by Bob Stepno
“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear” makes a fine introduction to any discussion of newspaper journalism as presented to a 20th century radio audience, but it was best known to radio and TV audiences as the opening line of the adventure series “The Lone Ranger.” The iconic masked hero of the Old West rode the radio range for 22 years 1933-54, with television series, cartoons and feature films keeping his legend alive into the 21st century.
Unlike Detroit radio station WXYZ’s other great contribution to old time radio, The Green Hornet, newspaper journalism was not a major theme of The Lone Ranger, but there were crossovers, including an appearance in the series by 19th century America’s most famous newspaper editor.
The “frontier editor” already was an established feature of many portrayals of the American West and pops up in many Western radio adventures. And “the West” itself was a 19th century theme in American journalism — particularly in the writings of Horace Greeley, founder of The New York Tribune. Greeley was famously associated with the phrase “Go West, young man,” even though he was not the first to use it. (The Yale Book of Quotations includes a 300-word account of errors in attribution of the phrase.)
Greeley did, himself, go west — publishing his account of An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 in letters to the Tribune, then in book form in 1860. He also inspired many with the idea of Manifest Destiny, including Tribune reporter Nathan Meeker, who founded both city of Greeley, Colo., and its newspaper, The Greeley Tribune.
The association of Horace Greeley with the frontier in popular schoolbook history by the 1940s was enough to secure him a guest-appearance in a Lone Ranger episode, in which his precious notes are stolen by desperados and rescued by the series’ masked hero.
Rescuing Horace Greeley
During World War II, America’s press was one of the nation’s most celebrated symbols of democracy and freedom, compared to the government-controlled media of the Axis. So, when a war-time storyline of Lone Ranger episodes took on a home-grown Fascist movement, part of the battle was over control of a newspaper.
Fighting home-grown fascists
In 1941, with Nazis on the move in Europe, the Lone Ranger and Tonto took on a 19th century “Legion of the Black Arrow” planning to create “a despotic empire” in the Old West. The power of the press in a democracy — and an attempt to subvert it — even played a part in the multi-part story.
There may be more appearances of journalists in the hundreds of three-times-a-week episodes, but they are not obvious from the episode titles. For example, episode 894, “A False Story,” episode 1301 “Papers for Sarah Collins” and episode 1441, “The End of a Page,” were disappointing. See The Internet Archive’s Lone Ranger page 1 and Lone Ranger page 2 for more examples.