I ran, trudged or bicycled home from Coggin Ward in the late 1940s and early 1950s, opening the door and running into my room to listen to fifteen-minute episodes, then thirty minutes of action in the 50s, on radio station KBWD, Brownwood, Texas, of the adventures of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his husky dog, Yukon King. “On King! On you, huskies!”
I had a radio, my own radio to hear Sgt. Preston’s daring does. I had been reared in a small trailer house, then a pier-and-beam house, with my mother and grandmother and the Philco 41-245T Tropic radio that glowed a soft-golden light across its frequency panel, emitting sounds with basso edge. Yes, it was golden. That Tropic radio stayed with my grandmother, but I had a small Philco to link me symbiotically to A.M. airwaves, theatrically setting the stage for desperadoes and their inevitable capture by Sgt. Preston. I pedaled like crazy to get home on the day Sgt. Preston came alive.
I look back now on Sgt. Preston and know that the setting in the Canadian outdoors, along with my dreams of becoming a bush pilot in Canada and Alaska, engendered a deeper attraction to earth, trees, wild things blowing in the wind. I never bought the comic books of Sgt. Preston as you see in the photograph. I had the animation of sound, produced by corporations and hosted by Quaker Oats! Preston’s voice, Yukon King’s bark, Rex’s nickering, evil doer’s cackle and the sound of wind in the trees replaced comic books. Comic books? Who needed comic books when Sgt. Preston was on the air, in the air and I could, with hundreds of thousands of other kids, hear his sled glide through snow? Crunching footfalls, trees cracking and rivers roar. All there, on the radio.
My radio days of yore included other programs. I went to sleep a thousand times with the radio on, the music fadin’ in and fadin’ out, the Jack Benny Show, Lucky Strike Hit Parade and the Louisiana Hayride. But, Sgt. Preston and Yukon King remained my boyhood favorite. The other shows were mainly the selections of my grandmother and mother.
I know now — perhaps as a boy, who can say? — that the cold, wild travels with a dog in the woods took me away from hot and arid Texas. Oh, yes, I liked the uniforms, who doesn’t? Snappy red, yellow-striped trousers, high-top boots. The uniform was trivial and I could only imagine it from other sources. On the radio, impressively, Sgt. Preston talked to his dog. His dog communicated with him. They conversed in a cold, wild woodland context, faraway, but not alien to me.
When the snow comes to Flying Hat Ranch, I go outside and I work, I play. My horses prance. I take their photographs — remember Star, the levitating horse? I secure chains to the pickup and glide through snow to Santa Fe and the Jemez, never doubting my survival for I have been snowbound and trapped on the Jemez Mountains at night and have spent a three-below night in my car at Taos. Sgt. Preston chased criminals, found them and concluded his program by saying to his dog: Well, King, this case is closed.
My travel in cold, wild, woodlands is not a chase. It’s a journey between two places whose starting and ending points change. I prefer to glide where it’s cold and wild and forested, wind blowing conifers, the sky cloudy or blue. At the close of the day, like those radio days of yore with Sgt. Preston and Yukon King, I shall build fire, embrace my companions and turn on the radio, seeking that signal, that program, that lets me fall asleep.
My cousin, Sam Gray, wrote on Facebook in response to this post that, ” When the radio shows were in their last days you could only get them on Sunday nights, and my mother made me go to church instead. Broke my heart!”
This is the identical model of radio that we had when I was a child.
The photograph and description of purchase by a antique radio collector is found on TubeRadioLand.