In 1952, the first episode of the classic adult western “Gunsmoke” began with Marshal Matt Dillon dictating the text for a wanted poster to Mr.Hightower, Dodge City’s printer and newspaper editor.
The enterprising editor had already snitched a tintype of the wanted man and carved a woodcut for his front page. He offers Dillon the picture for the wanted poster.
The marshal (played by William Conrad, who, on radio, did not have to be as tall and lean as James Arness, the television Matt Dillon) laments the cynicism that makes the editor celebrate having a sensational story for his front page. But soon it’s clear the editor is not alone: The town doctor jokes about his profitable autopsy business, a killing suspect faces a lynchmob, and a runaway boy dreams of having a gun to carve notches on.
The story makes nice use of the newspaper editor’s professional cynicism to set the series’ general critique of the “wild west” cultural cliches — gunfighters, lynch mobs, six-guns, violent death as routine, and the era’s media stars, like the young man whose name is in the title of the episode, “Billy the Kid.”
I’ve had a more general discussion of Gunsmoke and links to more episodes on the Gunsmoke series page for a few years, but never managed to listen to the first episode of the series until today, when a Gunsmoke fan in the Facebook page for the Old Time Radio Researchers Group suggested it. OTRR also provides the Internet Archive with the mp3 files I link to in most of these posts and pages.
Here is its collection of almost 500 Gunsmoke episodes, 1952-61.
I haven’t listened to all of them, so there may be episodes with editors or reporters or other journalists that I haven’t found yet. If this post leads you to discover more of them, please let me know in the comment box below.