Caroline C. Morris
Catalog Number: 1984.100.06
Before we had dozens of electronic devices to entertain us, we had just one: radio. In the 1930s and 1940s, radio became America’s first true mass medium, bringing the same programs to everyone across the country. For the first time in history, the people of La Crosse could listen to the President from their living rooms. Housewives in Manhattan and housewives in Onalaska wrote down the same recipes from the same cooking shows. Farmers in the Driftless region and steel workers in Pennsylvania all laughed at Jack Benny’s jokes. And children from California to Florida all followed the adventures of the same superheroes. Radio gave Americans something in common with one another, and the voices that came out of the box had an outsized effect on American life.
“Captaaaaaaaain Midnight!” [ZOOM!] was a signature hero of 1940s radio, and both kids and adults listened in as the flying ace flew all over the world, solving mysteries and giving bad guys what they deserved. Ovaltine brought the show to the airwaves from 1940-1949, having dropped its sponsorship of Little Orphan Annie in favor of a crime-fighting aviator with vaguely military credentials who felt more in keeping with the times than a scrappy hard-times orphan. La Crosse kids could listen to the 15-minute program at 5:45PM Monday through Friday. If they drank a lot of Ovaltine and mailed the labels to corporate headquarters, they could order a secret decoder ring, or a shiny new copy of Captain Midnight and the Secret Squadron.
Ovaltine’s hunch was correct; Captain Midnight was perfect for the 1940s. Months before December 1941, Captain Midnight uncovered a Japanese plot to bomb Pearl Harbor. The notion was so ridiculous at the time that it could only happen on a children’s radio program. After America entered the war following the real attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Midnight began going after evil Axis conspirators in addition to the usual gangsters.
Looking for a quick thrill this weekend? Old Captain Midnight episodes are just a google search away. Cue one up, close your eyes, and hang on for dear life.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 15, 2015.