Thursday, November 10, 2011

Radio: The Planet Man, Programs 2 & 3

This is kind of a curious one.  Transcription discs for 76 of the 78 episodes survive, identifying the producer as "Palladium Radio Productions, Inc."  But that's where the hard data pretty much ends.  According to, "Various sources date its syndicated run around 1952-53, but specific air date information remains unknown."  None of the lead actors have even been identified.

But the show interests me for a couple of other reasons.  For one thing, the show marks kind of a transition in science fiction.  On the one hand, we're into the period, after World War II, when the notion of space travel—that it was not just possible, but inevitable and imminent—began to take hold in the culture, and with it, a new interest in astronomy.  So we have Earth's first rocket to the moon treated in a fairly matter-of-fact way, an explanation for the listeners at home of what an orbit is, and fairly realistic worries about the oxygen supply.  On the other hand, this just ends up serving as an introduction to a story told more in the space opera idiom of the '30s, with a superhero-like spaceman, zipping between planets in a more futuristic and less likely spacecraft.

In one way, though, it's very much of its time: like Space Patrol, with its "Smokin' rockets!" The Planet Man had its own rocket-age expression: when the announcer throws to a commercial, he declares, "We'll return to Planet Man in just a moment!  So level off!"  But it doesn't strike me as a very successful one.  Maybe it's just me, or maybe the way the last words are yelled out, but it comes across as a little hostile, the emotional tenor of "So piss off!" or maybe "So deal with it!"

Anyway, the other thing about the show that caught my interest was its universe.  Well beyond this period, whenever science fiction posited a union of different worlds, especially within our own solar system, Earth was almost inevitably the senior partner.  Even in Star Trek, where civilizations like the Vulcans had space travel far earlier, Earth's role in the Federation seemed to be essentially that of the United States in NATO.  But in The Planet Man, not only have many worlds in our solar system banded together without us, but Earth is so backward as to have escaped the attention of almost everyone but the villain... and that only because he wants to enslave us.

I've posted two episodes because they're fifteen minutes each (actually more like twelve, without the commercials that the individual stations supplied).  Radio Archives suggests that it was intended for daily afternoon broadcast.  My guess is that it aired six times a week, because that would make the most sense with a total of 78 episodes—just the right number to air six times a week for a standard block of thirteen weeks.

I wonder what the missing first episode was like.  Program 2 clearly presents the first meeting between Dantro and the Earthlings.  Did he not feature in the premiere of his own program?  Or maybe there was a scene or two of his monitoring the rocket, and deciding to intervene.  Either way, the upside is that we don't miss much by not being able to hear it.

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