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Lange: Old Radio Days

06/08/11 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(HOST) As the season for summer blockbuster movies about super heroes and rings of power approaches, commentator Willem Lange is feeling nostalgic for other mighty champions of yesteryear.

(LANGE) "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 hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!"  

How many times I must have heard those lines, and how impressive they must have been, to be remembered 70 years later?

Not for decades did I wonder what it must have been like to charge around the desert fighting crime in a black mask.  Did he remove it to wash his face?  To sleep?  Was there no other person in his life but Tonto?  What of Tonto, whose name
means stupid in Spanish?  What did kemo sabe mean? - boss, or pal, or champion of justice, or paleface idiot?

When I was little, there was no radio in our house; our parents were deaf.  Our grandparents had a big table-model Philco in their parlor.  Just as kids nowadays tease for an iPhone, I kept asking for a radio until I got it.  A tiny, dark-brown Bakelite-cased Arvin, it sat on the sideboard in our dining room.

Every weekday, from 4:45 till 6:00 in the afternoon, I pulled my long-legged chair up to the sideboard, turned on the radio, and gazed at the dial.  Many of you must remember "watching the radio" and memorizing the numbers of the AM dial, from 520 to 1610 kilohertz.  I could tell from the glances I got from my parents as I sat there - sitting still for longer than at any other time in my life - that they suspected I was listening to something inappropriate and possibly sinful.

At 4:45 a voice crackled over a simulated radio transmission: "CX4 to control tower.  CX4 to control tower.  Standing by..."  The answer was immediate: "Control tower to CX4.  Wind southeast, ceiling 1200.  All clear."

"This is Hop Harrigan, coming in!"  So it went: five 15-minute episodes, featuring Jack Armstrong, Captain Midnight; Terry and the Pirates, and finally Tom Mix.

Evenings, there were half-hour shows - The Green Hornet; The Shadow, in real life Lamont Cranston, "wealthy young man-about-town" who once in the Orient had learned to "cloud men's minds so they cannot see him."

Everything we imagined was the product of our separate minds' eyes.  When the Lone Ranger walked across the board platform of a railroad station, each of us constructed a different scene.  It was like the famous "driveway moments" on Public Radio; you could do nothing else demanding thought while you were into an on-air drama.  Listening to archived recordings now reveals it to have been pretty simplistic drivel.  Still, wasn't it glorious!

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Willem Lange at VPR-dot-net.
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