Always in the forefront of new ideas and technology, the Cleveland Division of Police created another “first” when they partnered with WJW radio and the Euclid Avenue Business Association to do a nightly live action police radio show. Before live-on-the-street TV, an actual precursor to COPS, the radio program was described in the April 19th, 1958 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Euclid Avenue Association, in a further effort to boost downtown Cleveland as “the biggest shopping center between New York and Chicago,” on May 5 will launch a two-hour nightly radio program, “Police Beat.”
The show will feature on-the-spot broadcasts from a radio-equipped station wagon directed by an off-duty police officer. WJW will air the 10-to-midnight, Monday-through-Saturday, program. “Commercials” will be institutional ads for the downtown business area. The program will also be used spur on the current Buy Now campaign, said H. Donald Zimmerman, executive secretary of the Euclid Avenue Association.
The Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Department are cooperating in supplying an off-duty officer each night to ride in the station wagon. He will monitor police calls and advise Tom Carson, WJW newsman riding with him, which ones to follow up. Another WJW announcer will stand by at the studio to fill in with records as the mobile unit goes from one story to the next.
The Euclid Avenue Association will assess its 100 merchant members to support the 13-week program, said Zimmerman. Most of its members have their stores on Euclid, west of E. 22nd Street, although a few are on Huron Road S.E. “But emphasis will be on all downtown,” said Zimmerman. “We will have special “Downtown Days.”
“People used to get a big kick out of coming downtown to shop, dine and take in a show. We’ll emphasize that its still a great one-stop shopping center.”
On April 27th, it was announced that Joe Mulvihill “will continue to sell cars at LaRich Ford after he takes over the inside spot on WJW’s six-night-a-week Police Beat show.”
Plain Dealer reported Russell W. Kane described the new radio show as “an ear catching, Johnny-on-the-spot show.” He went on to explain how:
WJW newsman Tom Carson, riding with Tom Story, police communications chief, brought police stories live right into the radio station.
In between police runs, station announcer Joe Mulvihill filed in the time with recorded music, news reports and institutional ads promoting downtown Cleveland stores. “You have the feeling that the world is at your fingertips when you shop on Euclid Avenue,” was the tone of the commercials.
In between, with sirens screaming, Carson reported on a burglar alarm clanging at E. 84th and Cedar Avenue S.E., a report of a disturbance and a man with a gun on Armor Avenue N.E., and a fire which took police to a home on Ensign Avenue S.E.
The show plugging the biggest shopping center between New York and Chicago is called the Police Beat. It will be broadcast six nights a week, Monday through Saturday, from 10 to midnight for 13 weeks. The program will be used to spur the current Buy Now campaign.
Off-duty police officers will monitor the police calls each night from a radio-equipped station wagon.
On May 16th, reporter Kane did a “ride-a-long” with the Police Beat Crew. Even though it was a relatively slow night, he said the examples he provided “do not look particularly startling at first glance. But the immediacy with which they are delivered by Carson, Raymer and on a couple of occasions the policemen investigating, gave them the feel of real, if not shocking news.“
As the station wagon travels through the city giving its reports, a caravan of curious “fans” follows them to each location. There, many exit their cars and “some of them are armed with flash cameras and made like newsmen.” Kane said that WJW had a good thing going and that it would be a shame if the show ended after just 13 weeks.
A speech by John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, preempted the last hour of Police Beat on November 13th. But in January of 1959, when NBC aired a special series on Russia with Cyrus Eaton presenting, Police Beat won out.
Along the way, Police Beat did pick up some of its own sponsors, including Kenny King’s Family Restaurants, home of the “Big King.”
In 1959, WJW was sued by Harold Hand, who owned an advertising agency. Seems that he had worked for WJW and claims to have come up with the idea of Police Beat. He further claimed he shared this idea with station management with a promise that he would keep ownership of the format and the name.
Police Beat celebrated its first birthday on May 1st, 1959, and received a commendation from then Police Chief Frank W. Story. The Chief commented on how the program resulted in a greater public awareness of the work police officers do and may have contributed to crime rate drop in 1958.
Captain Arthur V. Roth, Superintendent of Safety Education, and John Wyman of WJW made a proposal to Miss Verda Evans, Supervisor of English for the Cleveland Public Schools, to have high school newspaper editors participate in a “ride-a-long” program with Police Beat. Captain Roth stated that “it’s one more chance to help teen-agers understand the job of law enforcement as well as an opportunity for student editors to do a different kind of reporting.” The project was presented to school superintendent Mark C. Schinnerer and assistant superintendent F.S. McCormick, who approved participation. As safety measures were being developed, Miss Virginia Follin, teacher-advisor for the John Adams Journal did a “ride-a-long” in the WJW Police Beat station wagon to see first-hand how the program would work. As the project began, teacher-advisors from the Collinwood Spotlight and South High Beacon rode along with their student reporters to evaluate the program. School reporter Ray Sposet of the Lincoln Log summarized his uneventful night trip: “For us, the activities of the evening were too deeply imprinted on our minds to disappear.”
Police Beat survived until May of 1960, when WJW did a complete reformat, moving to pops & classic music with no local programming.
Superintendent of Communications Thomas E. Story, Captain Norman D. Raymer, Lieutenant Jack Dudek and Lieutenant James J. Orenski were the Cleveland Police Officers who volunteered, on their own time, to rotate as drivers of the WJW radio equipped station wagon, known in Police Radio as Car 85.
Fast Forward to 1993: The Police Beat concept lived on when Cleveland Police participated in the COPS television show. Mel Gonzalez #1718 and Gary Mullins #1890 worked with the COPS video crew when they filmed in Cleveland.
Written by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum volunteer Commander Robert Cermak, Ret.
Research assistance was provided by the Photograph Collection Department of the Cleveland Public Library.