1950s Radio Westerns
by Don Bell
The Lone Ranger and Silver
There were a number of popular Western series during the Golden Days of Radio, but as a youngster growing up in the 1950s when radio was facing the onslaught of television, I seemed to settle on just two:
The Lone Ranger (1933-1954)
The Lone Ranger was the Western series I listened to the most on the radio. When I close my eyes, I can still hear the program's classic opening. Moments after Rossini's "William Tell Overture" began, announcer Fred Foy would give the stirring introduction:
"A fiery horse with the speed of light! A cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hi-yo, Silver, away!' The Lone Ranger!"
The announcer continued...
"With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!"
I loved this show for its characters and action adventure. Although the voice of The Lone Ranger was performed by several actors in the program's early years, the role was eventually given to Brace Beemer who's deep, rich voice became synonymous with The Lone Ranger character for over 21 years, until the last live broadcast ended in September, 1954.
During the show's long run, Beemer made personal appearances as the Masked Man and invented the famous Lone Ranger costume.
I found it fun when some of the radio scripts closely followed a story depicted in one of the Lone Ranger comic books. I can remember saving up 10 cents and waiting for the latest Lone Ranger comic to appear on the rack at Irwin's Drugstore in East City, just down the street from Eddie Butler's Grocery. In those days we went into Peterborough once a month to buy our groceries, so it meant a long wait to get that comic.
At the conclusion of each radio broadcast after The Lone Ranger and Tonto had dispensed with the bad guys and made the West safe once again, I always waited beside our old console radio listening for that inevitable question and its unfailing reply:
"Who was that masked man?"
"Why, he's the Lone Ranger!"
Then, above the swelling sound of the "William Tell Overture" came The Lone Ranger's farewell shout:
"Hi-yo, Silver, away!"
William Conrad starred as the U.S. Marshall of Dodge City, Matt Dillon, in this popular radio Western. Conrad was later to star as Frank Canon in the TV series Canon, one of my favorite detective shows of the 1960s. However, it wasn't until long after the series ended that I connected the dots and realized Conrad had been the deep, resonant voice of old-time radio's Matt Dillon.
Howard McNear, the actor who played crusty old Doc Adams in the Gunsmoke radio series, went on to play the popular role of Floyd Lawson, the Mayberry barber on TV's The Andy Griffith Show. And Parley Baer, the actor who played Chester Proudfoot, Matt Dillon's helper, also appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as Mayer Stoner.
The radio version of Gunsmoke was aimed mostly at adults with its mature story lines. Its scripts were a bit darker with more drama and less action compared to other radio Westerns of that era. Many of Gunsmoke's episodes would not have a happy ending, and Marshall Dillon would not always get to capture the bad man or meet out needed justice. In many ways, it was a more realistic portrayal of the Old West.
My father enjoyed listening to Gunsmoke at the time, but being younger, its drama and halting dialogue didn't appeal to me as much as The Lone Ranger show's action-oriented adventure that was targeted for a younger audience. Yet, I can recall listening to Gunsmoke with my father many times, depending on what the story line was about and how much it interested me. The sound effects were especially realistic and well done.
Gunsmoke's radio introduction began with the sound of galloping hooves and the memorable introduction:
"Around Dodge City and in the territory out west, there's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a U.S. Marshall and the smell of...Gunsmoke."
Music, and the announcer continued...
"Gunsmoke, starring William Conrad. The story of the violence that moved west with young America. The story of a man who moved with it; Matt Dillon, United States Marshal."
Lots of fun memories.