Saturday, January 19, 2019

Challenge Of The Yukon Radio Program

CHALLENGE OF THE YUKON, juvenile adventure. 


BROADCAST HISTORY: Feb. 3, 1938–May 28, 1947, WXYZ, Detroit. 15m, mostly Thursdays. June 12, 1947–Dec. 30, 1949, ABC. 30m weekly, various timeslots; 1948–49, Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays at 5. Quaker Oats. Jan. 2, 1950–June 9, 1955, Mutual. Various late-afternoon or weekend 30m timeslots, occasionally two or three times a week. Became Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in Nov. 1951. Quaker Oats. CAST: Jay Michael as Sgt. William Preston of the Northwest Mounted Police, ca. 1938-mid-1940s. Paul Sutton as Sgt. Preston, ca. mid-1940s-1954. Brace Beemer briefly as Sgt. Preston, 1954–55. John Todd as Inspector Conrad, Preston’s superior officer. Frank Russell as the French-Canadian guide who, in the early years, led Preston on long treks into the northern wilds. ANNOUNCERS: Bob Hite, 1938-ca. 1945; Jay Michael; Fred Foy. PRODUCER: George W. Trendle. WRITERS: Tom Dougall initially; Fran Striker, ca. 1942–44; Betty Joyce, 1944; Mildred Merrill; Bob Green; Dan Beattie; Felix Holt; Jim Lawrence; Steve McCarthy. THEME: The Donna Diana Overture. Challenge of the Yukon was the third major juvenile adventure series to come out of George W. Trendle’s Detroit radio mill and make the national networks. The Lone Ranger had been a western favorite since 1933; The Green Hornet had been battling urban corruption since 1938. Challenge took its listeners to the wild north and quickly endeared itself to young listeners everywhere. The show had been running on Trendle’s station, WXYZ, for almost ten years when the network run arrived. Trendle was a master of this kind of programming. His shows bore the common trademarks of simple, vigorous adventure plotting, a staunchly bigger-than-life male hero, and lively music cribbed from the classics. The voices and situations were familiar to Lone Ranger and Green Hornet fans: many of the same actors and writers worked prolifically on all three shows, giving them common threads and similar sounds. By 1938 Trendle had decided that he wanted a new adventure show, written in the Lone Ranger mold but with a dog as hero. WXYZ writer Tom Dougall thought of the northwest motif: he had been raised on Robert Service poems and had an affinity for the background. “He had already solved the problem of the dog,” wrote Dick Osgood in Wyxie Wonderland, a memoir of the station. “It couldn’t be a dog like Lassie because this, Trendle said, must be an action story. It had to be a working dog. And a working dog in the wild days of the Yukon could be nothing but a Husky.” And who but a Mountie would own such a dog? Thus was the master born of the dog, to become one of the major characters of radio fiction. The dog was named Yukon King, the hero of the series in a real sense. Sgt. Preston had a horse, Rex, which he often rode in the summer months, but it was Yukon King who usually saved the day. He mauled bushwhackers and crooks, gnawed guns out of hands, hauled down one villain while Preston polished off the other. Dewey Cole “barked and whined and made other appropriate dog sounds as King,” said Osgood in Wyxie Wonderland. And at the end, Sgt. Preston was always generous in his praise: “Well, King, thanks to you, this case is closed.” There were 484 local adventures aired before Challenge went on the network, according to Trendle advocate Terry Salomonson, who has compiled massive broadcast logs of all three Trendle shows. But it was the network run that made it a pop culture classic, its opening signature an unforgettable piece of radio. With howling winds and barking dogs and gunshots emphasizing almost every word, Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice—“the breakfast cereal shot from guns”—took a listener far “across the snow-covered reaches of the wild northwest.” The shows would never be taken for great literature, but they gave inspiration of a kind that hasn’t been heard much since. Black was black, good was good, and evil never went unpunished. When the Lone Ranger rode again, and Sgt. Preston mushed his way into the frozen north, the vistas were wide and the experience new and wondrous.


Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (p. 146). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 




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