Remembering Classic Old Time Radio Westerns

Westerns have always been a part of American popular mythology and entertainment. Westerns were an important genre of the early pulp novels. They became a staple of movies from the time of the earliest silent films, and their relatively low production cost kept them a favorite of the studios. When TV advanced enough to take advantage of outdoor shots, Westerns became a favorite of the small screen, as well.

Westerns on the radio were mostly Radio Cereal Serials, on going after school sagas for the youth audience. Westerns for grown ups took off during the 1950s. There had been Westerns on the radio that were more serious than the kiddie Westerns, but Gunsmoke, premiering in 1952, was the first Western specifically for a grown-up audience.

The audiences for these grown-up Westerns were the younger brothers and sisters of the Greatest Generation who had fought the Second World War. The Hard Boiled, noirish detectives had been immensely popular immediately after the war, but audiences were ready for something new. Gunsmoke was inspired when CBS chief, William Paley, called for a Hardboiled Western series; a Philip Marlowe with horses.

Gunsmoke was created by the writing and directing team of John Meston and Norman MacDonnell. The pair created a rather gritty adult portrayal of the frontier where traditional black and white notions of right and wrong were often blurry. The popularity of Gunsmoke made the the program incredibly attractive to CBS’s Television division, and director MacDonnell held reservations, feeling the show was “perfect for radio” and would lose its authenticity to the constraints of Television. In the end, TV Gunsmoke was “taken away” from MacDonnell (Meston stayed on as head writer), first airing in 1955. Meston and MacDonnell kept Gunsmoke on the radio until 1961, making it one of the most enduring radio dramas (and arguably one of the best of the entire Golden Age of Radio).

After Gunsmoke started on TV, MacDonnell and Meston followed up on the radio with Fort Laramie. Where Gunsmoke was a story about a single lawman facing questions of right and wrong with his interpretation of the law, the hero of Fort Laramie, Captain Lee Quince, had to reconcile right and wrong with his duty. In his own way, Quince was as tormented and tortured as Marshal Matt Dillon.

Quince was convincingly played by an up and coming young actor, Raymond Burr. Burr was a hard working movie player, chiefly in Noir roles. He appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun (1951) and played the suspected murderer in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Just before taking the role of Lee Quince, Burr was edited into the seminal Japanese monster film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Fort Laramie was a military drama along the lines of John Ford’s “Calvary Trilogy”,  Fort Apache (1948), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950). Burr was by no means John Wayne, but he did a very creditable job of playing an officer on the frontier, struggling to maintain his sense of right and wrong while answering his call to duty.

Captain Lee Quince faced the demands of settlers moving into the Western Frontier while striving to respect the culture and honor of the Red man. He recognized that he had a mission to carry out the orders of his superiors, but was fiercely loyal to the troopers under his command. It is a tribute to the talents of Meston, MacDonnell, and the CBS Radio production team to realize that it is difficult to listen to Fort Laramie without seeing visions of the troops, riding through Monument Valley, ala John Ford.

Fort Laramie only lasted a single season. There were 41 episodes broadcast from January to October 1956, and the show continued to be popular over AFRTS for many years. For the 1957 season, Burr moved on to the role for which he would be most closely identified, the TV version of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason.

See also: Where Did All the Radio Westerns Go?

Lone Ranger: Mystery Of The Silver Bullets Old Time Radio Show

radio

SPOILER ALERT!: The Lone Ranger will be coming to cinemas in the summer of 2013. The following article will discuss plot elements from the movie. If you prefer to see these elements when the film comes out, please feel free to skip this article and go OTRCat’s Lone Ranger Page to enjoy 1,365 original Lone Ranger radio episodes.

Many OTR fans 
image070 are looking forward to this summer’s release of The Lone Ranger with understandably mixed feelings. The film will pay homage to one of OTR’s great characters. However, the movie is a pet project of Johnny Depp and the writers, producer and director of the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. How the people who brought us Captain Jack Sparrow present Tonto and the Lone Ranger will be interesting, to say the least.

The Lone Ranger first appeared on the radio in 1933, making him the first Superhero. Superman is generally given the title of first Superhero, but he did not appear in the comics until 1938. It might be argued that the Lone Ranger is not a Superhero; rather, he fits the definition of Costumed Crime Fighter, a classification he shares with Batman, who first appeared in 1939.

In the early 1930’s, radio station owner George W. Trendle and writer Fran Striker developed the idea of a cowboy hero with the qualities of Robin Hood or Zorro, both popular swashbuckling heroes in the movies at the time. Because the show was intended for kids, the character had to have an extraordinarily strong moral code. The backstory of the Lone Ranger was that he was part of a posse led by his Texas Ranger brother. An outlaw gang led by Butch Cavendish ambushes the six men and leave them for dead. Ranger Reid (his first name  is never given in the radio series) is the only survivor, and he is nursed back to health by a trusty Indian scout named Tonto, who becomes the Ranger’s most trusted companion.

lone_ranger1From information gleaned from the previews, this is an area where the up coming movie departs from the original story. John Reid is an attorney who was educated in the East and returns to his dusty Western hometown with big city notions of Law and Order. This does not sit well with his older brother Dan, a rough and tumble Texas Ranger like their father. John witnesses the escape of a well known badman, Butch Cavendish, and volunteers to join Dan’s posse to bring him back in. The Cavendish gang ambushes the posse, leaving them for dead and not realizing that John survives.

To this point, the movie seems to be a retelling of the original story with details added for color. Tonto, however, is more than just a scout. He is a Comanche shaman who is pursuing Cavendish for his own reasons. In both the new movie and on radio, Tonto convinces the Ranger that because the world believes he is dead, he can be more effective as a crime fighter if he keeps his identity a secret. Tonto fashions a mask from Reid’s dead brother’s vest.

One of the Lone Ranger’s most unique trademarks was his silver bullets. If someone in the Old West received a message from the Lone Ranger that was accompanied by a silver bullet, they were assured the message was genuine. The Lone Ranger inherited Dan Reid’s secret silver mine, which was the source of the bullets. The mine also afforded the Ranger and Tonto the financial means to spend their life pursuing bad guys. The silver bullets are said to remind the Ranger that life is precious and that there is a cost every time a trigger is pulled.

In the movie, the silver bullets will take on a new, “practical” meaning. Tonto is after the evil Cavendish because he believes him to be a mythical Wendigo. The Wendigo is a creature from native American legends. The creature was cannibalistic spirit the could possess human form. Tonto knows that, in the best tradition of werewolves and vampires, the Wendigo can be defeated by a silver bullet.

To be completely fair, the new movie draws its inspiration from the TV show starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels rather than the radio program. The TV show was a direct take off from the radio show, but there were some changes made for the small screen. The real importance is the integrity of the characters and their values. It will be amusing to see how Depp and Company accomplish that part of the mission.

 

 

Carter Sisters: Country Western Radio Broadcasts

The Carter Sisters performed traditional songs, many of which came from the original Carter family, and mixed this with popular and gospelThe Carter Sisters first record was with Victor RCA Records released in February 1949. In the 1950s, the group recorded many singles, among them were “Little Orphan Girl,” “Wildwood Flower,” “Time’s a Wastin,” and “You are My Flower.” In 1952, the group transferred to Columbia Records. Four albums were released by the label for the Carter Sisters from 1965 to 1982.

The Carter Sisters,  Helen (1927-1998), June (1929- 2003), Anita (1933-1999 ), daughters of Maybelle Carter and  Ezra Carter, are the second generation Carter Family. They are the nieces of Ezra’s brother AP Carter and his wife Sara who is also Maybelle’s cousin.  Alvin Pleasant Delaney A.P. Carter, Sara Dougherty Carter, and Maybelle Addington Carter were the members of the original Carter Family who hailed from the Appalachia region. Early in the 1900s the Carter family was already performing in their area. Sara, AP, and Maybelle were considered the first family of country music. Their first recording in 1927, via the talent search of  Ralph Peer from the Victor Talking Machine Company, contributed to the birth of country music. They became very popular and the Carter Sisters were heard on radio shows and also performed in many different venues. When their group disbanded in 1943, their children and the next Carter generations carried on the tradition of making beautiful music. The Carter Sisters claimed the name Carter Family in 1960 after AP Carter died. They recorded with Columbia as the (second generation) Carter Family and released “Travelin’ Minstrel Band” in 1972, and “Three Generations” in 1974. In 1978, Mother Maybelle died and the Carter Sisters performed only in a few occasions after that.

Enjoy this broadcast from Old Time Radio’s collection of Carter Sisters Radio Shows:

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Carter-Sisters-01-Cimmaron-Audition-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Good Night, Frank Cady

We would like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of beloved character actor, Frank Cady. Although primarily known for his television role as Sam Drucker, the postmaster and general store keeper of Hooterville, USA, like many actors of his time, Cady made more than a few appearances on the radio.

Frank Cady was a native of Northern California, and worked on the town newspaper, the Lassen County Advocate, while in high school. He studied journalism and drama at Stanford, married his college sweetheart, and served an apprenticeship at the Westminster Theater in London. He returned to Stanford in 1939 but quickly became dissatisfied with academia. He took up a career as a radio announcer on various California stations until WWII disrupted his career. He served in the Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, moving through England, France and Germany.

After his discharge Cady joined the Los Angeles area theater community. Stage work led to movie work, and he made several small and not so small appearances in movies, usually the film noir pictures that were becoming popular at the time. Cady appeared in Flamingo Road(1949), The Asphalt Jungle(1950), When Worlds Collide(1951), and Rear Window(1954), among others.

In the mid 50’s Cady began contrast his bit roles in noir movies by making the rounds of radio Westerns. He appeared in many episodes of Gunsmoke, including “Bone Hunters”, “Young Love”, “Doc Quits”, “Cow’s Cribs”, and “The Squaw”. He also took his talents to Fort Laramie for several episodes, such as “Stage Coach Stop”, Squaw Man”, and “The Young Trooper”. He also made several appearances on Have Gun, Will Travel.

About the time Frank Cady was making ends meet on radio, he also began work on the medium that would be his home, television. He made several appearances as Ozzie and Harriet‘s family doctor, as well as commercials plugging Shasta Grape Soda. His best known role was as Sam Drucker, one of the “less wacky” residents of Hooterville, the small community that was the setting of Petticoat Junction and later spin-off Green Acres. Paul Henning created both shows and previously brought The Beverly Hillbillies to the small screen. In the last seasons, Sam Drucker showed up in Beverly Hills as a supposed love interest for Granny.

In 1991 Cady and his wife retired to Wilsonville, OR, where he lived out his days. Frank Cady passed away on Jun 8, 2012. He was 96 years old.

Bill Ring Old Time Radio

“If you’re too busy to go fishin’,
You’re TOO busy!”

This philosophy was popularized by Country Music legend Bill Ring. Ring appeared on the California Hayride TV program with Cottonseed Clark. He also became part of the Ralph D. Foster’s KWTO-AM (Keep Watching the Ozarks).

Foster had a vision that Springfield MO could replace Nashville as the crossroads of Country Music, and KWTO became a stepping stone for several artists entering the industry, including Porter Wagoner, Homer and Jethro, Chet Atkins and the Carter Family. Along with other business partners Foster created RadiOzarks Enterprises and the company was soon producing transcription disks of KWTO programs for other stations. Featured stars included Bill Ring, Smiley Burnett and Tennessee Ernie Ford. Ring produced 260 15-minute episodes of the Tennessee Ernie Ford show, and his own show was eventually picked up by the ABC Radio network. Ring would also be part of Korns-a Krackin’, a weekly “Hillbilly Variety Show” carried by the Mutual Network.

Bill Ring’s brand of Country Music wasn’t the “Cry-in-your-beer-because-your-wife-left-and-took-your-dog” music that is so easily parodied. His music, with its hard driving, danceable  rhythms and good time lyrics reflected a happier, simpler lifestyle. Bill Ring is remembered in Missouri as someone who always could find time to go fishing.

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Bill-Ring-Show-11-Ragtime-Annie-Lee-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Old Time Radio Western Rarities

Old Time Radio Programs usually become Rarities because at the time they were produced no one in the Production Staff thought that we would be enjoying their show today on old time radio mp3s.

Often it is the case that the show was broadcast live, and if it was recorded, recording media of the time was notoriously fragile. Many times the recordings may have been saved, but left in a closet or locker. After collecting dust for years the space is needed later and the recordings are simply thrown away.

Many of the missing Westerns have simply blown away across the Lone Prairie.
This makes the surviving recordings all the more valuable.

  • The original Rin-Tin-Tin appeared on the Radio in the 1930s and used his own voice (and did his own stunts). The 1955 episodes presented as part of this collection tell stories of the famous Dog’s adventures with the 101st Calvary.
  • It is hard to believe that Death Valley Days could have become a rarity; the TV show featured Ronald Reagan! However most of the long running radio episodes are lost. Did you know that the very realistic program was created by a lady who had never been in the West until she started writing for the program?
  • Saunders of the Circle X featured Andy Devine, and was broadcast on the West Coast at the same time Devine was working on Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch.
  • One of CBS’s earliest attempts at an Adult Western was Hawk Durango (later changed to Hawk Larrabee.)Enjoy the other Rare Westerns in the Collection!

Western Radio Sampler: A Hollywood Staple of Pulp Fiction

You say that you don’t like Westerns? Have you ever seen a Western on the Radio?
Westerns usually take place on the American Frontier during the period between the end of the Civil War and the Massacre at Wounded Knee. They have long been a staple of pulp fiction and Hollywood.
Radio Westerns in this collection include:
  • American Trail – featuring true stories from American Western History
  • Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders – Juvenile show with a Western Twist
  • Cisco Kid – The Robin Hood of the West with sidekick Pancho (Mel Blanc)
  • Death Valley Days – Rare Western show takes place in the hottest, driest region of the West
  • Dr. Six Gun – Friend and physician in the lawless 1870s
  • Fort Laramie – From the creators of Gunsmoke, starring Raymond Burr
  • Frontier Gentlemen – British Correspondent travels and reports about his adventures in the West
  • Frontier Town – Tough guy lawyer enforces the law in the tough town Dos Rios
  • Gunsmoke – One of the best radio shows with gruff Matt Dillon
  • Have Gun Will Travel – Gunfighter Paladin could wine and dine fine ladies and shoot with the best of them
  • Hawk Larabee – Tells the stories of the people in a 1840s Texas town
  • Lightning Jim – Rare Western Radio Show about “How the West was Won”
  • Lone Ranger – “Hi Oh Silver, Away!” Long Lived and popular western radio show with The Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto
  • Luke Slaughter – Featuring Civil War cavalryman turned Arizona cattleman
  • Red Ryder – Popular Newspaper comic hero and “America’s famous fighting cowboy,”
  • Roy Rogers – “The King of the Cowboys” with “The Queen of the West” Dale Evans, “The Smartest Horse in the Movies” Trigger, and “The Wonder Dog” Bullet
  • Six Shooter – Jimmy Stewart stars in this excellent old time radio Western
  • Sky King – Part Cowboy Part Aviator in this juvenile western radio show
  • Straight Arrow – Mild Mannered rancher turned warrior with a secret cave
  • Tom Mix –Real-Life cowboy Tom Mix sings, ropes, and rodeos
  • Wild Bill Hickok – With Sidekick Jingles fights bad guys in the American West

Western Spoofs

Why did the Chicken cross the Road? Because the Family across the Street is listening to Old Time Western Radio Programs?

Judging by the Laughter, it is more likely that they are listening to one of the many Western Spoofs played by some of Radio’s Greatest Comedians!

The West is a place where it doesn’t pay to take yourself too seriously. Cowboy’s laughing at themselves is a staple of the Western Musical Variety Shows like Melody Ranch, 10-2-4 Ranch, and The Hollywood Barndance. But when a professional comedian gets in touch with his “Western Side” it is best to hide the women and chickens!

Jack Benny made several episodes around his Western alter-ego, “Buck Benny.” Red Skelton made an interesting if off-beat Cowboy, but who could be a more off-beat Cowboy than New England sour-puss Fred Allen. And as for Edgar Bergen– wasn’t one of Charlie McCarthy’s uncles a cactus after all?

Western-Spoofs-Bergen-McCarthy-560520-Westerndetective-Little-Bo-Peep-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Old Time Radio Western Music Sampler

“What kind of music do you usually have here?” “Oh, we’ve got both kinds. We’ve got Country and Western!”

“Both Kinds”

Maybe it was a better joke in the Blues Brothers than it is here, but it brings us to the point: Just what is Country and Western Music?

Country Music and Western Music were two distinct styles of music until they were lumped together by Billboard Magazine for charting purposes. Both have their roots in the folk music of the British Isles.

What would become Country or “Hillbilly Music“ came from the folk music of the Appalachians and the American Old South. The cultural diversity of the South lent a variety of instruments to Hillbilly Music- the Irish fiddle, the German dulcimer, the Spanish Guitar, and the Italian mandolin. Different cultural styles of music blended as well; Negro Spirituals, Blues, English Ballads all would shape Country.

Western music is thought to have developed around the cowboys campfire. The migration of Southerners to the Southwest mixed styles with the music of the Mexican Cowboys. The distinctive result would be glorified by Hollywood and Radio with the rise of the Singing Cowboys.

A fusion of many styles played in Dance Halls became known as Western Swing. Along with Western and Country music, elements of Dixieland jazz, polka, blues, and Big Band sounds combined to become very danceable and popular music in the pre-War years. In contrast to the tightly arranged, horn driven Big Band sound, Western Swing usually follows the Fiddle’s lead, and stylistically allows for more on-stage improvisation.

Western Swing didn’t die, but it was gravely injured during WWII when the Federal Government placed an 30% excise tax on “Dancing Night Clubs.”

Western and Country Music is growing in popularity, even among those who didn’t spent the day breathing cattle dust of spreading what the cows left on the crops. Many of these shows from the Golden Era feature a lot of comedy, but fair warning- this is also the forum where “Corn-ball” humor developed.

“Have Gun, Will Travel” and “Gunsmoke”


Two very high quality Westerns from the Golden Age of Radio are Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel. Comparison of the programs should prove educational and entertaining.

And they are both very entertaining, but adult oriented programs. And both were, to a greater or lesser degree, products of both Radio and the junior medium, Television. Gunsmoke came to the radio in the spring of 1952, and from the start fans began asking when the show would come to TV. The TV version of the show began airing in the fall of 1955, and go on to have the highest number of scripted episodes of any US primetime series. Have Gun, Will Travel is unique in broadcasting because the series began on television during the 1957 fall season and came to radio on Nov 23, 1958.

In both cases the old time radio shows and the TV programs had a somewhat different “feel.” Part of this is due to different casts on radio and TV, but other differences may be due to differences in the medium.

The heroes on each program contrast. William Conrad’s “Matt Dillon” is the hardened product of a hard life, with a strong sense of justice and duty to the law he is sworn to uphold. He tries to keep the peace, but the listener won’t be surprised to hear him flatten a no-good with his fists. “Paladin,” first portrayed by Richard Boone on TV and later on the radio by John Dehner, is highly educated. In his back story we find that he was educated at West Point, and served as an officer in the Union Calvary. (Dehnermade several appearances on Gunsmoke, usually as a Bad Guy, but not as a recurring character.) Although he carries an impressive arsenal of weapons, it is his education that usually saves the day. Matt Dillon is a representative of the US Government, but Paladin charges highly for his services (however he usually winds up defending the “little guy.”)

Marshall Dillon is the lead character, but Gunsmoke is an ensemble story. Chester Proudfoot is the somewhat slow-witted but likable Deputy. Doc Adams is the grumpy town doctor; somewhat mercenary ion early episodes, he becomes more warm-hearted as the seasons pass. Kitty Russell is a saloon girl who may or may not be a love interest for the Marshal; she does provide a feminine perspective on Dodge City.

The only recurring characters besides Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel are “Hey-Boy”, the Chinese bell-hop at Paladin’s Carlton Hotel headquarters, and his girlfriend Miss Wong. The Chinese bookend each Radio Episode, helping to define the setting in San Francisco, and also function as a Greek Chorus, commenting on Paladin and the situations he encounters.

Gunsmoke has been praised for its “realistic” treatment of the Old West. Have Gun, Will Travel is more fantastical, Paladin sometimes called a Western James Bond for his sophistication. Dehner’s “Paladin” is both more refined and more formidable than Boone’s TV “Paladin”. William Conrad‘s “Matt Dillon” is much closer to the Radio Noir/Philip Marlow roots of the program; James Arness comes closer to the mid-50’s matinee ideal for a western hero. Most of the women that Paladin encounters fall into the “damsel in distress” role (unless they turn out to be a female Bad Guy, and even then they usually start out appearing as Damsel in Distress). Miss Kitty on Radio’s Gunsmoke works in a saloon, drinking with and “entertaining” customers. On TV she is the good hearted owner of the Long Branch Saloon.

One last Radio/TV difference: there were only 106 weekly episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel on the radio; the TV program lasted until 1963. However on the closing Radio Episode, Nov 22, 1960, we receive the resolution of Paladin’s character. We find out that he retires in the East to manage the large estate he has inherited.

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/HGWT-601127-e106-From-Here-to-Boston-OTRCAT.com.mp3