William Conrad Tribute

Tribute to an iconic radio voice actor

2022 Tribute

William Conrad Tribute web poster
Monday, 20 June 2022

1:00-2:00 PM PT
Season 10, Episode 05
Program Guide for ****William Conrad Tribute***

Re-Imagined Radio pays tribute to William Conrad's iconic radio voice which was heard in thousands of supporting roles and literally defined two radio drama series, Escape and Gunsmoke.

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Cast—"The Abominable Snowman"

William Conrad as Paul Lane
Anthony Berrett as Allen Ferris
Hy Averback as Frank Davis
Jack Kruschen as Nassang
Edgar Barrier as The Lama

Cast—"Bloody Hands"

William Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon
Parley Baer as Chester Wesley Proudfoot
Howard McNear as Charles "Doc" Adams
Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell

Credits

Curated, Produced, and Hosted by John F. Barber
Sound Design and Music Composition by Marc Rose of Fuse
Social Media by Regina Carol Social Media Management
Promotional Graphics by Holly Slocum Design

Background

William Conrad estimated that he voiced more than 7,500 roles in his radio career. Many of these were solid supporting roles, but Conrad literally defined two radio programs with his distinctive voice: Gunsmoke and Escape.

Escape was a radio adventure series featuring a wide range of stories adapted from classic and contemporary stories by well-known writers—from science fiction to horror to murder mysteries—and was radio's leading anthology of adventure drama from 1947 to 1954. The cast changed with each episode, and frequently included well known actors. Escape is significant for exposing listeners to a variety of literary experiences and its frequent citation as the finest radio adventure series ever broadcast.

The Columbia Broadcast System (CBS) first considered an adventure series to be called Out of This World. The audition, with the same title, was broadcast 28 February 1947, but the proposed series never materialized.

A second audition was broadcast 24 March 1947. Based on "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" in the British horror anthology movie Dead of Night (1945), this episode was titled "Dead of Night."

With a name change, CBS launched Escape. The first episode was Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King," 7 July 1947. The last episode was a science fiction drama, "Heart of Kali," 25 September 1954. All together, there were 228 episodes (230 counting the two auditions; 237 counting East Coast versions of seven shows). Surviving Episodes: perhaps 227 (several episodes redone for Suspense).

Each episode began with a distintive opening invitation from Conrad.
Tired of the every day grind?
Ever dream of a life of . . . romantic adventure?
Want to get away for it all?
We offer you—ESCAPE!
Escape! Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half-hour of high adventure!

Conrad's voice blended perfectly with the drum rolls and other accents of Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain," the show's theme music. And then the episode was underway, with Conrad unfolding its tale of life and death situations and violent twists of fate.

The formula behind each episode of Escape was to place its actors in physical, psychological, or emotional situations from which there seemed to be no escape. The conflicts were carefully crafted and made for compelling, visceral drama that could be felt and internalized by listeners. Radio historians estimate that more than two hundred fifty episodes of Escape were produced. Conrad hosted and/or starred in 90 of those episodes.

"The Abominable Snowman" was written and directed by Antony Ellis for Escape and was first broadcast September 13, 1953. In this episode Conrad leads an expedition from Darjeeling, India, up the slopes of Mount Everest searching for the legendary Metoh-Kangmi, a mysterious half-man, half-ape creature reported by mountain climbing parties. Conrad and his partners find themselves in a situation from which there seems no escape. Listening to Conrad's distinctive radio voice build and sustain the storytelling we can imagine being there on the mountain, pursued by the legendary and dangerous creature.

LEARN more about Escape at the Radio Nouspace website.

Resources
Episodes at Internet Archives website
OTRR certified episodes at Internet Archive website
Escape! Radio Logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website
Escape at Digital Deli Too website
Scripts available for some episodes of Escape!

Conrad and his voice also defined the Western radio drama Gunsmoke. Heard on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) 26 June 1952-18 June 1961, Gunsmoke was one of the longest running radio dramas and arguably, radio's last great dramatic series. 480 performances were offered from 413 scripts. 479 episodes survive.

Set in Dodge City, Kansas, during the 1870s, each episode had Marshal Matt Dillon (voiced by William Conrad) dealing with human dilemmas, trying to prevent lawlessness from overtaking the city. Sometimes he can find solutions, sometimes he cannot. Gunsmoke is significant for its constant striving for historical accuracy and realism seldom achieved on radio, and for being called the best radio drama ever.

Gunsmoke, the radio series, was originally developed by Harry Ackerman. A pilot episode was written and recorded in two versions, both in 1949. The first, a hardboiled version, starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Marshal "Mark" Dillon. The second, a lighter version, starred Howard Culver as "Mark" Dillon. The role went to Culver, but he was unavailable because of his contract as the star of Straight Arrow. The project was shelved until 1952 when it was revived by producer Norman Macdonnell and writer John Meston. They had worked together on Escape and wanted to create a Western series that would deal realistically with the hard realities of life in and around Dodge City, Kansas Territory, in the late 1800s.

There were western-themed radio dramas before Gunsmoke, made for juveniles. Gunsmoke, as conceptualized by Macdonnell and Meston, was made for adults. Episodes explored mature themes, hard realities of life in Dodge City and the Kansas frontier from 1872-1885. They overturn Western fiction stereotypes. They are often brutal, and explicit, with violent crimes and deaths, massacres, scalpings, racism, and opium addiction. Criminals are not always caught. Episodes often end unhappily. And people are treated badly. Gunsmoke explored these issues well ahead of other media.

Dodge City, Kansas, was called the "Queen of the Cow Towns," the "Wicked Little City," the "Gomorrah of the Plains." It had a reputation as a hostile, lawless town where the "fastest gun" ruled during the settlement of the American West. Cowboys herding cattle up from Texas, drifters, criminals, psychopaths—the mix was volatile. US Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp (1848-1929), Sheriff Bat Masterson (1856-1921), Sheriff Bill Tilghman (1854-1924), and Sheriff Charlie Bassett (c. 1847-1869), all real lawmen, worked without reservation to keep Dodge City under control until civilization could take hold. Marshal Matt Dillon (voiced by William Conrad, already known for narrating Escape) is modeled after these lawmen. He is hard as worn leather saddle, a loner, isolated. But he works tirelessly to keep Dodge City under control until civilization can take hold.

The violence he encounters daily must be met with violence and this is destroying his soul. He is scared that everyday could be his last. In "Bloody Hands," first broadcast April 2, 1955 (Episode 155), Conrad, as Marshal Dillon, speaks of his angst. Faced with too much killing and fearing he has lost his edge, he quits his job and tries to lead a normal life. But when a murderer comes to Dodge City, who will save its citizens?

The Gunsmoke series drew praise from the start. The writing and acting were superb. The sound effects and background soundscapes were subtle, realistic, and immersive. The gun shot in the opening sequence is a legendary industry standard sound effect. The music theme, "Old Trails," aka "Boothill," composed and conducted by Rex Koury, is iconic.

The recurring cast included . . .
William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon
Parley Baer as Deputy Chester Wesley Proudfoot
Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell
Howard McNear as Charles "Doc" Adams

Interestingly, Conrad was initially rejected by the producers of Gunsmoke who argued his familiar voice was heard on too many other radio programs. But Conrad's audition was too strong to be dismissed and over the nine-year run of Gunsmoke he defined the role of Marshal Dillon as well as the gritty and uncompromising storytelling of what is now called the greatest drama series in radio history.

LEARN more about Gunsmoke at the Radio Nouspace website.

Resources
Episodes at Internet Archive website
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library
Episodes at Old Time Radio Westerns website
Gunsmoke radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website

Promotion
Episode Trailer

William Conrad Tribute trailer by Holly Slocum, Marc Rose, and John Barber
***NOTE: This is an image only. Watch for the movie with sound, coming soon.***
William Conrad Tribute Trailer 2022

Graphics

William Conrad Tribute web poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (240 x 356)
William Conrad Tribute web poster 2022

William Conrad Tribute cover poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (820 x 356)
William Conrad Tribute cover poster 2022

William Conrad Tribute social media poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (2000 x 2000)
William Conrad Tribute social media poster 2022

William Condrad Tribute full poster by Holly Slocum, Holly Slocum Design (2000 x 3000)
William ConradTribute poster 2022

2016 Tribute

Bloody Hands and The Silent Avenger

4 May 2016
Season 04, Episode 02
Bloody Hands 2016 posterRe-Imagined Radio presented The Willamette Radio Workshop performing episodes from two radio dramas dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before it was named or understood. Live performance at Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver, Washington.

"Bloody Hands"

Gunsmoke
Marshal Matt Dillon, faced with too much killing and fearing he has lost his edge, quits his job. But when a murderer comes to Dodge City, who will save its citizens?

"The Silent Avenger"

The Shadow
Episode 111; 13 Mar. 1938
Joe Bricker is sentenced to death. He manipulates his brother, a World War I sniper suffering from PTSD, to kill everyone responsible for his pending execution. Can The Shadow find and stop the invisible sniper before it is too late?