1950s Radio Westerns

by Don Bell
(Peterborough, Canada)

The Lone Ranger and Silver

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!"

Gunsmoke (1952-1961)

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.

Comments for 1950s Radio Westerns

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by: Anonymous


Thanks For The Memories
by: Anonymous

Thank you for sharing this. It brings back some wonderful memories.

The Lone Ranger
by: Jim Vaughan

I remember the radio version of The Lone Ranger and later the TV version. About 1957, Clayton Moore came to Jacksonville, Florida's Florida Theater for a personal appearance to introduce his new feature length movie.

I was about 12 years old. As he entered the theater from the stage right, all the kids mobbed him. I was lucky enough to be standing beside my hero! I reached out to touch the gun in his right-side holster. He looked down at me and said, "Don't do that kid." Wow! The Lone Ranger actually talked to me!

I am 65 years old this year, and I still buy Merita Bread. Why? Because the Lone Ranger told me to. I always did what the Lone Ranger expected of us kids. Sounds dumb but, today, when I look at a loaf of Merida Bread, somewhere in my mind, I reconnect with all those wonderful childhood memories and feelings.

My ex-wife moved to Hendersonville, NC. She told me one day that Clayton Moore had died. He had retired to Hendersonville. She said he was still making local personal appearances up until his death. I regretted not knowing where he retired to until it was too late. I would have loved telling him personally how much he added to my life.

As a person gets to a point in life where you know your time is short, you realize how rich you are with great memories that trigger-happy feelings.

I sure do miss the Lone Ranger and Tonto on Thursday nights at 7:30.

Thanks For Sharing
by: Anonymous

Jim, thanks for sharing. I miss The Lone Ranger radio program too. It was great to gather around the radio with our cowboy hats and six-shooters.

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