The Doc Savage Trill

The unique trilling sound Doc Savage made during periods of stress of or intense concentration first appeared in “Doc Savage, Supreme Adventurer.” This was a short story written at Street & Smith by future Doc Savage Magazine editor John Nanovic and Street & Smith executive Henry Ralston in 1932. Lester Dent included the trilling in “The Man of Bronze” which was published in the March 1933 issue of Doc Savage.

It was a low, mellow, trilling sound, like the song of some strange bird of the jungle, or the sound of the wind filtering through a jungled forest. It was melodious, though it had no tune; and it was inspiring, though it was not awesome.

We have all read about Doc Savage’s trilling and wondered just what that sounded like. It seems like an impossibility to know what Dent had in mind when he crafted this unique sound used by Doc Savage in times of stress or intense concentration. We may not know exactly what that sound was, but we have a great clue.

On May 12, 1934, Lester Dent wrote to R. T. Aldworth at the Knox Company in Kansas City, Missouri.  Dent was providing some feedback about the Doc Savage radio show.


Dent was unhappy with Doc’s trilling and other characterizations depicted on the show. Dent described the radio version of the trilling sound as a fire alarm and most unpleasant to hear. He called it a variation of Texaco’s Fire Chief. He was referring to a radio show sponsored by Texaco called “The Texaco Fire Chief” and hosted by comedian Ed Wynn. Each radio episode started off with a blaring siren.

Dent offered several suggestions on making the sounds. Dent also put forward a pipe organ note, or a clever violin note. But his first choice was a musical saw. So, there you have it. Doc’s trilling sound could best be reproduced on radio by using a musical saw.

In the August 1943 issue of Doc Savage Magazine featuring “The Mental Monster” we learn a little more about Doc Savage’s trilling. He considers it a bad habit he picked up when studying mind control under a Hindu teacher.  Doc Savage had deliberately affected the sound because it was so striking in its effect.  He then discovered that he was unconsciously making the sound which could have fatal consequences under the wrong circumstances.