Each story was recounted in flashback, as Johnny listed each line item from his expense account. Most of the items related to transportation and lodging, but no incidental expense was too small for Johnny to itemize, as in "Item nine, 10 cents. Aspirin. I needed them." Johnny usually stuck to business, but would engage in romantic dalliances with women he encountered in his travels; later episodes gave Johnny a steady girlfriend, Betty Lewis. Johnny's precious recreational time was usually spent fishing, and it was not uncommon for Johnny's clients to exploit this favorite pastime in convincing him to take on a job. The episodes generally finished with Johnny tallying up his account, making final remarks on the report, and traveling back to Hartford, Connecticut, where he was based.
With the first three actors to play Johnny Dollar -- radio actor Russell and movie tough-guy actors Edmond O'Brien and John Lund -- there was little to distinguish Johnny Dollar from other detective series at the time (Richard Diamond, Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade). While always a friend of the police, Johnny wasn't necessarily a stickler for the strictest interpretation of the law. He was willing to let some things slide to satisfy his own sense of justice, as long as the interests of his employer were also protected. The series ended in September 1954.
Bob Bailey was exceptionally good in this format, making Johnny more sensitive and thoughtful in addition to his other attributes. Vintage-radio enthusiasts often endorse Bailey as the best of the Johnny Dollars, and consider the 13-month run of five-part stories to be some of the greatest drama in radio history. The serial scripts were usually written by Jack Johnstone, "John Dawson" (a pseudonym for E. Jack Neuman), Les Crutchfield, or Robert Ryf, Blake Edwards also contributed several scripts and the show was always produced and directed by Johnstone. The show featured an excellent stock company of supporting actors, including Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Vic Perrin, Parley Baer, Howard McNear, John Dehner, Lillian Buyeff, Tony Barrett, Don Diamond, and Forrest Lewis. Movie character actors appeared occasionally, including Jay Novello, Hans Conried, Frank Nelson, Leon Belasco, William Conrad, Edgar Barrier, and Billy Halop.
In late 1956 CBS Radio retooled the show, which reverted to a weekly half-hour drama. The scripts were obviously tighter than the daily serials had been, with much less recapitulation. Bob Bailey continued in the role until 1960 (and wrote one episode, "The Carmen Kringle Matter").
The constant pressure of coming up with new mysteries and settings every week posed a problem for the writers. They solved it by occasionally consulting old scripts from other detective series. In one such remake, Bob Bailey as Johnny Dollar talks like Jack Webb as Jeff Regan, Investigator.
In New York, CBS staff producer Bruno Zirato, Jr. (who also directed TV game shows for CBS) took over Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, although Jack Johnstone continued to write the scripts. Former child actor Bob Readick took over the leading role in a manner reminiscent of the original Dollar, Charles Russell. After six months he was replaced by Mandel Kramer, who gave the role his own low-key interpretation. Many fans rank Kramer second only to Bailey as the most effective Johnny Dollar. Both Readick and Kramer were members of CBS's stock company in New York, and both appeared in other CBS dramas.
Although network radio drama returned to the airwaves -- in ABC's Theater Five (1964-65), and CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-82) -- these were more experimental "drama workshop" shows, and did not adhere to a continuing format or leading character. Mainstream radio drama, as pioneered in the 1920s, died with Johnny Dollar in 1962.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was so familiar to CBS Radio's listeners that the network's resident comedians, Bob and Ray, occasionally satirized it. Their version, "Ace Willoughby, International Detective," followed the Johnny Dollar format of exotic locales, continental officials, cool villains, and tense confrontations, with Ray Goulding doing a letter-perfect imitation of Bob Bailey's delivery. In the comedy version, however, the detective usually gave up on the case after being beaten up incessantly.
A 1991 episode of Mathnet, "The Case of the Purloined Policies," featured John Moschitta Jr. as an insurance investigator named "Johnny Dollar." He often referred to himself as "Yours truly, Johnny Dollar!"