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(Left to right) Dave Fielding, portrayed by Bob Hastings, The Chief played by Bram Nossem and Steve Elliott, who in real life was Bob Courtleigh. Photo taken on the set of "Atom Squad's secret New York City lab."

Back in 1953 someone wrote: “Cowboys with a six shooter on either hip are getting to be obsolete on television. Scientists are rapidly replacing them with a real know-how on neutron guns instead of horses. They ride space ships. The baddies aren’t just plain earth rustlers but spies and saboteurs attempting to divert atomic energy to destructive purposes….” Sounds like they were talking about Atom Squad.

Atom Squad was a daily 15-minute television program aired over the NBC Television Network and originated from WPTZ, Channel 3 in Philadelphia. It aired from July 6, 1953 until to January 22, 1954 (it replaced the soap opera from Chicago, "Hawkins Falls" which moved to mornings) and was broadcast live Monday through Friday from 5 pm until 5:15 pm. Daily rehearsals usually started about noon and continued right to air time, five hours later. TV reviewers referred to the era as “the science-fiction age of television.” The network said, “Atom Squad stresses believability. Even though plots include space rockets; hypnotic guns and flying saucers, the reasoning behind their appearance is more than credible.” The job of the Atom Squad, television’s hard hitting guardians of atomic energy, is similar to any detective squad. With one difference, Steve Elliott and his gang usually deal with the unknown.

About six weeks after the show's premiere, got good news. The ratings for "Atom Squad" were good. The telecast had a 6.3 Nielsen rating with a 38 audience share during its first week of broadcast. By its third week, the numbers were even better. "Atom Squad" a 7.9 rating with a 47.9 share. "Hawkins Falls" saw nice ratings increases during the same time period.

The show wasn’t a space adventure program. The Atom Squad was an ultra-secret United States government agency and it dealt with different Cold War threats to security involving nuclear weapons and radiation. Many people thought that the cast and sets were reminiscent of "Captain Video," the old DuMont television series dating from 1949. Several of the cast from Atom Squad were “veterans” from the Captain Video program which was still on the air during the entire run of Atom Squad.

Robert Cortleigh (who at one time was an announcer on WPTZ) and Bob Hastings played the Atom Squad major characters of Steve Elliott and Dave Fielding. The chief was Bram Nossem. Bob had played "Hal, the Ranger's brother" on “Video.” Bob’s real life brother, Don, portrayed the part of the Video Ranger. Bram Nossem had played the first Dr. Pauli, Captain Video's arch-nemesis. The secret headquarters of the Atom Squad’s New York lab, looked an awful lot like the control room of the secret mountain headquarters of Captain Video. However, the Atom Squad set was said to have been more fancy, maybe because NBC-TV put a little more money into the show. The bad guys were evil Communist spies, saboteurs and mad scientists. However, they did see some aliens in three or four of the weekly story lines. Each week, the villains were done away with either atomically or by arresting them. Each story took 5 episodes to tell (Monday thru Friday). However, there were three stories that took two weeks. They were: "The Five Steps to the Kremlin," "The Scheme to Flood America" and "The Man Who Kidnapped Himself."

A few years later, Bob Hastings appeared on several episodes of NBC Radio's "X Minus One" Science Fiction broadcasts. Hastings later hosted a game show called “Dealer’s Choice.” He was also in “McHale’s Navy” as Joe Flynn’s sidekick, Lt. Elroy Carpenter and on the ABC-TV soap opera, “General Hospital” as Captain Burt Ramsey. Robert Cortleigh and Bram Nossem disappeared from the TV scene in the fifties. Bob Courtleigh was a veteran of a number of TV dramatic shows including the Kraft Theater, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, American Inventory and the Philco Playhouse. Courtleigh lived on Long Island in New York at the time. Most of the time he commuted daily via the Pennsylvania Railroad. He had his own motor boat and did watercolor painting.

Atom Squad’s show opening showed a man in a "radiation suit" moving at a snail’s pace towards the viewer. The theme song was "Tumult and Commotion" from the production music library record especially made for broadcasting. The show was a daily serial, similar in format to Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. It usually took a week to tell the whole story. A few stories actually carried over into the next week. Paul Monash was the writer for the series. Some give him credit for creating the program. Adrian Samish has been given credit for producing the program. His later producing credits include “Cannon,” “Dan August” and “Starsky and Hutch.” However, documents of that era show Lawrence White as Producer and Joe Behar as Director. The staff joked around and answered the WPTZ phones “This is Mercury. Come in, Saturn.” In the elevators (which also went to other offices not affiliated with WPTZ nor sister radio station KYW), the crew loved to put on people about the progress of the “hydrogen bomb” they were making. This left puzzled fellow passengers with raised eyebrows and many times, concerned.

Producing a daily science fiction series was not without its problems, at least when it was done in the Center City building that houses WPTZ’s studios, 1619 Walnut Street. Certain sequences had to be recorded on film (video-tape wasn’t invented yet). Space suits, atom guns and rockets were really difficult to manufacture, let alone conceive. Set and prop department people had a variety of headaches. One week, the show took place in the U.S.S.R., the next in a space ship and the third in a large cave. The casting department had its nightmares, too. One week, they need twin Japanese performers. But they had to be good actors, too. Remember, this was all done live with little or no trick photography.

It is assumed that Atom Squad was recorded on filmed kinescopes for the West Coast. However, none are known to have survived.

Bob Courtleigh was chosen in the summer of 1953 as an honorary delegate to the ninth annual World Science Fiction Convention held in Philadelphia in August of that year. The event was sponsored by the World Science Fiction Society. The event was still going strong in the Delaware Valley when the 58th edition took place in 2000.

Following Atom Squad at 5:15 was the Pinky Lee Show which expanded to 30 minutes once Atom Squad was canceled. Shortly afterwards, Bob Courtleigh was offered a leading role in a "future" Broadway play. No documentation whether he ever really got the role.

Well known character actor Joe Earley (known locally in Philadelphia as the Mechanical Man, Mr. Rivets) e-mailed:

I worked Atom Squad frequently. It starred Bob Courtleigh and Bob Hastings (There were two brothers, Bob and Don Hastings who were actors but only one ever worked Atom Squad... I'm pretty sure it was Bob.) It was directed by Joe Behar, who also directed Ernie Kovacs (at WPTZ). Joe went to Hollywood and is still directing "General Hospital." (Bob Hastings later worked with Behar on that ABC Soap Opera.) The show (Atom Squad) took place in Studio B on the second floor of 1619 Walnut. All of the net soaps originating in Philadelphia (Greatest Gift, First Love) came from Studio B.



The Man Who Stopped the Moon - July 6 to July 10, 1953

A man threatens to stop the moon from rotating around the earth. This, he believes, would make him dictator of the Earth. The Atom Squad goes after him.
The Plot to Melt the North Pole - July 13 to July 17, 1953
Evil scientists come up with a plan to melt all the ice in the Arctic Circle. This would destroy much of the planet, as we know it and the Atom Squad try to solve the situation.
The Attack on the Pentagon - July 20 to July 24, 1953
Subversive forces (in this case, the Soviet Union) try to attack the Pentagon. The Atom Squad works to stop them.
The Trouble at Fort Knox - July 27 to July 31, 1953
Evil agents (again, they are from the Soviet Untion) contaminate a shipment of gold with radioactivity. The Atom Squad decontaminates the precious metal and then goes after the subversives responsible for this crime.
The Bomb That Wouldn't Stand Still - August 3 to August 7, 1953
This is just what it says. Atomic Bombs move around on ten trucks in the nation’s capital (all under the direction of agents of the Soviet Union), Washington, DC. A Soviet scientist has escaped from Russia with secret documents for the U.S. government.
The Ships That Sailed to Nowhere - August 10 to August 14, 1953
American and Soviet scientists plot to build a large super-duper magnet under the ocean. The Atom Squad tries to stop the American involved in the project.
The Animal That Ate Oxygen - August 17 to August 21, 1953
. The Big Apple, New York City goes up on the block after a tiny marine animal is accidentally wiped out by experiments by a mad scientist. The city’s water supply is placed in danger and the Atom Squad tries to solve the problem.
The Five Steps to the Kremlin - August 24 to September 4, 1953
The Soviets plan to use a deadly weapon. The Atom Squad and Steve Elliott sneaks into the U.S.S.R. to find a man that has an unique talent. He can disarm a atomic bomb and the squad needs his skill.
The Scheme to Flood America – September 7 to September 18, 1953
The Second World War may have ended eight years ago, but an ex-Nazi finds out how to make it rain anywhere at any time. Floods would be everywhere. The German scientist picks different parts of the United States to carry this plan out. The Atom Squad goes after him.
A Strange Visitor to Colorado - September 21 to September 25, 1953
The Atom Squad looks into a strange piece of equipment that has landed in Colorado.
The Man Who Kidnapped Himself - September 28 to October 9, 1953
A leading scientist disappears in the Southern Hemisphere while Nazis are in the area. They are suspected and the Atom Squad goes in after them.
The Mine Below Thunder Bay - October 12 to October 16, 1953
Evilness prevails when the bad guys try to stop the U.S.A. of uranium that has been found in a deposit at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes.
The Man With the Burning Ice - October 19 to October 23, 1953
A scientist is manufacturing artificial diamonds. One problem, they are extremely radio active and anyone who touches them dies. The Atom Squad gets on the case.
Stranger From Outer Space - October 26 to October 30, 1953
This week’s adventure deals with the Atom Squad looking for an alien from the skies. Steve Elliott leads the team.
The Terror of Point Boryak - November 2 to November 6, 1953
North of the beginning of the Arctic Circle, the Atom Squad looks for evil scientists that have captured a radar listening post.
The Plot Against Doctor Yoshida - November 9 to November 13, 1953
The Atom Squad and Steve Elliott discover that there’s an evil plot against the well-known scientist, Dr. Yoshida.
The Merchants of Death - November 16 to November 20, 1953
A young lad inherits a company and two men try to steal control of it. The Atom Squad gets involved and works to stop the evil duo.
The Wall of Silence - November 23 to November 27, 1953
The New York City lab of the Atom Squad is encased with a wall of atomic power. The Atom Squad goes after the international gangsters.
The Case of the Million Dollar Ransom - November 30 to December 4, 1953
The Atom Squad gets involved with an unusual ransom and work to put the situation right. Steve Elliott has an idea and saves the day.
The Man Who Couldn't Exist - December 7 to December 11, 1953
There’s a human being that shouldn’t be here. The Atom Squad looks into the matter because of national security.
The Hunter of the Haunted Castle - December 14 to December 18, 1953
Steve Elliott and the gang hear about a castle that may be haunted. The hunt begins for the Atom Squad.
The Mystery of the Cinco Caverns - December 21 to December 25, 1953 (yes, it was live on Christmas)
The Cinco Caverns are a thousand feet below the surface and the Atom Squad investigates them. Death lukes there. Steve Elliott and the guys discover the secret.
Death in the Windmill - December 28, 1953 to January 1, 1954
The Atom Squad led by Steve Elliott hears about strange events at a “windmill.” To save the world, they get involved.
The Fugitives From Galaxy 29 - January 4 to January 8, 1954
Escapees from a far away star system arrive on Earth. The Atom Squad jumps into action to save the Earth.
The Eye That Watched the World - January 11 to January 15, 1954
The “Big Eye” isn’t human. It’s the largest and most powerful telescope on the planet and it allows mankind to look further into outer space than ever before.
The Midnight Raiders - January 18 to January 22, 1954
The final week has our heroes looking for a gang of baddies who strike after dark. The Atom Squad once again has to save the world.

Bob Courtleigh as "Steve Elliott" on Atom Squad.
Steve is under a flying saucer in the episode "Stranger from Outer Space"

Model of a flying saucer
From the episode "Stranger from Outer Space"

Steve Elliott, played by Bob Courtleigh (left) and Dave Fielding, portrayed by Bob Hastings (right) capture an "Atom Spy." From the episode, "The Trouble at Fort Knox"

Dave Fielding portrayed by Bob Hastings (left) and Steve Elliott, played by Bob Courtleigh (right). They are picture in their"secret" New York City lab

Broadcast Pioneers member Harold Sacks e-mailed about where we said: "The theme song was "Tumult and Commotion" from the production music library record especially made for broadcasting." Sacks e-mailed:

The theme was ... made part of a "no fee" Production Music Library used for Superman & other radio soaps and "C" pictures. (It was done without Rozsa's authorization).

It is Theme #7 of "Miklos Rozsa: Theme Variations & Finale." He was never compensated for its use. Didn't even know about it until the early 1950's. Rozsa was a 3 time oscar winning composer ("Spellbound", "A Double Life" & "Ben Hur") When Walter Schumann "Composed" the DRAGNET Theme (bum-pah-bum-bum), It was a direct swipe from Rozsa's 1946 score for "The Killers." This time, he went to court and after a prolonged litigation received a settlement. In all the subsequent "DRAGNET" feature films (think there were 3)
The music credit read "Music By Walter Schumann, based on a theme by Miklos Rozsa."
Yes, I am a member of the Miklos Rozsa Society.

From the official archive of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photos originally appeared in a 1953/54 booklet issued by WPTZ as a sales tool
Used with the permission and authority of KYW-TV, Channel 3 in Philadelphia, which used to be WPTZ
Written, researched and compiled by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
© 2009, 2011 and 2012, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved

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