Before the advent of television, one popular format on radio was “true crime” dramas. These were programs based on quasi-realism, which helped give half-hour shows credibility and an excuse to use violence in the name of public information. Like the long-running True Detective, radio series such as Gangbusters, Treasury Agent, Dragnet, and Tales of Texas Rangers were all ostensibly based on actual case files with the consultation of police veterans and local law enforcement departments. The first decade of television featured many such series, some adaptations of existing radio programs, others created for the new medium. Gangbusters producer Philip Lord, who established the recurring tone of praise and tribute for law enforcement agents, created many such shows employing real life government agents who provided introductions and narrated audio wanted posters for these series.
“True crime” shows had many advantages during the 1950s. Writers for both radio and TV shows with such formats considered themselves lucky. Instead of having to create a new plot every seven days, they merely had to dramatize already existing files. During the McCarthy era, shows like I Led Three Lives with close connections to the FBI, the Treasury, or other agencies, could keep the blacklisters at bay due to their cooperation in anti-Communist propaganda. And sponsors appreciated the opportunity to boost their civic and patriotic images by visibly championing the stalwart protectors of the public good.
Federal Men, also known as Treasury Men in Action, was one of this black-and-white breed. In fact, it was one of the earliest, debuting on September 11, 1950, and running for five seasons on ABC. In each episode, the “Chief” (Walter Greaza) served as narrator. He introduced each story by stating which division of the Treasury was responsible for the investigation, gave the case a file number, and assigned that week’s agents their duties. The cases ranged from counterfeiters to bootleggers to smugglers—anything that might interest the U.S. Secret Service.