The Popgun Test
Tonto made his bow in Script No. 10. It was a straight part at first, but it gradually became salted with grunts and "Me go's" and "Him come's."
On January 30, 1933, six weeks after Trendle had first sketched out his idea of the program, it went on the air over WXYZ and the seven other stations of the Michigan network, which opened the same evening. The cast was chosen from WXYZ's stock company. A man named Deeds started in the title role, but it was turned over to George Stenius after six performances. Stenius played it for three months, while Trendle tested the voices of other men in the company. One of them was perfect: deep, vibrant, commanding. It belonged to a rather inexperienced youngster who hadn't attracted much attention before, but Trendle trusted him with the part. He has played it ever since.
During these three months the serial rolled along quietly. The Ranger recovered a stolen map; he captured a crooked Pony Express rider; he saved some men on the Chisholm Trail by damming a river. On the whole, though, Michigan remained calm, as far as Trendle could tell. A few fan letters came in, but only a few. And then, on May sixteenth, the Ranger announced he would give a free popgun to the first 300 children who asked for it.
May sixteenth was a Tuesday. On Thursday's program, the Ranger said firmly that the guns were already exhausted. On Saturday's he had to beg the audience not to write in; there was a hysterical note in his voice. When the avalanche of mail finally stopped, and WXYZ had settled back on its foundations, it counted 24,905 letters--a record which, the Detroit post office told them, had been exceeded only by Father Coughlin, on a coast-to-coast hookup; the Lone Ranger program was hardly audible outside of Michigan.
This article originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on October 14, 1939.