How I’d love to go up to young people who is going to see the new Lone Ranger movie (though, judging by some of the early news after it’s release this week, there may not be many of those folks in movie theatres so far). I would ask of those young people, let’s say those 25 and younger, about the origins of the story of the Lone Ranger. The answers I would likely get..
– “It’s like, from Johnny Depp and stuff.”
– “Wasn’t Lone Ranger that band from that movie where they held people hostage at that place? My Mom, like, had a crush on that guy, and stuff.”
– “It was a book or something from the olden days before, like, the internet and stuff.”
– “It was f—in’ like a TV show before they f—in’ invented color and stuff.” Because, as you know, f—in’ is now an everyday adjective and adverb to the next generation.
It’d be even more fun to give those young folks the correct answer,”The Lone Ranger was, originally, a radio show that began 80 years ago,” and watch their reaction.
– “What’s a radio show?”
– “I didn’t think they had radio when George Washington was fighting the Civil War, and stuff.”
– “Um, I don’t listen to radio. That’s for old people who like to call in and complain all the time.” (Note to my radio brothers and sisters – that was an actual response from a college student. Many radio managers haven’t figured out that most young people share that opinion.)
And young folks, I kid about your speech patterns and knowledge. Older people used to say they same things about my generation. Please don’t hurt me when I’m in a nursing home and diapers!
It’s understandably difficult for someone born after a world of three or four television channels to imagine a time where you could only be entertained by something with a screen once or twice a week, depending on whether you had enough money to see a movie. Hard as we try, we can’t actually imagine what life was like before our time, and despite what you may have heard on a late night show, we can’t go back in time and find our first hand.
Suffice it to say that many children (and adults) of the 1930s wasted just as much time in front of the radio as we do playing Facebook games in this era. The Lone Ranger was one of the more popular time sucks after it premiered on Detroit’s WXYZ in January 1933. Unlike some shows that ascended to popularity, then faded as the next fad came along, the Lone Ranger didn’t go away until network radio shows themselves were in the midst of their demise.
Television shows don’t stay on the air for two decades – except for Monday Night Raw, another reason pro wrestling is king! The Lone Ranger on radio not only survived 21 years, including five years after the TV version of Lone Ranger began, an astounding 2,956 original episodes were produced. Repeats continued to air on radio for another two years after original production ceased. Original production of the Lone Ranger TV show stopped after five years and 221 episodes, in case you are keeping score.
The Lone Ranger books? Those came after the radio show. The Lone Ranger movie serials? Post radio, not to mention the worst arrangement of the William Tell Overture of all time. The hokey Tarzan/Lone Ranger/Zorro Adventure Hour that aired when I was 9 years old, the one in which Tonto had mysteriously acquired a TV news anchor’s voice? Radio. (The voice of the Lone Ranger in that cartoon series was William Conrad, one of the most underrated entertainers of all time, but that’s another column.)
So return with me to those thrilling days of yesteryear, with my feature that aired on 93 WIBC. Much thanks to Wally Podrazik, curator of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.