The Lone Ranger
From a cramped Detroit radio studio, the Lone Ranger galloped into the imaginations and hearts of millions of listeners
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On a particular Monday evening in 1964, the game-show panel on television’s I’ve Got a Secret was stumped. So was the national viewing audience. Who was this tall, heavyset man with the craggy good looks? It didn’t help matters that host Garry Moore wouldn’t let the mystery guest answer any questions himself.
Finally, Moore allowed him to utter a single word — “No” — and millions of ears around the country instantly perked up at the sound of an old friend’s voice.
“Brace Beemer!” panelists shouted. “The Lone Ranger!”
Such was the influence of radio during its golden age, and such was the remarkable staying power of the medium’s greatest fictional lawman.
“Brace Beemer had a voice that was unforgettable,” says Mert Oakes, who grew up in Iowa during the ’30s. “We had a 3-foot-high cabinet radio in the living room, and I’d sit there on the floor and listen to every episode. It wasn’t like television. You had to use your imagination as to what was going on.”
From 1933 to 1954, a period that spanned the Great Depression, World War II, and the early years of the Cold War, The Lone Ranger threw an enormous electronic lasso over a country hungry for heroes, roping in as many as 15 million listeners every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night. America’s sweetheart, child star Shirley Temple, gushed that it was her favorite program. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover loved the simple cowboy morality sandwiched between pitches for Silvercup bread, one of the show’s sponsors. Even atomic spy Julius Rosenberg was tuned to the Ranger on the evening that real-life lawmen burst through the door of his dingy flat to arrest him for selling secrets to the Russians.
Over time, The Lone Ranger franchise grew to include movies, books, comics, and the first made-for-TV Western series. A saddlebag full of merchandise found its way under American Christmas trees, including cap guns, clothing, lunch boxes, radios, watches, board games, puzzles, flashlights, and toothbrushes.
“I had to have everything — The Lone Ranger outfit, the guns, the mask, everything,” says Oakes, now 75 and living in Vancouver, Wash. “I was crazy about the show. I memorized the preamble and I never forgot it.”
That preamble remains the most famous in radio history. Each episode began with the horn blast from the rousing “cavalry charge” finale from Rossini’s William Tell Overture and continued with the announcer’s breathless introduction:
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver! The Lone Ranger, with his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
The Lone Ranger debuted on the evening of Jan. 30, 1933, live from WXYZ studios in the Maccabees Building (now a Wayne State University office building) on Woodward and Putnam. The show’s exact origins have been the source of eternal debate. However, it’s safe enough to say that the principal creators were station owner George W. Trendle, who had made his money managing local vaudeville houses and movie theaters; Buffalo-based writer Fran Striker, who fleshed out the characters and storylines for a few dollars per script; and WXYZ’s drama director, James Jewell, who, like several others involved in the show’s beginnings, went to his grave feeling he was robbed of proper credit.
To accommodate different time zones, each half-hour Lone Ranger episode was performed live three times. Although Beemer’s voice is the one most closely associated with the show, he actually was just one of several radio Rangers. A dapper little actor named Jack Deeds played the title role in unconvincing fashion for the first six episodes. When Deeds arrived at the station drunk one evening, he was fired on the spot by Jewell, who took over for that night’s broadcast.