Friday, January 12, 2018


Journalist Dan Rather was once quoted of saying, "An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger." For scholars and historians of old-time radio, it is difficult not to be reminded of radio station WXYZ, in Detroit, whenever a recording is played of the William Tell Overture, also known as "The March of the Swiss Soldiers." While the masked man and his faithful Indian companion rode the plains across all 50 states courtesy of line feeds and transcription discs, few across the nation knew the western dramas originated from Motor City.

Simplistically, the radio broadcasting industry worked like this: Radio stations across the country worked independently and produced their own local programming including music and news. Throughout the early 1930s, almost every large radio station across the nation formed its own repertory company to produce radio drama for evening entertainment. Some conceived and wrote original dramas. Others licensed radio scripts from other production companies. As "networks" were formed, including NBC and CBS, independent stations signed contracts to join the network and sacrifice prime time for national coverage of such luminaries as Bob Hope, Rudy Vallee and Edgar Bergen - the network paid the station for their coverage, thus eliminating hours of original programming sorely needed at the local station employing a minimum of staff. Most of the national network feeds originated from Los Angeles or New York City, with Chicago the third (but minor-league) hub of prime time entertainment. 

WYXIE WONDERLAND painted a portrait of a radio station responsible for such programs as Bob Barclay, American Agent, Ned Jordan, Warner Lester -- Manhunter, The Lone Ranger, Challenge of the Yukon, The Green Hornet and Ann Worth, Housewife. At the same time, author Dick Osgood painted a disheartening portrait of George W. Trendle, a lawyer, theater owner and businessman who, multiple times, attempted to pay his employees less than scale. Through historical hindsight, Trendle was not responsible for single-handedly creating syndication through transcription but the idea did germinate from station manager H. Allen Campbell, considered the business genius behind the station's profits. The Lone Ranger quickly syndicated across the nation in 1938, helping to pull WXYZ out of the red and became Trendle's cash cow. 

By 1954, when Trendle sold The Lone Ranger property to Jack Wrather for a historic $3 million, an inventory of the finances revealed Trendle made more than $300 million in the course of 20 years -- and that was only counting money garnered from The Lone Ranger!

Dick Osgood's book, WYXIE WONDERLAND, was published when many of the radio staff, writers, directors and actors, were still around to provide testimony to an industry each of them shrugged off on their day of retirement as merely a nine-to-five job. Historian Osgood benefited from this immense advantage, while research today is restricted to audio interview recordings that survive and circulate among old-time radio collectors. He had unfettered access to photographs, copies of employment contracts and other materials that would make the mouth water of any historian today. WYXIE WONDERLAND was a romantic look at a by-gone era -- the "Golden Age of Radio" -- when radio was the dominant form of entertainment. Not until a decade-and-a-half later was any serious scholarly research published in the form of reference guides. Osgood beat those to the punch.

Over the years, as historians continue to dig deep into the archives, the published reference guides tend to become obsolete. What was considered a fact at the time of publication becomes outdated with new information uncovered two decades later. Books like Tune in Yesterday, The Big Broadcast and On the Air have practically become obsolete as a result of thousands of errors discovered after the fact. With this introduction of new evidence and factual discoveries, as is not uncommon in historiography, a re-interpretation of record occurs, changing professional scholars' orthodox views about the historic aspect of radio broadcasting. This is no fault to any author who, at the time their book was published, assumed their information to be accurate.

Through the past decade, a great deal of archeological digging in public and private archives has unearthed tens of thousands of documents, providing indisputable facts behind the formation of numerous radio programs, including The Green Hornet, The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Careful review of these documents provided a perspective that is practically impossible to say about almost any other reference book written prior: Osgood got the facts straight. Perhaps there is no other book that has been so accurately written about old-time radio prior to 1990, even though Osgood relied mostly on memories from cast and crew without any paperwork to substantiate the stories. A rare feat indeed.

This is not to say the book is without error. Osgood relied on a story told by Al Hodge regarding the origin of the Detroit Local of AFRS, and the story of The Green Hornet overheard over a Canadian radio station, including a remark by H. Allen Campbell about recently losing sponsorship of the United Shirt Distributors. The Union was formed in 1937. United Shirt Distributors sponsored the program beginning in 1944. Osgood fact-checked the exact date of the Union formation as September 26, 1937, but was unable to verify sponsorship and therefore, reference to the United Shirt Distributors is incorrect.

Osgood relied on testimony from one actor regarding the whereabouts of Tokatoro Hayashi, the Japanese actor who played the role of Kato on The Green Hornet, following the U.S. entry in the war. According to Osgood in chapter 24, sometime in 1942 the U.S. Government sent official notice to the actor that he be sent back to Japan. The actor was promptly replace day actor Rollon Parker and, according to Osgood, Hayashi "disappeared, presumably to a concentration camp in the west." The truth about Hayashi became known only a few years ago. He went to the West Coast and became a gardener for a wealthy family who took him in. Hayashi lived to a ripe old age and was blessed with a large and loving family. 

The two examples above are the most significant blunders. Others are minor. In the grand scheme of historical revisionism, debate among scholars is not warranted, especially over controversial points-of-view. Osgood set out to document the history of the George W. Trendle empire, the formation of the Michigan Radio Network, the famous programs synonymous with radio station WXYZ (which employees referred to as "wyxie"), and the legendary icons who would have normally faded into the sunset without such acknowledgement. (John Lund, Martha Scott, Betty Hutton, James Lipton, Casey Kasem, Mike Wallace and many others got their start at WXYZ.)

The book was first published in 1981 through a University Press and over time became highly sought after by fans of The Lone Ranger. In many cases, especially through's marketplace and Abe Books, the average ransom price of the book was $85 -- more if the original hardcover contained a dust jacket. Thankfully, Rich Harvey of Bold Venture Press went to get expense to license the book and reprint Dick Osgood's book in paperback format. Formatted with an updated font and graphic layout, along with scanned photographs to ensure better replication of the same photos in the 1981 original, along with additional photographs, this improved version is now available for a retail of $29.95. 

If you are a fan of The Green Hornet, Sergeant Preston or The Lone Ranger, this is a must-have book. Whether you are a fan of The Lone Ranger or old-time radio in general, this is one of the dozen essentials for your bookshelf. A direct link for you to purchase a copy on is provided below.

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