Follow TV Tropes


Radio / The Lone Ranger

Go To

The Lone Ranger is a radio series that first premiered on Detroit, Michigan’s radio station WXYZ on January 30 or 31, 1933 and ran for over 3,000 episodes (the 20th anniversary episode bills itself as the 3,128th adventure). The character was the brainchild of George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. According to actor/director Chuck Livingston, who began working on the show in August 1933, George Trendle wanted to create essentially a Robin Hood type character in the old West. Original director Jim Jewell found writer Fran Striker, and between them and Trendle they created the character. The tales of his tragic origins, partnership with Tonto, and selfless heroism to defend the innocents of the American frontier led him to become an enduring icon of American culture.

Even though the radio show was aimed at children, adults made up at least half of its audience, and it was eventually picked up by the Mutual Broadcasting System, and eventually NBC’s Blue Network, which would become ABC.


While Tonto was voiced by Creator/Fred Mc Carthy, who went by the stage name John Todd, throughout the series (with isolated occasions when he was replaced by Raleigh Parker), the Lone Ranger himself was voiced by a number of voice actors:

  • John L. Barrett, on test broadcasts on WEBR in January 1933;
  • George Seaton (under the name George Stenius) (January 31 – May 9, 1933);
  • Series director James Jewell, for one episode;
  • An actor known only by the pseudonym "Jack Deeds", for one episode;
  • Earle Graser (May 16, 1933 – April 7, 1941). On April 8, Graser died in a car accident; and, for five episodes, the Lone Ranger was unable to speak beyond a whisper, with Tonto carrying the action. In addition, six episodes broadcast in August 1938 did not include the Lone Ranger's voice other than an occasional "Hi-Yo Silver!" in the background. In those episodes, Tonto carried the dialog;
  • Advertisement:
  • Brace Beemer (April 18, 1941 to the end in 1955), who had been one of the show's narrators for several years;
  • Fred Foy (March 29, 1954), also an announcer on the show, took over the role for one broadcast when Beemer had laryngitis.

Other regular actors on the show included Paul Hughes, Raleigh Parker, Jay Michael, John Hodiak, Frank Russell, and Ernie Winstanley. Directors included Jim Jewell, Chuck Livingston (also an actor on the show in the early days) and Fred Flowerday, who preserved many of the recordings of the show. Ernie Winstanley was one of five or six actors who played the Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, until he aged out of the part. Jay Michael was a "heavy" and often played villains. Among other characters, Chuck Livingston played the Ranger's rival Black Bart. Actors on the show would often play multiple parts per episode.

Tropes found in the radio show:

  • Antiquated Linguistics: the characters within the show often employ what is meant to be Western slang. "Slap leather" for drawing a gun, "dry gulch" for ambushing someone, "nesters" for homesteaders, etc.
  • Apron Matron: Mustang Mag, who talks tough and puts up a tough front, but underneath cares deeply for Missouri, and for the Ranger and Tonto.
    The Narrator: Years of struggle against drought and famine, rustlers and Indians, gave Mag the aggression of a man. Yet her rough manner concealed a soft heart.
  • Badass Baritone: applies to both Earle Graser and Brace Beemer as the Lone Ranger. John Todd as Tonto counts as well.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The opening narration often informs us, speaking of the Ranger, "It was he, more than any other man, who made possible the winning of the West."
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: The Ranger does this frequently, either by outdrawing someone trying to shoot him, or to save someone else from being shot. When the person who just lost their gun would complain about their hand, the Ranger almost invariably insisted without any sympathy "You're not hurt!"
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Missouri almost always runs his mouth and gives away secret information that he really shouldn't.
  • Cool Horse: Silver, almost always described by witnesses as the finest horse they've ever seen. He's faster and can go far longer without getting tired than any other horse. He even gets his own origin story episode.
  • Cool Mask: even on radio, the Ranger is never without his mask, unless he's wearing a disguise. The only exception would be when Tonto is helping him put on a disguise, when of course Tonto can see his face, but no other character ever sees his face.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: after Breed Latham and his gang murder a train engineer and fireman, the Ranger and Tonto dish out some justice of their own. It's two versus four, and the crooks don't stand a chance.
    The Ranger: I'll talk, you just listen. We couldn't save the life of the engineer and fireman of this train. I'm sorry for that. There have been a lot of times in the past when I've felt dissatisfied handing members of your Black Arrow legion over to the law. I felt that I wanted to administer a little punishment myself. So has Tonto. There are four of you and just two of us. I'm not going to draw my guns, and you're not going to get the chance to draw yours. We're going to hogtie you, but first we're going to give you a thrashing you'll remember until you hang!
  • Distaff Counterpart: the unnamed female agent of the U.S. government who covertly helps the Ranger all through the Black Arrow storyline. She gathers the information and passes it along to the Ranger and Tonto, who take care of the actual confrontations with the criminals. She doesn't hide her face from anyone but the Ranger himself, and she does this because she's the sister of one of the Texas Rangers killed in the ambush by the Cavendish gang, and she's afraid she'll remind him of his old life and change who he is. There are hints that she was in love with him as well, but doesn't want to be an impediment to his life of fighting for justice and the future of the West.
  • Dramatic Half-Hour
  • Engineered Public Confession: a favorite tactic of the Ranger. He often tricks one villain into thinking another has betrayed him, and when the first confronts the second, he and the Sheriff are nearby to hear the whole thing.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: one of the Ranger and Tonto's favorite (and effective) tactics is to listen at open windows to learn important information.
  • Fake Nationality: Mexicans are played by the usual American voice actors who play all characters in this show.
  • Faking the Dead: there are several occasions when the Lone Ranger allows himself to be believed dead so he can operate more freely. This type of storyline was usually employed when Graser or Beemer was on vacation, for obvious reasons.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: the Ranger employs this tactic on multiple occasions when he knows someone is guilty of a crime but can't prove it.
  • Hanging Around: Westerners in this series are often ready to lynch someone at the drop of a hat, and even lawmen speak with relish to a crook when informing them that after a fair trial, they'll hang.
  • History with Celebrity: the Ranger once states that George Armstrong Custer is the only person who knows his true identity. Custer appears in one episode and dies offscreen in another. Billy the Kid also appears in an episode. Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and "the President" (probably Ulysses Grant, though he's not named) appear during the Black Arrow storyline.
  • Invisible President: the Ranger meets with him several times, but the President is never named (though given the time period this series takes place in, he's almost certainly Ulysses Grant). He's just "the President". Even though this is a radio program, he's often described with his face "hidden in shadows", meaning some of the agents he meets with don't see his face any more than the listening audience does.
  • Knight Errant: the Ranger is a classic example. He fits the definition in almost every way, except that he's not a loner and is almost always accompanied by his Best Friend, Tonto.
  • Legion of Doom: the Legion of the Black Arrow, dedicated to breaking away from the United States and forming a new country in the West.
  • Long-Runners: the show ran three times a week from January 1933 to 1956, producing over 3,100 episodes.
  • Lost Voice Plot: Used to explain a voice actor change when Earle Graser died in a car wreck and had to be replaced. Snopes has the story here.
  • Lovable Rogue: the Black Caballero, who is only committing crimes for the thrill of it. Though the Ranger captures him and sends him to jail, he is given The Pardon for his role in helping prevent war between the United States and Mexico.
  • Narrator: Every episode starts with a narrator introduction and setup, and many episodes feature the narrator describing some aspect of the story that can't be covered by the characters describing what they see or are doing.
  • Obfuscating Disability: When posing as an elderly Prospector, the Ranger would place a stone in his shoe to force himself to walk with a limp.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: when Graser or Beemer were on vacation, if the Ranger was still active rather than wounded or assumed dead, the story would often follow Tonto or other characters, and anything the Ranger did would be known only when the other characters describe it.
  • "On the Next Episode of..." Catch-Phrase: "Will the Lone Ranger triumph as he fights on for justice, law and order? Tune in next week when General Mills brings you another exciting episode of The Lone Ranger!"
  • Opening Narration: "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear..." It wasn't always the first line though. Usually, it was: "A fiery horse with a speed of light, a cloud of dust, and hearty 'Hi-o Silver!' (The Lone Ranger rides again!)".
  • The Other Darrin: Happened most importantly with the Lone Ranger himself, when Earle Graser died and Brace Beemer was given the title role. Some recurring characters change voice actors as well when the original actor was not available, such as the Padre, Chief Thundercloud or Old Missouri.
  • Phrase Catcher: "Look! He left this Silver Bullet!" "Who was that masked man?"
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: The theme song ("William Tell Overture," second movement) was originally written in 1829 as part of Rossini's opera William Tell, but today it is inextricably linked to the show.
    • All the music on the show was classical. Kids grew up listening to Mendelssohn and Liszt thinking they were just themes for the show.
  • Prison Episode: 'Black Hole' is a rare episode set in the Hellhole Prison where the Black Caballero was sent after the Ranger captured him. The prison is only as bad as it is because Wardens Are Evil, and once the Ranger finds out the situation, he straightens it out quickly.
  • Proto-Superhero: A masked do-gooder with an alias, a Secret Identity, and a sidekick.
  • Quick Draw: No one can pull his pistol faster than the Lone Ranger, who will sometimes even draw and aim at a man who already has his gun out of the holster before that man can aim at him. Characters in the show are constantly amazed at the speed of the Ranger's draw.
  • Recurring Character: A number appear in multiple episodes and storylines:
    • Mustang Mag, an older lady rancher with a fiery temper who is one of the Ranger and Tonto's best friends.
    • Old Missouri, Mustang Mag's foreman and later Sheriff of the local town
    • Arizona Lawson: a wolf-pelt bounty hunter who travels with his dog
    • the Padre, a friend and contact who runs a Spanish mission
    • the Black Caballero: a thrill-seeking crook in his first storyline who earns the Ranger's respect, after which the two become friends
    • Bolliver Bates and Hacksaw Hawkins/Hastings (his last name changes in his second appearance), down on their luck Confederate vets who claim to have ridden with Jeb Stuart
    • Chief Thundercloud, an Indian chief who is friends with the Ranger and Tonto, and who gifted Tonto the paint horse that Tonto later named Scout.
    • Pete Lacey & Pedro Martinez, a couple of drifters who rarely hold a job for long, but are nonetheless friends with the Ranger and Tonto.
    • Torlock, one of the leaders of the Black Arrow who appears in a number of episodes during the first half of the storyline before being poisoned to silence him.
    • "The Girl", an unnamed agent working for the President to help the Ranger fight the Legion of the Black Arrow. Her brother Bob was one of the Texas Rangers killed in the same ambush at Grant's Pass that almost killed the man who would become the Lone Ranger, and she found and tried to help him before Tonto arrived, possibly saving the Ranger's life. By the time she brought help back the next day, six graves had been dug and she assumed at the time that he must have died just like the others. She later learns otherwise, meaning she knows who the Lone Ranger is beneath his mask.
    • "Thunder" Martin (played by Paul Hughes)- a good friend of the Ranger and Tonto from late in the series
  • That Man Is Dead: The Ranger leaves his name behind when he decides to put on the mask and let the world think that he's dead.
    I'll do it, Tonto. I'll wear a mask. No one will know who I am. Let them think all six of those Rangers have... gone west. There'll be one who is still riding. I'll have no name. My name is beneath the mound of earth you built beside the graves of my friends. I'll just be... the Lone Ranger.
  • The Seven Western Plots: With several thousand episodes, you can be sure variants of these plots appear many times over.
  • Superhero Sobriquets: The Phantom Figure of the Plains, the Masked Rider of Justice
  • To Absent Friends: The Ranger revisits the graves of his fallen friends to remember them and show his nephew Dan the grave of his father. He names them all: Captain Reid (his brother), Jim Bates, Sam Cooper, Jack Stacy, and Joe Brent. The Ranger's name is on the sixth cross.
  • Silver Bullet: The Lone Ranger makes his bullets from silver as a reminder that they are to be fired only when necessary.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Bolliver Bates and Hacksaw Hastings still wear their tattered Confederate uniforms, but in their case it's because they have nothing else to wear.
  • Story Arc: most episodes of this series are standalone half hour stories, with the occasional three part story, or in rare instances, a longer story arc, such as the eight episode "Stage Line Challenge". The exception is the months-long "Legion of the Black Arrow" story arc which ran for over 60 episodes from Oct 13, 1941, to the end of February 1942.
  • Thrill Seeker: this is what motivates the Black Caballero. He lives for the thrill that the danger of the criminal life provides him. He doesn't really care about the loot, and generally gives it all to his men.
  • Tonto Talk: Every Indian in the series talks this way.
  • Undying Loyalty: there's a reason Tonto is often characterized as the Lone Ranger's faithful friend. He cares deeply for his friend.
  • The Unmasking: The Ranger actually takes off his mask and reveals his face to the President of the United States in the episode "A New Mission" which begins The Legion of the Black Arrow storyline, after first telling him why he wears the mask. No one else is present in the secret meeting between the two.

Alternative Title(s): The Legend Of The Lone Ranger