Chronicler of the Airwaves

Chronicler of the Airwaves

Local author pens history of female radio detectives.

<bt>Jack French's fascination with the female detectives of old-time radio is simple. "I always found them more intuitive than their male counterparts," said French, who lives in Fairfax Station. "They relied on deduction much more than fists and guns."

French's new book, "Private Eyelashes: Radio's Lady Detectives," explores the little-known but substantial world of these investigators.

French moved to the Northern Virginia area in 1977, working for the FBI. His prior experience included being a cryptology expert at the Navy, but he was raised in Wisconsin in the 1940s and ‘50s, when radio was king. He collected tapes, scripts and pictures for years, and when Bear Manor Media approached him about writing a book, he obliged.

"Once he came up with the brilliant title, everything clicked," said Ben Ohmart, the book's publicist. "The great thing about his book is that it's not just for radio fans, though that's its core audience. Feminists, lesbians, Sherlock Holmes fans, classic movie fans — it falls into a lot of genres."

"I did most of my research at the University of Maryland Library of American Broadcasting," French said. "Work was very enjoyable. The Internet is a wonderful source now."

It wasn't always easy to find his sources, however, as he partially relied on contributions of tapes from places as far off as Germany and Australia.

"I'm still looking for media on a show done in the D.C. area called 'Helen Holden: Government Girl.' They used all local talent, but I could find no scripts and no tapes."

When asked about his favorite of the female detectives, he said, "‘Candy Matson,’ a show that ran from 1949-51 in San Francisco. The strength of all good radio is the script, and the writing on that show was fantastic."

French is now a member of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club, which meets to listen to shows, showcase guest speakers, and perform some of the old scripts. His next project will be a book on radio propaganda messages of World War II, but he still listens to old-time radio shows "every day. 'Fort Laramie,' 'The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen' and 'Candy Matson' are probably my favorites right now,” he said.