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Calling All Cars

Radio Dragnets and the Technology of Policing

Kathleen Battles

Publication Year: 2010

Calling All Cars shows how radio played a key role in an emerging form of policing during the turbulent years of the Depression. Until this time popular culture had characterized the gangster as hero, but radio crime dramas worked against this attitude and were ultimately successful in making heroes out of law enforcement officers.
Through close analysis of radio programming of the era and the production of true crime docudramas, Kathleen Battles argues that radio was a significant site for overhauling the dismal public image of policing. However, it was not simply the elevation of the perception of police that was at stake. Using radio, reformers sought to control the symbolic terrain through which citizens encountered the police, and it became a medium to promote a positive meaning and purpose for policing. For example, Battles connects the apprehension of criminals by a dragnet with the idea of using the radio network to both publicize this activity and make it popular with citizens.
The first book to systematically address the development of crime dramas during the golden age of radio, Calling All Cars explores an important irony: the intimacy of the newest technology of the time helped create an intimate authority—the police as the appropriate force for control—over the citizenry.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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Introduction: Heeding the Call

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pp. 1-32

As historians of policing generally agree, radio in combination with the automobile represented a significant shift in police practices during the years of the Depression. Radio became a technological solution to a number of problems facing police, many of which were tied to the increasing use of the automobile. ...

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1. Policing Perception: Public Image Management and the Creation of the Radio Crime Docudrama

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pp. 33-70

Like the soap opera and variety program, among others, the radio crime docudrama drew on existing cultural forms but was nonetheless unique to radio. While vigilante-styled dramas had clear precedents in pulp fiction, the origin of those programs that claimed to present true stories of policing is less obvious and ultimately more complicated. ...

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2. The Sound of Intimate Authority: Professionalism and the Reformation of Police Officers

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pp. 71-104

In publicity for his upcoming G-Men program, Phillips H. Lord emphasized one of the key concerns in the creation of radio dramas: how to represent events in the world through sound alone. While, as discussed in chapter 1, Lord clearly overstated his adherence to facts in an effort to publicize his programs, ...

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3. Gang Busting: Criminals and Citizens in a Professional World

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pp. 105-146

Reformers found public attitudes toward criminals particularly troubling. They marveled at public interest, sympathy, admiration, and seeming desire for criminality. The public devoured newspapers with famous gangsters and desperados on their covers or paid hard-earned money for a glimpse into the glamorous world of the screen gangster. ...

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4. The Dragnet Effect: Space, Time, and Police Presence

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pp. 147-186

Donald S. Leonard, a key figure in supporting radio in police work during the 1930s, was justifiably proud of the accomplishments of his force, the Michigan State Police. In this short description of a “spectacular example” of the power of police radio is condensed many of the issues key in the adaptation of two-way radio to police work. ...

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5. The Shadow of Doubt and the Menace of Surveillance

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pp. 187-228

As argued up to this point, the radio crime docudrama was developed as an entertainment formula that was largely complicit in naturalizing a progressive definition of policing as a profession producing, and thus possessing, its own body of expert knowledge about criminality, policing, and the proper role of citizens. ...

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Conclusion: Hearing the Echoes

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pp. 229-240

In this remarkable statement, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, head of New Jersey State Militia and host of Gang Busters, made clear the lofty expectation that radio might somehow revolutionize the relationship between police and citizens.1 His faith in the ability of radio to transform this relationship seems at once hopelessly naïve and eerily prescient. ...

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pp. 241-244

Why did I write a book about radio crime dramas? This is still something of a mystery. Perhaps the answer may be found in my childhood experiences. When I was young, my Nana, who took pleasure in occasionally finding ways to scare my brother and me, ...


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pp. 245-256


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pp. 257-270


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pp. 271-282

About the Author

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p. 290-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673360
E-ISBN-10: 0816673365
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816649143

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010