Bay and Powell cable car stops." She squeezes onto the bench between an Italian lady and a drunk. "The trip as usual was uneventful. Three smashed fenders and several choice words I'd never heard before. I wrote them down. By the time our prairie schooner reached the turntable at Market Street, the crowd on the car had thinned out," but the drunk was still there, apparently asleep. Candy found that he was dead with a bullet through his heart.

During Candy's investigation, she finds that the victim's brother lives in Sea Cliff, at 25 Dashiell Road. This was a tip of the hat to Dashiell Hammett. She gets help from an alchoholic photographer named Rembrandt Watson. Her romantic interest is a police detective named Mallard, who is the subject of several duck jokes.

If you'd like to listen to the show and find out who done it, try the OTR.Network Library, a collection, as of 07-Oct-2006, of 12,326 episodes of 170 different series. Look under the Candy Matson link, or click here.

Jack Benny

Jack Benny was a great American comedian. Many jokes on the show made fun of Jack's alleged stinginess. His radio show was almost always one of the highest-rated.

On 09-January-1938, he took his show to San Francisco, where he broadcast from the Western Women's Club (111 O'Farrell Street). Jack's cast members mention the new bridges and Treasure Island, where the fair will open the next year. Jack's wife, Mary Livingstone, read a poem that she had allegedly composed, which includes one of the show's trademarks, an embedded Jello (r) commercial:

San Francisco
Oh San Francisco, San Francisco,
Here's a town I can't resisto.
I like your parks and Civic Center,
It's cool in summer, warm in wenter.
And your harbor, filled with water,
And your good old Fisherman's Wharf,
With its lobster and its crab meat
Gee, I cannot get enorf.
I climbed your hills in cars on cables.
I would have walked if I was ables.
And after that I took a boat
And sailed right through your Golden Goat.

San Francisco oft reminds us,
Footprints in the sands of time.
Jello (r), six delicious flavors,
Strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon, lime.

On 30-March-1947, the show returned to San Francisco. I think there are more references to cable cars here than in 1938 because of the save the cable cars movement.
Jack: Where are you living here in town?
Mary: At the Sir Francis Drake. Where are you?
Jack: I'm at the Fairmont Hotel, on the top of Nob Hill.
Don Wilson (announcer): How do you get there, Jack, by cable car?
Jack: No, no.
Mary: You ought to ride them some time.
Jack: Mary, if I want to get to the top of Nob Hill, I'll get there.
Mary: Yeah, but what you won't do to save a dime.
Don: What do you mean, Mary?
Mary: Yesterday I saw Jack going up Powell Street with spiked shoes, a rope, and a pick.
Jack: Well, I made, didn't I?
Mary: Yes, but when you got to the top of the hill, you didn't have to yodel.

Later in the episode, Phil Harris' band plays a number. Jack introduces Mahlon Merrick, the show's musical director, who conducted because Harris was absent.
Jack: I've never hear Phil Harris' band sound so good. How long have you studied music?
Mahlon: One week.
Jack: Oh. Well, what made you decide so recently that you wanted to lead an orchestra?
Mahlon: Well, I'm a conductor on a cable car and I don't know how long they're going to last.

Jack Benny brought his radio show to San Francisco for three weeks in April and May 1953, while he appeared in a stage show at the Curran Theatre ("At popular prices" -- a running gag).

In the 03-May-1953 episode, Jack talked to bandleader Bob Crosby about how the band was sightseeing around the city. The activities of Frankie Remley, a guitar player in the band, were a frequent source of humor.
Bob Crosby: I think this town has Remley confused.
Jack: Frankie? Frankie confused?
Bob Crosby: Yeah, we were all walking along Market Street and we came to the corner of Market and Powell -- you know, where they turn the cable cars around?
Jack: Oh, yes, yes. I've seen those turntables.
Bob Crosby: Well, Remley took one look at it and yelled "Hey, dig that crazy record player."
Jack: No.
Bob Crosby: Yes. He stayed there for five days. He wasn't going to leave till it played "Doggie in the Window."
Jack: Remley wouldn't leave? What did you do?
Bob Crosby: Well, we got the motorman to bark three times and Frankie was happy.

Later in the show, Jack talked to Mary Livingstone.

Jack: Well, Mary. How are you enjoying yourself here in San Francisco?
Mary: Oh, fine Jack, but the funniest thing happened yesterday.
Jack: What was it?
Mary: I got on the cable car at the corner of Market and Powell, and when I gave my fare to the motorman, he barked at me three times.
Jack: No.
Mary: If you don't believe me, ask Remley. He was lying right there on the sidewalk.
Jack: Mary, a man with his eyes closed is not a witness.

In the 10-May-1953 episode, Jack told announcer Don Wilson that "This is my final day at the Curran Theater and I want to thank all the people of San Francisco for making me feel at home. San Francisco is a beautiful city and I hate to leave."

Jack's wife Mary Livingston joins Jack and Don. Don asks if she has had a good time in San Francisco. Mary says there is so much to do and see.
Jack: I get a kick out of everything, even the little things like the cable cars...

Mary laughs. Don asks her what is so funny.
Mary: Well, I'm laughing at Jack talking about cable cars. I saw him yesterday morning on Powell Street.
Don: What happened?
Mary: Well, when he thought no one was looking, he walked out in the middle of the street, stuck his finger in the slot, hooked it around the cable and got (she starts to laugh) hooked (she stumbles on the word) up to Fourth and Market.

The place he got pulled is hard to understand because Mary is breaking up and then the crowd laughs. It could have been Post and Market. Neither makes sense.

Jack: When you read that, I didn't think I was going to get up the hill at all. Hooked up the hill? (She may have said the wrong word.) Anyway, Mary, I just did that for a gag.
Mary: Oh, some gag. You were carrying four passengers."
Jack: "Only three counted. One had a transfer. Don't be so smart."
Mary: "Oh, I was only kidding, Jack. You know, I'll be kind of sorry to leave San Francisco."

If you'd like to listen to these shows, try the OTR.Network Library, a collection, as of 07-Oct-2006, of 12,326 episodes of 170 different series. Look under the Jack Benny link, or click one of these links:

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Copyright 2006 by Joe Thompson. All rights reserved.

Last updated 01-Dec-2006