Decoder Ring
Decoder Ring
Oct 11, 2022
McGruff Takes a Bite Out of Crime Pt. 2
Play • 47 min

McGruff the Crime Dog arrived on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, just as a firehose of anti-drug PSAs was inundating the youth of America. These messages didn’t always work as intended—but they did work their way into the long term memories of the kids who heard them. 

In the second episode of our two-part series on the weird world of PSAs and very special episodes, we look at how the McGruff Smart Kids Album influenced everything from straight-edge hardcore to a couple’s wedding playlist. We’ll hear from Sarah Hubbard, Dan Danger, Joseph Cappella, David Farber, Mike Hawes, Robin Nelson, Daisy Rosario, and Tatiana Peralta.

This podcast was written by Willa Paskin, who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Jamie York. Derek John is Slate’s Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is Sr. Technical Director.

Thank you to Tatiana Peralta, Ari Merkin, Wendy Melillo, Dan McQuade, Dale Mantley, Larissa Zargeris, Dave Bledsoe, Larre Johnson, Duane Poole, Eric Greenberg, Charles and Karen Rosen, and Jennifer Holland, Orla Mejia,  Andres Martinez and everyone else at the Rutgers library who helped me listen to some old cassette tapes. 

A few things that were helpful in working on this piece: How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America: A History of Iconic Ad Council Campaigns by Wendy Melillo, Taking a Bite out of Crime: the Impact of the National Citizens Crime Prevention Media Campaign by Garrett J O’keefe and others, and “This McGruff Drug Album Might As Well Be By Weird Al,” by Dan McQuade for Defector Media. You can hear Daniel Danger’s McGruff cover album in it’s entirety or you can purchase it here. And lastly, if you are interested in hearing the full McGruff educational program or any of Puppet Productions productions they are available for purchase at, part of a company that Rob Nelson still runs.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at

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