On February 12, 1940 on New York City’s WOR AM, the most famous words in comic book history were said over the airwaves for the first ever time, “Up in the sky! Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”.
75 year on and there’s hardly a man, woman or child alive that hasn’t heard that phrase. By this point Superman was already popular in comics having been in print for some time but this radio broadcast, a technology that was wide-spread in many homes, was a way for DC to increase Superman’s visibility. Not everyone read comics but this was the first step to making Superman the ultimate household name in heroes.
The Adventures of Superman quickly found its way onto 11 other stations by pre-recorded transcription disks and before long it was on three days a week, people could tune in and listen to Superman’s latest adventures for 15 minutes.
Our Kryptonian hero was voiced by Clayton “Bud” Collyer, who shifted his voice to differentiate between mild-mannered Clark Kent and heroic Superman. Joan Alexander was hard-hitting reporter Lois Lane, and love interest of Superman. They were so popular in the roles that they also provided their voices for the roles in the Fleischer animated shorts of the early 1940s.
In homage to their original work and their popularity they were brought in for a third time to voice the characters for Filmation’s animated series The New Adventures of Superman from 1966 to 1970.
The radio show ended on March 1, 1951, just over 11 years after it’s initial broadcast and with over 2000 episodes aired.
During it’s reign the show had been responsible for bringing in some of the key characters and themes that are now an important part of the Superman mythos. Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Kryptonite were all first introduced on the show as well as the first cross-over team-up between Superman and Batman (oh and Robin).
It’s safe to say that Superman’s popularity today owes a lot to the early work of this show in bringing a character out of the comics and into peoples lives across America.
You can listen to the first ever broadcast right here, right now, 75 years on.