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...and the smell of gunsmoke!

Sunday 7/17/22

I'm going to discuss Gunsmoke the radio show in general and the following five episodes in particular on the radio on Tuesday. Are you listening to the radio segments? They are listed in the News section of this site after each is taped, and are then archived in the On air section, where there are hundreds of hours--hundreds!--of sound from interviews I've given. If you're in publishing and like to think, "I hate him because...well...because...because...because he's good at stuff and makes all of that art!" you can also pop on over and hear someone who is obviously a very kind man, despite your destabilizing and desperate need to think he's the devil.


But for now, let's get you started on the joys of the radio program Gunsmoke! You may not need starting. Perhaps you're already a fan. There are more than 400 episodes, though, and I find it useful to go back to the earliest days of the series and focus on a few representative episodes. They had matters pretty well figured out from the start of the program. Gunsmoke is one of the best of all of the old time radio shows, a core text, if you will, along with Quiet, Please, the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar five-parters, and the productions of Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre troupe.


The radio version of Gunsmoke ran from 1952 to 1961, which means that it had considerable overlap with the TV program, that premiered in 1955. Both are landmarks of their medium, but they're separate ventures, really. You can love both as distinct entities. William Conrad plays Marshal Matt Dillon the radio program, and hoped to play him in the TV series. Problem was, Conrad didn't look the way that people thought he did from his voice, or the way a hero on a TV Western was supposed to, so James Arness got that gig, which I think was for the best, because we ended up with two separate, and great, shows.


The core group of Dillon-Kitty-Chester-Doc is the same, but they're different people on the radio program. Doc, for instance, is a Biercean fellow, a lover of black humor. He can be a real ghoul. A weird, witty ghoul. Chester, for some reason, is frequently described as dim, though he's nothing of the sort. Parley Bear, who plays Chester, was in a lot of those Johnny Dollar episodes, and that's Johnny Dollar announcer Roy Rowan doing the announcing here. Howard McNear is Doc--he'd later play Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show. Georgia Ellis played Kitty. Stick around for the outro music, a song called "The Old Trail," which features some lovely guitar playing. In its way, it's a classic piece of mid-century country and western music.


I'd recommend listening to these episodes for a number of reasons. These episodes and more! Radio of this caliber does wonders for the brain. Helps build your imagination. Teaches you how to use your imagination--or learn to use it again. Reduces stress. I go to bed every night with old time radio programs--as they're known by fans; not that they're old-timey--rotating from show to show. Kitty is a saloon owner on the TV show. In the radio program, she's a prostitute. Matt loves her. There is no judgment.