"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver!..."
Those words marked the beginning of every episode of The Lone Ranger, a staple of both network radio and the early days of television. Yet, with the exception of broadcasting buffs and those who worked in the industry, few knew the name of the announcer most associated with that intro. His name was Fred Foy and he passed away last Thursday at the age of 89.
Mr. Foy was on the staff at WXYZ radio in Detroit in 1948 when he was assigned as the announcer and narrator for The Lone Ranger. Foy was the last in a long line of announcers assigned to the program and when it made its television debut in 1949, he handled that assignment as well. Mr. Foy remained with the radio version until it left the airwaves in 1954, and the TV show until it was cancelled three years later. But thanks to the miracle of audio and video recording, Fred Foy's stirring introduction will likely live on forever.
During the "golden age" of network radio, most of the best-know programs originated from New York, Chicago and Hollywood. But Detroit (and WXYZ) played an important role as well, largely due to the station's affiliation. In the early 1930s, WXYZ was part of the Mutual Network. In that era, Mutual was more of a programming cooperative than a true network; powerhouse local stations like WXYZ developed their own shows and shared them with other network affiliates.
The Lone Ranger debuted on the Detroit station in early 1933 and proved to be an immediate smash. A series of actors played the masked lawman, while the announcing chores were handled by various members of the WXYZ staff. According to broadcast legend, one of the Lone Ranger announcers was none other than Mike Wallace, who worked at the station after graduating from the University of Michigan. However, Wallace has stated (on at least one occasion) that he never worked on Ranger, but did announce for its spin-off, The Green Hornet.
By the time Foy joined the cast, The Lone Ranger was a well-established series that had migrated from Mutual to the NBC Blue Network and its successor, ABC. Mr. Foy worked for the station before Army service during World War II and rejoined the staff after the war. Years later, Foy told an interviewer that he and his fellow cast members had no idea their show would become a classic:
“We had no idea we were creating something that would become an American icon,” Mr. Foy told The Daily News of New York in 2003. “We knew it was good, but it was a job. You came in at 3, you checked the script, you did the rehearsal, you made sure the production elements were in place, you went on the air.”
Foy also played the Lone Ranger on at least one occasion when series star Brace Beemer came down with laryngitis. "I guess I did all right," he told the New York Daily News in 2003, "because we didn't get any complaints." During the same period, Foy's voice also graced other Detroit-based series, including Sgt Preston of the Yukon and The Green Hornet.
With the demise of the Ranger franchise (and network radio), Mr. Foy moved to New York where he worked as a staff announcer with ABC-TV before retiring in 1985. Viewers of the Dick Cavett Show may also remember Fred Foy as the program's announcer during its five-year run.
But Mr. Foy will always be best-remembered for his work on The Lone Ranger, and it's quite a legacy indeed. The New York Times described the program's introduction as among the most evocative in American broadcasting, and Fred Foy's dramatic rendition placed it in the pantheon of pop culture. Quite remarkable for a radio show that left the airwaves 56 years ago, and a TV show that stopped production during the Eisenhower Administration.
Yet, those words and images endure, thanks in no small measure to the exceptional talent of Fred Foy.
Detroit had a future once. Now, just a past.
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