The soft, soothing voice of the Masked Man “bringing law and order to the Old West” came over the Philco radio on the Scheckel farm out on Oak Grove Ridge, north of Seneca in the heart of Crawford County in the 1940s and 1950s.
The Lone Ranger’s trademark was the Silver Bullet and he rode Silver, a big white stallion. His faithful companion was the Indian Tonto. Tonto’s broken English would be totally politically incorrect today. He would say “Me thinks you right, Ke-mo sah-bee.” An outlaw would be referred to as “Him heap big bad man.” Tonto’s mount was the sorrel paint named Scout. At the end of the program The Lone Ranger would be heard to yell, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!” A voice would ask “Who was that masked man?” Another knowing character would respond with, “Well, that’s the Lone Ranger!” and then a portion of the William Tell Overture would be heard.
The Lone Ranger program was an all-time favorite for us three Scheckel boys. It was broadcast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights at 6 p.m. In the winter, we tried to get our chores done, supper eaten, rosary said and cows milked by 6 p.m. We usually made it just in time.
That radio was our window to the outside world. We did not have television, newspapers or magazines on the farm. We got our news from our school Weekly Reader. We saw Movietone News clips when we went to movies in Gays Mills, Prairie du Chien, or Lansing or Marquette, Iowa. Lowell Thomas’ authoritative voice describing the battles occurring in the Korean War was quite memorable.
One of us would turn on the radio. We’d lie on the floor of the living room, perhaps playing Monopoly, or sit in a chair by the table, reading or doing homework. Our radio sat on a low wooden stand in the corner of the living room. Dad’s rocking chair was placed in front of the radio. The heat register was nearby, bringing warm dry air from the basement furnace.
Sergeant Preston of the Yukon was another favorite. Sergeant Preston was a Canadian Mountie. Preston rode his horse, Rex, and had a canine companion, Yukon King always by his side. Yukon King was a husky, the strongest and swiftest lead dog breaking the trail. Every Thursday night at 6 o’clock, Sergeant Preston was in a relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the 1890s desolate western Canadian frontier. He went after gold-crazed miners, murderers, claim jumpers and cutthroats. There seemed to be a winter snowstorm or blizzard in every episode.
We loved the Cisco Kid radio series. We knew Cisco and Pancho were Mexican. This pair of happy-go-lucky, gun-toting caballeros always seemed to help citizens in distress. At the end of each half-hour program, one of them would tell a corny joke about the adventure they had just gone through. They would both laugh, drawing out a long “Oooooooh Pancho! “Oooooooh Ceeesco!” and ride off into an imaginary sunset.
Other radio programs were Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Edgar Bergen was the ventriloquist and Charlie McCarthy was his wooden dummy. He would interview famous guests such as Jimmy Steward and Mae West. Edgar Bergen had another wooden dummy named Mortimer Snerd. Whereas Charlie McCarty was intelligent and sophisticated, Moritmer Snerd was a rube, a country bumpkin. We boys could identify with Snerd. We awaited the end of every program for “Snerd’s Words for the Birds,” some pithy witticism such as “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” or “Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.”
We listened to Gangbusters, Dragnet and Gunsmoke. Many of the radio programs were aimed at adults, but we kids listened along with Dad and Mom to: Amos ‘n’ Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle and the Green Hornet.
I loved Jack Benny. I remember one of his skits. Jack was confronted by two street thugs. “Your money, or your life?” they threatened. There was a long, silent radio pause. “Well, what’s it going to be, Mister?” they asked. Benny, the consummate miser, yelled back, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”
Jack Benny’s program featured an Irish tenor, Dennis Day, who had a beautiful voice. Mom loved to hear Day sing, and she would hush us kids up when he came on. Dennis Day served in the Navy in World War II and stayed married to the same women his entire life. They had 10 children.
Rochester was Jack’s black valet. He had a deep gravelly voice. “Oh, Mr. Benny, Mr. Benny,” he’d call. “Yes, what is it Rochester?” Benny would ask. I later learned that Rochester made good wages, saved his money and became very wealthy. He was the first black person to receive a regular radio job.
“The Shadow” sent tingling up and down my spine. An ominous-sounding voice opened the radio drama with “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” The words were followed by an ominous laugh and hair-raising music. The Shadow was never seen, only heard. But he possessed incredible powers of strength and could speak any language, defy gravity and read men’s minds. Each program ended with “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay ...The Shadow knows!”
We loved the Green Hornet. He was a newspaperman during the day but went out fighting crime at night as a vigilante. His partner, Kato, drove a car named Black Beauty that was 20 years ahead of its time. The Green Hornet infiltrated the underworld and left incriminating evidence that the police would find later.
Our family radio was turned on in the evening but Dad would listen to the Farm Report from WMT out of Cedar Rapids at noon. While ironing clothes my older sister Rosemary, and later Teresa, would listen to Our Miss Brooks, Arthur Godfrey, Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club and Father Knows Best.