How to Make an Action Show without Visuals: Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police (Stories for the Ear #1)

“Wow, Michael,” you may be saying, “the whole ‘making boring TV shows look kinda cool’ thing was almost halfway interesting, but now you’re gonna do it for old radio shows and stuff? Where has this blog gone?” Well, just you wait, Henry Higgins, because unlike the TV Showcase, where I comment on just whatever I happen to be watching, this series will only display the best audio shows out there. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to have an engaging story to listen to while taking a jog or driving on long road trips or something? Yeah, audiobooks are nice, but an actual show is so much better! So let’s explore what stories are out there just waiting for your ears, dear reader.

“Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police” was a series of 178 episodes, all in a continuing story arc, each episode running about 15 minutes. The series centered around teenager Speed Gibson, who works for the International Secret Police with his uncle Cliff. There are a myriad of other regular characters, but Speed and Cliff are the only ones who are important to every episode. The villain that this nephew-uncle duo is trying to hunt down is called the Octopus, who is known as the biggest and most dangerous boss in the entire criminal underworld. The series ran from 1937 to 1940, and unlike many other old-time radio shows, all of the episodes have survived.

This sounds like a pretty generic plot, doesn’t it? I mean, if I wanted a story about a spy chasing a black market criminal, I could just watch “Agent Carter” or “The Wild Wild West”; heck, I could even read “The Final Problem” in the Sherlock Holmes series. But “Speed Gibson” develops the story into something far more unique than its surface-level premise.

In the spirit of young adult fiction of the early twentieth century, “Speed Gibson” is focused on good versus evil, lots of action and suspense, and international adventure. It has a comic-book feel to it in the way the characters develop and the plot progresses, but it comes off really well in the radio show format. There are many side characters which come to play important roles in the complexities of the show, and even though the whole show is focused on the heroes chasing the bad guy, how they go about figuring out where the Octopus is, dealing with other characters and problems, and how the main characters develop is done so well that it causes the listener to want to keep listening to that next episode.

A really cool thing that “Speed Gibson” pulls off that I’ve rarely heard in any other audio show is that it contains full-length fight scenes, usually aerial dogfights– which, if you don’t know what that means, is basically a shoot-em-up showdown in planes. This sort of thing was common in old war movies (such as Errol Flynn’s The Dawn Patrol, for example), but who would think to try and pull off a four-minute aerial dogfight without any visuals whatsoever? This isn’t the only kind of action scene that the show pulls off, either: there are shootouts, group fist fights, and lots of unique peril scenes (like when the characters were trapped in a cave filling with water). So what’s the point?

The point is that scenes like these are extremely hard to pull off with audio only, because a scene with people interacting without words tends to sound like a bunch of random sound effects, leaving the listener to have no idea what is going on. This tends to happen with Gypsy Audio’s “Lara Bond: 0012” series. Sorry, Gypsy, I love the writing, but the action scenes are quite confusing, if we’re being honest. And that’s not without good reason: audio action scenes are difficult, and descriptive dialogue must be very sparse and carefully worded; otherwise, it sounds forced and unrealistic. So the fact that “Speed Gibson” managed to pull this off successfully, every single time as far as I can remember, is quite impressive. Add to that the fact that all radio shows in that day were recorded live, with live sound effects, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a show.

There’s so much more I could say about “Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police”, but where would be the fun in that? Go listen to it for yourself: the entire series is on archive.org and on YouTube. And if you do give it a try, let me know what you think of it in the comments below here. Happy listening!

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