Entertainment Radio

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio series, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a "Philip Marlowe of the Old West". Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Case of the Crooked Wheel" from the summer of 1948. Two versions were recorded. The first, recorded in June 1949, was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second, recorded in July 1949, starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

A complication arose, though; Culver's contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years when producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston discovered it while creating an adult Western series of their own.

Macdonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. Gunsmoke was set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. Dunning notes, "The show drew critical acclaim for unprecedented realism."

Radio cast and character biographies

The radio series first aired on CBS on April 26, 1952, with the episode "Billy the Kid", written by Walter Newman, and ended on June 18, 1961. The show stars William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Parley Baer as Dillon's assistant, Chester Wesley Proudfoot.

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Our Editor's Take

TV fans may remember the classic Gunsmoke western show, the longest-running US western of all time. But fans may not know that this was also a separate radio show. This Gunsmoke podcast is the radio version of the primetime show. It aired from 1952-1961. The plot follows US Marshal Matt Dillon, voiced by William Conrad. The show takes place in the classic Western era of the 1870s.

The radio show follows Marshal Dillon as he enforces the law in Dodge City, Kansas. Facing showdowns with cattle rustlers and gunfighters, Marshal Dillon is a fearless lawman. Gunsmoke is a precursor to classic western TV shows like The Rifleman. The rousing musical score evokes the days of ranchers and cowboys. Behind the dialogue, extraneous sounds add to the realism of the show. Listeners may hear dogs barking and children playing in atmospheric soundscapes.

Joining Marshal Dillon in his adventures are two iconic characters. Dr. Galen "Doc" Adams and Miss Kitty Russell costar. Doc Adams joins the show at first as a selfish character but softens over time. With a mysterious and storied past, he is an enigmatic character that adds depth to the show. Miss Kitty, the part-owner of the saloon, serves as Dillon's romantic interest. Though the two never become a couple, the show implies an intimate connection.

Unlike other Western radio and TV series of the time, Gunsmoke doesn't avoid dark and somber themes. Most shows in that era had the good guy win every time. On this program, however, Dillon often meets misfortune and outright tragedy. A show ahead of its time, Gunsmoke was uncommon in its lack of sponsors. Because the show had funding from CBS, the producers were able to explore controversial ideas.

Anyone looking to relive the heyday of the classic Western will love Gunsmoke. The immersive sound design of the show transports the listener to the prairie. Audio drama lovers won't want to miss the Western tales. In this podcast, listeners can find full episodes in their full half-hour format.

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