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Radio Days
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The Spectator
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 by Frank Shortt
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2013 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
C
        We were very money challenged when I was being raised in Appalachia, but one thing we had was plenty of enthusiasm and imagination. There were ten of us Shortt siblings.
        The thing that whetted our imaginations was programs we ‘watched’ on the radio. This might sound strange that we watched these programs, but had you been there and seen the looks on our faces as the actors did their sound effects and powerful lines, you would understand. It took much more concentration than watching television, and the circumstances under which we had to listen to these programs, were not the easiest. Reception was bad to start with, and the fact that our parents didn't approve of the whole situation was an added detriment.
        “From out of the past comes the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse, Silver! The Lone Ranger Rides Again” These familiar words echoed through our young brains each week as we did our chores and looked forward to the next episode of the ‘Masked Rider of the Plains’. Brace Beemer was as real to us as Spiderman is to this new generation.
        “Who knows the evil that lurks in the minds of men? The Shadow knows.”
        What a fitting setting to lure us each Saturday night to sneak into the living room after mom and dad had gone to bed. We would turn the radio down as low as it was still possible to hear the dialogue of mysteries that would ‘curdle’ the blood and cause apparitions to appear on the wall in front of us.
        We spent many wintry Saturday nights in front of the radio riding across the prairie defending those who could not defend themselves. If outlaws captured us, we always had the famous horse, Silver, to rescue us from certain death. He could undo ropes and also open locked doors. Old Silver was almost human, his endurance and speed could not be outdone. He never lost his stride no matter the danger. The Lone Ranger trained him to follow him like a puppy and Silver was willing to give his life for this bringer of justice to the old frontier. The following week, in all of our spare time, we emulated this man who could do such wondrous deeds.
        Then, there was Palladin, who in reality was Mr. John Dehner. He made us all yearn to see the streets of San Francisco. It didn't matter to us that the streets described in the ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ program no longer existed and certainly were not made of rough-hewn planks brought down from the Sierra Nevadas in freight wagons. The ‘Palace’ Hotel in Old San Francisco, was such a glorious place. We ached to spend just one night there and enjoy the delicious food prepared by the best chef on the West Coast.
‘Gunsmoke’ always opened with the sound of a blazing six-gun, then the famous lines,
        “There is only one way to handle the killers and the spoilers of the old west and that is with Marshall Matt Dillon and the smell of Gunsmoke!” William Conrad made the streets of Dodge City resound with action, suspense, and human suffering. We imagined the all-out effort it took to police a town as wicked as Dodge. Of course, Chester Proudfoot, played by Parley Baer, provided all the comedy relief needed to keep things on an even keel. Kitty, Georgia Ellis, provided the love angle. She would bind up all of Matt's many wounds, then there was always old “Doc”, Howard McNeer.
        To this day I can hear Matt's spurs jingling and the hollow sound of his boots on the plank sidewalks. I always wanted to be Matt when we played, “Gunsmoke.
        Did we cry at the sad parts of any of the programs? Being impressionable children to begin with, we hurt when they hurt and were happy when they were happy. We would become angry with the villains who inflicted pain and suffering on the “good guys”. Sometimes we reacted to the point of demonstrating what we would do if we were “there” and had the opportunity to help our heroes.
        Can you imagine riding the prairie every Saturday night, binding up wounds, delivering babies in all kinds of weather and solving a mystery in just half an hour? This feat could only be done by “Doc Sixgun”, Rex Allen. Plus, we got a song or two thrown in for good measure. Rex Allen had the greatest voice of all the “singing cowboys” and was the one I wanted to sing like when I grew up. I could never seem to reach the low notes and the high notes that Rex had the ability to reach. No one has ever sung “The Cowboy's Lament” with the feeling that Rex exuded.
        Then there was the Gene Autry Show from Melody Ranch, wherever that was. Pat Buttram always caused us to roll on the floor with his antics, but according to modern standards he would be considered ‘just another buffoon’. Johnny Bond and the Cass County Boys were always on hand to provide a break in the action with one of their ‘down home’ cowboy tunes. Gene always got his man and taught us to be honest, sincere and to chew Doublemint gum. When his six-gun sounded, we knew that there was just no other way to handle the bad guy. Gene was more of a ‘Two Fisted’ type.
        The Double R Bar Ranch was somewhere in California. We knew that to ever see Roy Rogers, Lynn Slye, we'd have to drive all the way across the Southwest, cross Death Valley and eventually come to a place called Apple Valley. The Sons of the Pioneers always lounged about the place, playing with Bullet, caring for Roy’s cattle and getting in Dale's way. The only ‘living’ vehicle” we ever encountered on radio was, of course NellyBelle, driven by Pat Brady. How so many criminals existed in that small desert area, we could never figure out, but Roy bested them all by whatever means it took to bring them ‘to justice’.
        Britt Ponsett was a cowboy who never seemed to get in a hurry. We thought they even slowed down the action to allow him time to get his gun out when he eventually had to use it in each episode. Jimmy Stewart, with his slow wit and actions, provided us with many ‘bad moments’ when it would take him seemingly forever to bring the bad guys in or send them to ‘Boot Hill’ We loved him just the same.
        It would take me many pages to tell of the “Adventures of Superman, Tarzan, Dragnet, Gangbusters, The Squeaking Door, Fibber McGee and Molly, Henry Aldrich, Amos and Andy with Calhoun,” to just name a few.
        We swung from grapevine swings many times trying to be Tarzan of the Jungle. Thank God, we didn't try to be Superman and jump tall buildings with one leap, but we pretended to do it.
        When television came along, our imaginations were not allowed to soar anymore. Now everything was handed to us without thinking. I still pine for the days when we had to envision the looks of our characters, the settings, the action, and most of all the camaraderie we felt as we had to nuzzle up to the old radio in order not to miss a word. We've hung up our guns, our masks, the silver bullets lie tarnishing on the floor. Silver and Scout have been put out to pasture, no longer needed to pull us out of jams. What I wouldn't give to ‘see’ Lone Ranger Ride again.