Radio Days of Yore with Sgt. Preston

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon with his faithful dog, Yukon King. Rex, his horse Sgt. Preston rode during the summer, is not pictured. Neither is Pierre, his French Canadian friend.

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.

______________________________

Notes:

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!”

Philco Model 41-245T for 1941 (T for tropic), introduced June 1940, 7 tubes, electronic push button, 3-band reception (540-1550 kc, 2-7 mc, 9-12 mc), original price $39.95, 22,566 made.

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.

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13 Comments

Filed under Recollections 1942-1966

13 responses to “Radio Days of Yore with Sgt. Preston

  1. Your life is like my father dreamed about. We did not have Sergeant Preston, but my father was taken in by Jack London’s books about this wonderful free life in nature.

    Your story is fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I can sense the snow and the fresh air when you tell us about it.

    By the way, I love uniforms! But it depends on how they are made. Some countries have some terrible uniforms. I think the US Navy has got the best looking and best designed uniforms of all. They must have some great tailors! ( I’d like to add that I have seen them on TV! )

    Cheers
    Grethe ´)

  2. What a beautiful radio. It was a source of music for me, but we did not listen to the serial stories and such. We also did not have a television until I was 8. It was made-up games and board games, and outdoors, of course, in the summer. Radio must have provided some fascinating entertainment, using a person’s imagination so thoroughly. I’ve spent some cold nights “car camping.” also. Bracing mornings as blue skies peeked through tall pines somewhere along the Tres Piedras River outside Durango one spring. Other nights above canyons in SE Utah. . Adventures, to be sure. A great post, Jack.

    • Thanks, Teresa. You know how hard and adventurous it is to stay in a car, camping. In Taos, I stayed in the car one night on the lot that Jack whatever-his-name-was had RVs and trailers. For three dollars I stayed there at three below and used the restrooms on the lot. Goodness, how I love Taos!

    • Teresa

      I recall that the entertainment we had as children was created by our imagination. Outdoors was where we learned about life and being children. Children now a days learn from TV and its harmful contents that can warp their minds.

  3. Kittie Howard

    I shared your post with my husband. He’s a long-time fan of Sgt. Preston and King. Like you, he’d rush home for the latest episode. But Dick’s from New Hampshire, his home within the state not far from Canada. He likes to joke that after a long summer, from July 3rd to July 6th, winter began. For Dick, Sgt. Preston represented the spirit of the great outdoors, the ability to lose himself yet not be alone, always at home with nature. Anyway, thru the years he’s spoken of Sgt. Preston as you wrote. His parents had the same radio you posted.

    My parents and grandparents did, too. However, I never listened to the program because there was too much static. in our rural area. My parents, tho, sometimes managed the Hit Parade and/or Jack Benny, also with lots of static but they’d hear enough to laugh at the quick jokes. I can hear them laughing now.

    I didn’t know what I was missing so life went on without mishap. Today, tho, with 24/7 broadcasts I’m constantly being asked if I watched such and such. Usually I haven’t. I’m not a big fan of sitting before a tv hour after hour. So, I think, there’s something inside you, Dick, and myself that prefers nature’s freedoms (and challenges) to being a couch potato.

    • Kittie: Thank you so much for your thoughtful post and recollections. Your husband and I could get along quite well. Always at home with nature — what very good statement, inclusive of what I feel. Please know that I am with you money, marbles and chalk about staying off that couch.

  4. Elaine F Lee

    Enjoyed your post. My husband and I have both listened to replays of old radio shows and enjoyed them immensely. Great radio, too. Tales of Sgt. York coming from that wonderful instrument would delight anyone, and especially a child.

    It reminds me of the record player my mom and dad had and with which we could sometimes beg to play his records, being extremely careful not to drop one. Doing so always broke the record or at least a large chip broke out of the edge leaving only part of the lyrics to be enjoyed. It was before vinyl, and I guess they were made of Bakelite or some other mostly fragile plastic of the day, and I was responsible for breaking his prized “Red Silk Stockings and the Green Perfume.” I have no idea who sang it, but I remember his reaction.

    Not only were my Dad’s records “cool,” but he was in the Navy from WWII until he died in 1980. Fabulous uniforms, and he got to wear one to work everyday! In fact, when I married, as a cost-saving measure, I asked him to wear his dress whites to walk me down the aisle that hot August. Doggone it, he looked better than the bride. White uniform, gold buttons, white gloves and walking straight as an arrow — all eyes were on us, but he was the star. No doubt about it!

    Great post, great memories!
    Elaine

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