Long before entertainment consisted of bingeing the latest Netflix program or watching 20-somethings find love on a reality show, people would sit by the radio and wait for their favorite radio drama to start.
Los Altos Hills resident Dave Parker was one of the voices listeners heard. From 1948 to 1951, Parker was part of the cast of “The Lone Ranger,” the old-time Western classic about a masked hero that aired nationally.
Now 95, Parker showed he’s still got it – deepening his voice to recite “Lone Ranger” lines from memory, sound effects and all.
“My memories of those days are vivid, very much alive,” Parker said.
Parker, who believes he is the last living cast member from the show, cherishes those days behind the microphone.
“I’m trying to stop living in the past, but I still do,” he said. “It keeps me young.”
Before his radio career, Parker was a U.S. Air Force pilot for three years during World War II. He went back to school in 1946, earning a degree from Fresno State University. He wanted to work in radio but instead earned a master’s degree in speech, theater and broadcasting from Northwestern University. Parker then became a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he taught radio writing, production, directing and acting.
One day Parker met the director of “The Lone Ranger,” Chuck Livingston, and asked him if he ever held auditions for the show, which was broadcast live from WXYZ in Detroit.
“I suddenly found myself face to face with the great actors whose voices I used to listen to,” Parker said.
During his years on the show, Parker estimated that he was in 50-60 episodes.
“I was typecast as a young, good guy,” he said of the many different characters he voiced. “And that meant young guys from the East, young ranchers, stagecoach drivers, deputy sheriffs. There were a lot of characters on ‘The Lone Ranger’ that needed a voice like mine.”
Parker recalled a memory from his early days on the show with Brace Beemer – the voice of the Lone Ranger.
“I was really nervous because I was in a studio with professional people,” Parker said. “I saw a really fancy chair and I went and sat in it, and it wasn’t long before Brace came in and … said, ‘You’re sitting in the Lone Ranger’s chair.’ And I thought he meant that as a funny line. And he was, like, ‘You don’t understand – you’re sitting in the Lone Ranger’s chair.’”
While Parker worked alongside many famous performers such as Beemer and John Todd, who played Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick, he said his favorite was a woman named Martha.
“I was a young, good guy; there was a young lady who played good girls and … over the course of the series, I fell in love with her,” Parker said. “The rest of the directors loved to cast us together because they knew in the real world we were also in love.”
Parker also voiced characters on “The Green Hornet” and “Challenge of the Yukon.”
He eventually left radio acting to pursue his doctorate at Northwestern, where he wrote his dissertation on “The Lone Ranger.” He also wanted to continue teaching.
“There was no long-term future for me,” Parker said. “The show had a limited life, and it did go off about two years after I left. Teaching was in my blood.”
Burgeoning TV career
Parker realized that if he wanted to continue in show business, it would have to be in the emerging television world. He became a news and entertainment producer-director at NBC in Chicago and later KPIX in San Francisco.
It was at KPIX in 1958 that he produced what he called “the most widely watched show in Bay Area history.” The station did a live broadcast of an open-heart surgery – a cutting-edge procedure at the time – performed on an 8-year-old boy with a hole in his heart.
Parker and his late wife, Joan, later created their own production company, Parker Productions. He traveled the country interviewing crew members and actors from the golden age of radio. His documentary “Remembering Radio” focuses on their careers and experiences in the medium.
Parker continues to attend re-enactments of shows put on by the Bay Area Broadcast Legends, an organization of retired broadcasters, and enjoys writing about radio’s heyday.
“There are decreasing opportunities for me now,” he said. “But instead of dwelling on those things, I enjoy the things that I have. … So nuts to the stuff I can’t do and hooray for the stuff that I can.”