Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Nancy Drew Gets a Radio Show, Finally!

Scott Paulson, surrounded by much of the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra he uses to ...

Photo by Angela Carone

Above: Scott Paulson, surrounded by much of the Teeny-Tiny Pit Orchestra he uses to create the sound effects for the Nancy Drew radio play.


Nancy Drew never had a radio show, until now.

As I tell people about the story I've been working on, most are surprised to hear that Nancy Drew was never on the radio. It even surprised Nancy Drew enthusiasts like Penny Warner, author of "The Official Nancy Drew Handbook," and Jennifer Fisher, by many accounts the leading expert on all things Nancy Drew. Alas, it’s true. Everyone's favorite spunky girl detective passed the decades known as the Golden Age of Radio without a radio drama under her fashionable, yet conservative belt.

I could find no conclusive evidence as to why Nancy Drew remained only on the page. The Stratemeyer Syndicate was the publishing factory that created the Nancy Drew series, as well as other popular young adult fiction like "The Hardy Boys" and "Tom Swift." Many of you probably know that these series were written by multiple authors. And, in the case of Nancy Drew, presented under the pen name Carolyn Keene. None of the Stratemeyer creations made it to radio despite being wildly successful franchises.

Nancy Drew was extremely popular during the 1930's and 1940's, when radio drama was the most popular form of entertainment. The first four books in the Nancy Drew series were published in 1930 and were an instant success. And there were blocks of radio programs (usually daily from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) devoted to young adults, often featuring mysteries and adventures. One would think a radio drama featuring the popular Nancy Drew would be a no-brainer.

Jack French, a radio historian and author of "Private Eyelashes: Radio's Lady Detectives" suspects a couple of forces conspired to keep Nancy from radio stardom. First, he suspects the Stratemyer Syndicate just wasn't interested in putting their characters on the radio. Many of their characters eventually landed on TV and in movies, but radio was snubbed. Unfortunately, we have no way of proving this, but the clues in this little mystery point accordingly.

Second, sponsors may have lacked interest as well. It was mostly young boys who listened to juvenile radio dramas. This was proven through advertising premiums. It was young boys who would collect Ovaltine wrappers and mail them in with 10 cents to get a secret decoder badge. French says, "I think in Nancy Drew’s case, the sponsors may have felt that the demographics were against her."

Well, Scott Paulson, outreach coordinator at UCSD's Arts Library, is going to change history and give Nancy Drew her due. Paulson is staging a live radio play of the Nancy Drew book "The Whispering Statue" (1937) to coincide with the library's month-long Nancy Drew exhibit. He's partnered with WriteOutLoud, a local theater group that specializes in reading literary works in front of a live audience. He's also created 150 sound effects for the show (listen to my feature above to hear some of them), all of which he's performing! Paulson is an ardent old-school radio fan, and his enthusiasm for this particular project should make the whole experience loads of fun. The radio shows take place (and they're FREE!) Saturday, August 15 at 2:00 p.m. and again on Monday, August 17 at 12:30 p.m. Both events will take place at UCSD's Arts Library. Audience members will get to help with the sound effects. Wanna learn how to make a cricket sound? This is your chance!

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.