I’ve been doing a lot of travelling back and forth to and from St. Louis over the last month or so, a dull 300 mile trip of 5 or 6 hours, rendered doubly mind-numbing by the fact that I’ve made the trip hundreds of times over the period of the last forty years. Why don’t I fly, you ask? I answered that question several years ago: it takes me nearly as much time to fly as to drive, the experience is unpleasant, it costs more, and I’d need to rent a car at the St. Louis end if I flew.
In order to while away the hours (and stay awake) I’ve made a practice of listening to old time radio programs on the trip. I slip a CD full of MP3’s of old radio programs into my player and return to those thrilling days of yesteryear for several blessed hours.
Recently I’ve been listening to what my vendor refers to as a Western Sampler. I’d never listened much to this genre either as a kid or since then so it’s all new to me. Here are my off-hand comments about what I’ve listened to so far.
This is a dramatization of a sanitized version of vignettes from the history of the settling of the American West, made in the 1950’s (I think). It was a simpler time.
Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders
This is a kid-oriented western series made in the 1930’s. IMO it’s the pits.
The Cisco Kid on radio was long-running—1942 to 1958. It might strike some today as racist and certainly the dialects are broad but Cisco is as gallant and resourceful a western hero as you might find. His peon sidekick, Pancho, voiced by the late great Mel Blanc and, consequently, sounding identical to Speedy Gonzalez is pretty hard to take but, frankly, I loved the selections from this series.
Death Valley Days
The radio program predated its television incarnation by twenty years. Like the TV version it’s a combination of historical dramatizations and fictional western stories. It’s not bad.
Dr. Six Gun
I found this series about a gun-totin’ western doctor formulaic, far-fetched and, worse, dull.
Before he was Perry Mason on television Raymond Burr voiced a cavalry officer in the American West of the 1870’s in this radio drama. It’s dark and pretty talky.
Don’t let the name put you off. These stories about a British newspaper correspondent in the 1870’s, voiced by the great voice actor John Dehner, are very entertaining.
Chad Remington, voiced by Jeff Chandler, and his W. C. Fields-styled sidekick enforce the law in Dos Rios. Routine.
This is a serial about a rural western railroad in the opening days of the 20th century. I thought it was pretty dull.
I have no words for how good this series, which predated its television version by a number of years, is. The production values—writing, acting, editing, and so on—are all of uniformly high quality. William Conrad’s Matt Dillon is darker and grittier than TV’s version played by James Arness, just one notch better than the outlaws he’s shooting down or rounding up. This is possibly the finest radio drama ever made.
Have Gun, Will Travel
This series was one of the very few radio adaptations of a television series that succeeded on the squawkbox. John Dehner voices Paladin. Original stories and a tone that’s simultaneously more humorous and darker than the television series.
If you like Barton Yarborough, Doc in I Love a Mystery (my all-time favorite radio series), you might like this otherwise routine western set in the 1840’s. Oddly, he sometimes voices the title character, sometimes his sidekick.
The gimmick in this radio drama about a fictional U. S. marshall is his encounters with various historical figures and events. Otherwise routine and formulaic.
The Lone Ranger
This series ran for a remarkably long time, from 1933 to 1954. It was always kid-oriented but seemingly became more so as time wore on. The television series was a pretty faithful rendering of the radio drama. I can’t honestly say that I’m crazy about it.
I’ll comment on more items from the sample after my next trip to St. Louis. Same time, same station.