1950s Radio Westerns
by Don Bell
The Lone Ranger and Silver
There were many popular old time radio Westerns broadcast during the Golden Days of Radio, but as a youngster growing up in the 1950s, when radio was facing the onslaught of television, I tended to settle on just two, my favorites:
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 the show for its colorful characters and fast action adventure. Although the voice of The Lone Ranger had been performed by several actors in the program's early years, the role was eventually given to Brace Beemer who's deeply rich voice became synonymous with The Lone Ranger character for over 21 years, until the last live broadcast ended in September, 1954.
During the radio show's long run, Beemer made personal appearances as the Masked Man and invented the iconic Lone Ranger costume.
I found it fun when some of the radio scripts closely followed a story-line depicted in one of my Lone Ranger comic books. I can remember saving 10 cents and waiting for the latest Lone Ranger comic to appear on the magazine rack at Irwin's Drugstore in East City, just down the street from Butler's Grocery. In those days, we drove to Peterborough from the farm once a month to buy our groceries, so it meant a long wait to get the next edition.
At the conclusion of each radio broadcast after The Lone Ranger and Tonto had jailed the bad guys and made the West safe 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 the popular old time radio Western called Gunsmoke. Conrad was later to star as Frank Canon in the classic TV series Canon, one of my favorite detective shows of the 1960s. It wasn't until long after the radio series had ended that I connected the dots and realized Conrad had been the deep, resonant voice of Matt Dillon.
Howard McNear, the actor who played crusty old Doc Adams in the Gunsmoke radio series, went on to play the role of the somewhat absent-minded Floyd Lawson, Mayberry's barber on TV's The Andy Griffith Show. And Parley Baer, the actor who played Chester Proudfoot, Matt Dillon's deputy, became Mayberry's Mayor Stoner. Imagine.
The Gunsmoke series had mature story lines and was hugely popular with adults. Its scripts tended to be darker with more drama and less action when compared to most old time radio Westerns of that era. Some of Gunsmoke's episodes did not feature a happy ending, and Marshall Dillon did not always get to capture the bad guy or be given a chance to dispense the needed justice. It offered a more realistic portrayal of the Old West in many ways.
My father always enjoyed listening to Gunsmoke, but my being a youngster, its more serious drama style, and a halting dialogue didn't appeal quite as much as The Lone Ranger show's action-oriented adventure. However, I often listened to Gunsmoke with my father depending on what the story line and how much it interested me. The show's sound effects were especially realistic and well done.
Gunsmoke's introduction began with the sound of galloping hooves and the announcer's voice:
"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."
Western-style music, and the announcer's voice 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 happy memories, thanks to those old time radio Westerns.