Sixty-four years ago, Augusta-area entertainment fans had few broadcast options because there were no local TV stations and just a handful of radio stations.
Most of the popular Western TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s evolved from being dramatic radio programs, including Gunsmoke, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Sky King, Hopalong Cassidy and Death Valley Days.
Unfortunately, another Western radio program, Straight Arrow, didn’t make it to the television airwaves. But it still is fondly remembered by fans and followers, including North Augustan William Harper.
Harper is a nationally recognized authority on Straight Arrow, the radio series about a Comanche Indian, raised by white settlers, who owns the Broken Bow cattle ranch.
As crusading rancher Steve Adams, he would go into his secret gold mine cave and transform himself into the Indian Straight Arrow to fight the bad guys, including stage coach bandits and bank robbers.
Harper’s research into the show resulted in the 2007 book STRAIGHT ARROW: A Complete Radio Log and Definitive Resource for Straight Arrow Media, 1949-1956.
He and his wife, Teresa, published a newsletter for Straight Arrow fans called Pow Wow until Teresa’s death in 1997.
Now Harper is the author of a chapter about Straight Arrow in the new book Radio Rides the Range; A Reference Guide to Western Drama on the Air, 1929–1967 (edited by Jack French and David S. Siegel).
The 244-page reference book lists more than 100 Western-themed radio shows.
In connection with the book’s publication, Harper has lent his extensive collection of Straight Arrow memorabilia for a display in the Georgia Room on the third floor of the main branch of the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library.
Harper said the display should be up until the end of this month or longer.
Though Straight Arrow didn’t make it to television, it did evolve into comic books and comic strips in daily newspapers.
Only six complete episodes of Straight Arrow are known to exist.
The program aired from Feb. 7, 1949, into June 1951. Its episodes were written by Sheldon Stark, who also wrote episodes of The Green Hornet radio show.
Portraying Comanche Indian Straight Arrow (aka rancher Steve Adams) was a white actor from Colorado named Howard Culver. He went on to play hotel clerk Howie Uzzell during the entire run of TV’s Gunsmoke and would pop up as a guest performer on such popular TV shows as Dragnet, Adam-12 and CHiPs.
One of the first radio stations to air Straight Arrow from the first day of its syndication was local Augusta station WBBQ-AM.
The Chronicle noted on Feb. 6, 1949, “This Indian Pecos Bill – a Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyon rolled into one – finally gets just recognition and takes his place alongside the other great legendary figures of America when WBBQ premieres the new aventure drama Straight Arrow.”
By October 1949, WBBQ was airing Straight Arrow up against Hillbilly Champs on WRDW-AM, Be Bop Hour on WJBF-AM and Story Time on WGAC-AM.
TURNING JOY INTO SADNESS: The Chronicle recently wrote about lawyer Elwyn Beddingfield, of Dearing, finding a deflated white balloon on his farm with a hand-written letter in an envelope attached to it.
The balloon had traveled 300 miles from Arab, Ala., near Huntsville, where it was sent by a 13-year-old girl who had written a letter to her friend who had been killed in a car accident.
Apparently, the girl was sending a letter to heaven to her friend. The letter said in part, “I love you beyond measure and I will never forget you. You are always in my heart … I just still can’t believe that you are gone.”
Beddingfield’s son is country music singer Eric Lee Beddingfield, whose song The Gospel According to Jones was turned into a music video featuring George Jones. It probably was the last video to feature Jones, who died April 26.
Beddingfield’s parents went up to Nashville, Tenn., in late November to see their son open a star-studded tribute to Jones in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena and took him a copy of The Chronicle’s article.
“I told my dear friend (country rock singer/songwriter) Wayne Mills, who happens to be from Arab, Ala., about the article,” Beddingfield wrote me by e-mail last week. “I told him, ‘We have to write this song about a letter to heaven!’
“We were together the entire night hanging out downtown after the show. Twenty minutes after I left him that night, he was shot and killed! I’ve been devastated ever since.
“I plan to head straight to Arab, Ala., Saturday night after my show in Columbia, Mo., to attend Wayne’s funeral. He was a great friend and an incredible artist! I will miss him a lot!”
The Wayne Mills Band performed in Augusta’s Country Club Dance Hall & Saloon in January 2009.
According to The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, 44-year-old Mills was fatally shot Nov. 23 by Pit and Barrel bar owner Chris Ferrell, who told police that he shot Mills in self-defense after an argument over Mills smoking in the bar in a nonsmoking area. Ferrell was arrested Dec. 6 and faces a second-degree murder charge.
Early in their careers, country stars Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks all opened for Mills in concert.
WHNT-TV reported that Mills’ signature white cowboy hat was encased in a glass box on his casket’s right at his funeral Dec. 8, while his University of Alabama No. 91 football helmet was on the left.
Before the service in the auditorium of Arab High School, his widow, Carol, greeted friends and family members and handed each a black guitar pick embossed with “WMB” and his band’s logo on the front and “Wayne Mills” and “1969-2013” on the back.
SUCCESSFUL PIONEER DAY: Gary Edwards, the president of the Lincoln County Historical Society, reports that Pioneer Day in Lincolnton, Ga., on Nov. 23 turned out “really good despite the morning crowd being down a bit, I think due to an expectation of rain.”
Bluegrass stars Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long, of Lincolnton, got back from touring in time to play for the festival’s attendees.
“It was just wonderful,” Edwards said.
“Everything stopped, and the whole crowd moved over to the Pavilion to hear them.”