|Brace Beemer, the voice of the Lone Ranger |
from 1941 to1954.
My brother Billy and I were possessive about the family’s wooden, cathedral-shaped radio when I was ten and he was seven. Sunday afternoons in the late 1940s meant “Gangbusters,” “The Shadow” and “The Cisco Kid” on KOIN out of Portland, Oregon. But no show compared with “The Lone Ranger,” when Brace Beemer said, “Come on, Silver! Let's go, big fellow! Hi-yo Silver! Away!”
To make sure that no one intruded on our radio heroes, we hauled out a blanket, arranged two chairs and laid the blanket down to form a tent.
The tent was an apse for our communion. The RCA Victor was a temple with a softly lit yellow dial – an absolutely minuscule dial calibrated with numbers and hairline rules. It had an AM band, an FM band carrying nothing but sighing of the ionosphere, and a short-wave band that connected us to a dimension filled with Teletype, ship-to-shore traffic, and strange ethereal tones. Some of these messages had to be coming from Axis agents bent on invading the Pacific Northwest because we believed in Captain America.
But of course, the messages were indecipherable. Not even the fastest Morse operator could tell what they meant – and we knew some pretty sharp Boy Scouts.
The RCA had one other feature we called the mark of the bacon. The “bacon” was graphic decoration, a series of parallel wavy lines at the end of the dial. It was drawn the way a little kid would draw a piece of bacon. We knew it could tell the listener he had penetrated to the very edge of the highest frequency. Just as the speedometer on our ’39 Buick measured up to 120 miles per hour, we knew there was a reason for putting it there or else why was it drawn?
The radio was memorable then and now. No transistorized, plastic, extrusion-molded, super-heterodyne radio today could taste quite like that RCA – a yech-y taste of varnish that sent psychic tingles into some recess of the brain. It tasted like your school desk when you had to put your head down during rest period in second grade.
The RCA Victor disappeared when I was eleven, and a console came into our home, a large piece of furniture with a drop-leaf that let you roll out a combination tuner and 78 rpm record player. The fabric over the lower half of the front covered an eight-inch speaker – the mother of all speakers. On each side were tall narrow cupboards to store our records, the Mozart and Brahms albums Mom and Dad bought to introduce us to culture. The William Tell Overture cueing the Lone Ranger wasn’t classical as much as it was, well, exciting.
The drop-leaf made a sort of tent, but we knew RCA had compromised. The dial didn’t have short-wave and the sign of the bacon was missing. Further, this guy Clayton Moore took over Brace Beemer’s role, and one of our first heroes disappeared from our lives. Still, there was that white dog Nipper listening to his master’s voice.
As often happens, I grew up and so did Billy. Family moves took place as our world came apart by going to Southern California, relocating to Montclair, New Jersey, and finally abandonment when the parents moved to Cherry Hill. I reached escape velocity at age 17 and spun off to Iowa, Illinois and Massachusetts. While I was in Korea, the radio was replaced by an imitation-woodgrain model the parents placed back in a corner behind an easy chair. No one would want to taste that. The RCA was consigned to the dining room, and the radio-record player removed to store wine glasses and a sticky half-empty bottle of sherry.
Now, in a kind of time warp, old-time radio programs have returned to my computer. I click into one of the many radio Internet sites. Amos ‘n’ Andy come alive, the creaky door of the Inner Sanctum reopens, and the Lone Ranger rides again.
Brace Beemer would understand what we almost lost. He’s still out there somewhere, but he’ll come back when we really need him.