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The Lone Ranger - The legend takes form
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The Lone Ranger - the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains - "... nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice," came the introduction to the longest running western in the history of radio.

A disparate cast of characters and a confluence of circumstances combined to originate the legend and bring it to fruition.

It was the late 1920s. John Kunsky owned 20 Detroit movie theaters, including four of the largest first run theaters in the city. But Kunsky was being driven out of the theater business by a monopolistic holding company of Paramount. A hard-nosed attorney specializing in the entertainment business, George W. Trendle, managed to negotiate a lucrative deal for Kunsky. A provision of the deal was that Kunsky never re-enter the movie theater business.

Kunsky and Trendle paired up in 1929 to form the Kunsky-Trendle Broadcasting Company. They purchased radio station WGHP and changed the call letters to WXYZ. Trendle hired another hard-nosed associate, H. Allen Campbell, to find sponsors for the station's programs and to act as hatchet man for a series of cost-cutting measures.

In 1932 Trendle decided to drop WXYZ's network affiliation with the Columbia Broadcasting System and produce its own programs rather than purchase syndicated programs produced on the East and West Coasts. Trendle hired James Jewell as dramatic director who would supply actors from his own firm, the Jewell Players.

Fran Striker, a native of Buffalo, New York, was hired to write scripts for Trendle's programs. Striker had dropped out of college and had stints at radio stations in Cleveland and Buffalo as announcer and scriptwriter of mysteries and westerns. He later freelanced, writing scripts that he sold to various radio stations across the country before being hired by Trendle.

In late 1932 Trendle began discussing ideas for a new radio series with a cowboy hero. He wanted a mysterious hero after the fashion of Zorro, or Robin Hood. As the target audience would be children, he wanted high moral standards and a minimum of violence.

The concept was turned over to Striker to flesh out the character, with several guidelines. The Lone Ranger would never be seen without mask or disguise. He would never be held for any length of time and unmasked. He was always to use good grammar and speech. He was never to shoot to kill. He would not drink or smoke. Criminals would never be seen in enviable positions of wealth and power, and never appear glamorous. Although the Lone Ranger would help individuals and small groups, it would be a byproduct of the broader goal of bringing law and justice to the American West.

The Lone Ranger wouldn't win against unrealistically hopeless odds. Raw violence would be minimized. Fans will recall that seldom is the conclusion of an episode marked by a climactic gun battle. Rather, outlaws are more often trapped and brought to justice through an intelligently concocted plan.

Striker went to work on the character and added the concept of the silver bullet and the Lone Ranger's Indian sidekick, Tonto. In early episodes of the Lone Ranger, Striker worked over scripts from his previous writing at station WBER in Buffalo.

A couple of test runs for the radio series were run in January 1932, and the first official episode aired over WXYZ on Jan. 31, 1932. The program was an instant success. In May 1933 the Lone Ranger made an appearance at a public park, and some 70,000 people showed up.

Trendle went to great measures to cut costs. Classical music - the William Tell Overture to introduce a western? It seems incongruous. Yet, it seemed natural and normal to those of us who grew up with it. Besides, it worked. And by using music that was not copyrighted, Trendle avoided paying royalties.

Trendle immediately recognized the monetary value of the Lone Ranger but neglected to follow the high ethical standards of the noble character that he and Striker had created. In 1934 Trendle incorporated the Lone Ranger, freezing Striker and Jewell out, keeping them on meager salaries.

George Seaton, later followed by Earl Glaser, played early episodes of the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger, even during the Great Depression, had become a financial bonanza for Trendle. It is here that Campbell, Trendle's hatchet man, came in.

Earl Glaser once tried to get a modest raise. Campbell belittled Glaser's acting ability and threatened script changes. Suppose the Lone Ranger would be wounded and hospitalized at length, or even killed, supplanted by the Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid. Glaser left Campbell's office, hoping he still had a job.

The talented, prolific Striker was now scripting both the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet. Both shows were producing skyrocketing income for Trendle while Striker's salary was increasing by baby steps. When Striker asked for a $3 raise per episode, Trendle fired him. After several months with substitute writers, Trendle hired Striker back, presumably at his old salary - the Great Depression was on. Trendle got a lot of free labor for his cast and crew, promising them jobs "after things got better."

With the death of Earl Glaser by car accident in 1941, Brace Beemer took over as the voice of the Lone Ranger - the radio voice that I, and many readers of this column, grew up with. From then until the final in 1955, Beemer was in every episode - except for one when he had laryngitis and was substituted by announcer Fred Foy.

When the Mutual Broadcasting System was formed in 1934, WXYZ became a charter member. In 1942, the program was syndicated with the NBC Blue Network that became the American Broadcasting System in 1943. It is thus that readers of this column heard the Lone Ranger on station WLS out of Chicago in the MWF 6:30 slot.

Next week: The acquisition of the great horse, Silver.

- John Waelti's column appears every Friday in the Times. He can be reached at