Ladies and gentlemen, the American Broadcasting Company brings to its entire network one of radio's most unusual programs . . . Pat Novak, for Hire.
Pat Novak, for Hire is set on the San Francisco, California waterfront and depicts the city as a dark, rough place where the main goal is survival. Pat Novak is not a detective by trade. He owns a boat shop on Pier 19 where he rents out boats and does odd jobs to make money.
Each episode of the program, particularly the Jack Webb episodes, follows the same basic formula; a foghorn sounds and Novak's footsteps are heard walking down the pier. He then pauses and begins with the line "Sure, I'm Pat Novak . . . for hire". The foghorn repeats and leads to the intro theme, during which Pat gives a monologue about the waterfront and his job renting boats. Jack Webb narrates the story as well as acts in it, as the titular character. Playing the cynic, he throws off lines such as "...about as smart as teaching a cooking class to a group of cannibals". He then introduces the trouble in which he finds himself this week.
Typically, a person unknown to Pat asks him to do an unusual or risky job. Pat reluctantly accepts and finds himself in hot water in the form of an unexplained dead body. Sultry females are usually involved. Police Inspector Hellman (played by Raymond Burr) arrives on the scene and pins the murder on Novak. With only circumstantial evidence to go on, Hellman promises to haul Novak in the next day for the crime. The rapid, staccato dialogue between Webb & Burr is typical of hardboiled fiction and is often humorous. Pat uses the time to try to solve the case. He usually employs the help of his friend Jocko Madigan (played by Tudor Owen) - a drunken ex-doctor typically found at some disreputable tavern or bar - to help him solve the case. As Pat asks for his help, Jocko launches a long-winded philosophical diatribe, full of witty and funny remarks, until Novak cuts him off.
Jocko and Pat unravel the case and Hellman makes the arrest. Finally, we hear the foghorn and Novak's footsteps on the pier again before Novak spells out the details of the case for us. At the end, Novak informs us that "Hellman asked only one question", which Pat answers with a clever retort. The dialogue is rife with similes found in pulp fiction. Example: 'The neighborhood was run down - the kind of place where the For Rent signs look like ransom notes.'
John Galbraith played the inspector, and Phyllis Skelton was frequently heard in female roles on the program. George Fenneman was the announcer, and Basil Adlam led the orchestra.