Radio Westernsby Terry G. G. Salomonson
This is the second look at the programming on radio. In the sixth and seventh part of this series, we looked at radio serials and this time we will review radio western. How many western radio programs can you recall before you read this installment? Can you recall ten or fifteen of them. How about twenty titles? Well, there were more than thirty different radio westerns that aired over the years. Some have become an example of radio excellence and others are a good example of why they did not last. I won't be covering every western ever heard on radio, but most of the remembered (and not so remembered) ones.
One of the earliest programs was entitled THE ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN which heard from 1930 until 1933 on NBC Blue and for another year on CBS until 1934. The series was heard in the 15 minute format and the sponsor was Ken-L Ration and exploited the dogs popularity which started in the movies in 1923. The series then left the air until 01/02/55 when it was revived as a 30 minute program for Milk Bone on MUTUAL and lasted until 12/25/55. This last attempt had Rin-Tin-Tin working the dusty trails out of Fort Apache and his owner Rusty.
One of the next successful attempts was a radio series being written "back East" on the typewriter of Fran Striker. COVERED WAGON DAYS was heard for awhile in 1930 and the tenth script later was rewritten and served as the audition of the long run- ning THE LONE RANGER.
DEATH VALLEY DAYS began its radio life 09/30/30, sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax and heard over NBC Blue. The early scripts were written by Ruth Cornwall Woodman, who traveled to the west for two month each year, talking to anyone who lived through the western experience for her stories. In 1941, the series trans- ferred to CBS and continued until July of 1945 when it ended with the 724th broadcast. The program was renamed to DEATH VALLEY SHERIFF and continued airing from 08/10/44 until 06/21/45. A final name change to THE SHERIFF was heard from 06/29/45 and lasted until the program left the air on 09/14/51.
The next major series, that would become a staple of radio drama, was THE LONE RANGER. First heard 01/31/33 it continued with original broadcasting until 09/03/54 and then went into reruns in Canada, and over the NBC network for several years. The program was also heard around the world in syndicated form for years after production stopped.
1933 also was the beginning of the TOM MIX on September 25th over NBC as a three times a week thriller. The series was based upon the real life experiences of the real Tom Mix who led the live of soldier of fortune, one of Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and fought in both the Boer War and the Boxer Rebellion. In this country, he was a Kansas lawman and briefly a Texas Ranger. Movies and rodeo's continued his fame. The radio program moved to the Blue network in 1937 and continued through 1942. In 1944 it was heard over MUTUAL as a daily program until 1949. In September of 1949, still on MUTUAL, it started its finally run as a three a week 30 minute program and ended 06/23/50. There was some additional repeats until 12/16/51.
CBS broadcast for a short time SIX GUN JUSTICE which was heard from 04/22/35 until 10/23/35.
GENE AUTRY'S MELODY RANCH was the next major western to be heard starting on 01/07/40 over CBS. In 1942 when Gene took oath of office joining the Army Air Corps, the series stopped, but resumed again as a 15 minute western variety show. But again in 1946, his series was back as a 30 minute program and lasted until 05/13/56 when the ranch closed it's first gate for the last time.
SAUNDERS OF THE CIRCLE X started 10/02/41 and was heard until 1942 over NBC's West Coast outlets, and that same year Andy Devine was heard with his MELODY ROUNDUP. Andy's program lasted until 1945.
1942 was the year that brought two well remembered westerns to the air. THE ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER started on Blue Network on 02/03/42 and continued on MUTUAL from May of 1942 until the early 1950's. The other series was THE CISCO KID. First heard 10/02/42 from WOR-MUTUAL, and starred Jackson Beck. That lasted a little over a year and the series left the air until it was revived on MUTUAL-DON LEE starring Jack Mather in the title role. It continued until 1956.
To rival Gene Autry, another singing cowboy took to the airways with his own show - THE ROY ROGERS SHOW. First heard 11/21/44 over MUTUAL, the program was an instant hit. The show jumped networks to NBC in 1946 and continued until it was last heard 07/21/55.
First heard 07/12/46 as HAWK DURANGO, the program soon changed its name to HAWK LARABEE and starred Barton Yarborough as Hawk. Barney Phillips played the sidekick role, Sombre Jones. Barton Yarborough also played the sidekick to Elliott Lewis' role of Hawk Larabee in a different version of this program. Last heard 02/07/48.
SKY KING flew daily in this 15 minute program starting 10/28/46 over ABC. Roy Engel played the starring role first, followed by Earl Nightingale. 1950, a network change to MUTUAL, gave the program a final home until it left the air 06/03/54.
The last major western series to begin in the 1940's was STRAIGHT ARROW on 05/06/48. The lead of Steve Adams was played by Howard Culver and was heard on MUTUAL. Sponsored by Nabisco, it was last heard 06/21/51.
The 1950's was the beginning of the end for western radio programming. Only two of the programs would even make the 1960's. This was the beginning of the end for network entertain- ment as the American public had known it. On the very first day of 1950, the premiere of HOPALONG CASSIDY on CBS lit up the delight of youngsters everywhere. The series, starring William Boyd, continued until 12/27/52 with 104 original broadcasts and several months worth of repeats.
The same year, on July 8th, TALES OF THE TEXAS RANGERS would hit the air starring Joel McCrea on NBC. The series lasted until 09/14/52 when it left the air for good.
The next western to begin was on 05/27/51, over MUTUAL. Guy Madison and Andy Devine starred in this adventure that latest until 02/12/56. From 1951 until 1954, it was sponsored by the Kellogg Company as a three times a week program.
THE SILVER EAGLE starring Jim Ameche, Don brother, first aired 07/05/51 from Chicago and was sponsored by General Mills. ABC carried the program until 03/10/55.
1952 seen only two westerns to take to the air. One domi- nated the radio, the other by comparison never had a chance. GUNSMOKE hit the air 04/26/52 and never looked back. From the very first broadcast, the listener knew that this was different from anything they had heard before. Always labeled as the true adult western, it never disappointed. It was also the last western to remain on radio with original programming lasting until 06/18/61. William Conrad commanded in the role of Matt Dillon with Parley Baer as Chester. Few programs hit the mark like GUNSMOKE.
The other series from 1952 lasted only until 1953 was the syndicated program FRONTIER TOWN. Starring Jeff Chandler in the first 23 programs and Reed Hadley for the balance of the 47 scripts as Chad Remington, a frontier lawyer.
James Stewart of the big screen fame, also had his own western series THE SIX SHOOTER. NBC aired this program from 09/20/53 until 10/11/54. Stewart played the role of Britt Pon- set, an easygoing drifter who traveled mostly in the New Mexico area. The series ended after 39 broadcasts.
Another NBC network series was the short run of DOCTOR SIXGUN. The frontier doctor named Dr. Ray Matson, was played by Karl Weber. It aired from 1954 until 1955.
SAGA was broadcast over the ABC network for a total of 22 thirty minute broadcasts between 03/15/55 and 10/28/55. The series then changed to the 15 minute format 5 times a week start- ing on 05/30/55 and aired 110 broadcasts until it left the air on 10/28/55.
The only western for the next two years to begin broadcast- ing was FORT LARAMIE, starring Raymond Burr as Captain Lee Quince a soldier on the frontier. After 40 broadcasts, it ended.
1958 was the beginning of the end. This was the last year that any westerns started and it of the three to make it to the air, two would fail before the year was out. FRONTIER GENTLEMAN starring John Dehner as J.B. Kendall an English journalist trav- eling and reporting the American west for the London Times. First heard on CBS 02/02/58, it ended 41 broadcasts later on 11/16/58.
LUKE SLAUGHTER OF TOMBSTONE began on 02/23/58 over CBS, and starred Sam Buffington as Luke, a Arizona cattleman. After 16 programs, it left the air on 06/15/58.
The last new network production to go on the air was HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL on 11/23/58. John Dehner started as Paladin, the same hired gun that actually started on television with Richard Boone in the title role. 106 broadcasts made it to the air before this program ended permanently on 11/27/60, just short of the final end of "old time radio."
There were other program of lesser notice, PINTO PETE IN ARIZONA and PINTO PETE AND HIS RANCH BOYS were heard in the 1930's as a musical program. Other attempts were made to market still more westerns programs like THE ADVENTURE OF THE SCARLET CLOAK and DARROW OF THE DIAMOND X. Many independent productions were heard on other long running radio programs such as ESCAPE's "Wild Jack Rhett" (12/17/50 & 02/15/53), and "Pagosa" (11/30/52).
Next Part XII - Equipment: Cassettes vs. Open Reel
If there is an area of information that you, the new or well established collector, would like to see in this series, please feel free to write me. Any questions, comments, or suggestions will be carefully considered. I can be reached through this internet web site or the following addresses:
Audio Classics® LLC Archive
Copyright © 1997-2012 Terry Salomonson
Home Page: http://www.audio-classics.com
Last Updated: 04/27/15 07:37:41 PM