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Happy Birthday, George W. Trendle!

“There were many tight-fisted broadcasting officials in the Golden Age of Radio, but probably none more pernicious the George W. Trendle, the owner of WXYZ in Detroit.”  So wrote author/Radio Spirits contributor Jack French in a 1998 article he titled “The Miser of Motown.”  Trendle, born George Washington Trendle in Norwalk, Ohio on this date in 1884 (a real-life nephew of his Uncle Sam, so to speak), purchased a Detroit, Michigan station (WGHP) in 1929 with partner John H. Kunsky. They changed its call letters to WXYZ…and became an indelible part of old-time radio history with the creation of such classic juvenile adventures as The Lone RangerThe Green Hornet, and Challenge of the Yukon (a.k.a. Sergeant Preston of the Yukon).  Trendle’s extreme frugality may not have won him many fans where his employees were concerned (tales of his skinflint activities are well-documented, French notes, in Dick Osgood’s essential history of WXYZ, Wyxie Wonderland), yet there are those who opine that George’s ruthless practices may have kept the station afloat during the Great Depression.

George W. Trendle started his career as a member of the legal profession in the 1920s, quickly establishing a hardball reputation as a tough negotiator when it came to movie contracts and leases.  His partner John H. Kunsky (who had built Detroit’s first theatre in 1911) got him further involved in “the movies” when he offered George a 25 percent interest in his motion picture theatre business in exchange for Trendle’s services.  Later, Kunsky, Trendle, and other local theatre owners would feel intense pressure to sell out when Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount Pictures, acquired the Detroit area film exchange known as the Cooperative Booking Office.  George skillfully negotiated the sale of Kunsky’s holdings for six million dollars — but under the terms of the agreement, neither he nor Kunsky could return to the theatre business in Detroit.  (Zukor, however, was so impressed by Trendle that he hired him to manage Paramount’s theaters in Detroit.  George kept that job until in 1937, when he was fired for “negligence.”)

As previously stated, George W. Trendle and John H. Kunsky were already conquering new fields in entertainment with their acquisition of WXYZ in 1929.  Trendle became the president of the organization known as the Kunsky-Trendle Broadcasting Company (which changed its name to King-Trendle in 1936 when vice president Kunsky legally changed his name) and took an active role as WXYZ’s station manager.  Though a Columbia Broadcasting System affiliate in the beginning, WXYZ became an independent station in 1932 and began to concentrate on their own “homegrown” programming. Early offerings included Thrills of the Secret ServiceDr. Fang, and Warner Lester, Manhunter.  Jim Jewell became WXYZ’s dramatic director and Fran Striker became head of the station’s script department.

George’s staff also included H. Allen Campbell, his longtime business associate. Campbell had previously worked for the Hearst organization as an advertising salesman…and was hired by Trendle to secure sponsors for the station’s programs.  But Campbell had another function at WXYZ: he was George’s “hatchet man.” He would also lure prospective employees with the novel idea of a job for no pay (kind of a precursor to the “unpaid internships” of today.)  There was, after all, a Depression going on, and new hires were promised a salary “when things got better.”

The Lone Ranger would eventually become the hit that helped things get better at the station.  It was syndicated to such stations as Chicago’s WGN and New York’s WOR — and when the Mutual Broadcasting Company was formed in 1934, WXYZ became a charter member.  The Green Hornet would be added to WXYZ’s roster in 1936, followed by Challenge of the Yukon in 1938.  (Not everything George W. Trendle touched turned to gold, however—he also produced such largely forgotten shows as Ned Jordan Secret Agent and Bob Barclay – American Agent.)  In 1946, the newly formed American Broadcasting Company purchased the King-Trendle Broadcasting Company—which included station WOOD and the Michigan Regional Network in addition to WXYZ—for $3.65 million.  George, however, retained ownership of WXYZ’s programs (RangerHornet, etc.).  That same year, Trendle, Campbell, and Raymond Meurer started the Trendle-Campbell Broadcasting Company and began to acquire Michigan radio stations (Flint’s WTCB, Pontiac’s WPON) and add a TV station (WTAC-TV in Flint).

In 1949, George W. Trendle hired producer Jack Chertok to bring The Lone Ranger to TV, taking a credit as executive producer.  The TV Ranger would go on to become a small screen success (one of the fledgling ABC’s few hits). In 1954, Trendle sold the rights to the property to the Jack Wrather Corporation for $3 million, and Wrather continued as the executive producer on that show until 1957.  (George later sold Sergeant Preston of the Yukon to Wrather in 1957, after having produced that program on TV for two seasons beginning in 1955.)  George would continue to participate in the operation of WPON into the late 60s before passing on in 1972 at the age of 87.

If you ever wondered why the theme songs to such George W. Trendle-produced shows like The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet were classical music standards (The William Tell Overture for RangerThe Flight of the Bumblebee for Hornet)…well, you can chalk that up to our birthday boy’s propensity for squeezing a nickel till the buffalo bellowed.  Sure, George W. might have given Jack Benny’s radio character a run for his money (pun intended) in his reluctance to part with a dollar, but we can’t dismiss his contributions to Radio’s Golden Age.  We offer our Lone Ranger collections Danger in the Night (our newest release), Vengeance, Masked Rider, and The Lone Ranger Rides Again.  (There’s even some Yuletide Ranger on our compendium Radio’s Christmas Celebrations, and TV Ranger on the DVD collection Lone Ranger: 20 Episodes.)  As for The Green Hornet, we can point you to Sting of JusticeCity Hall ShakeupFights Crime!The Green Hornet Strikes AgainNight FlightUnderworldThe Big Deal…and be sure to check out Generations, which explores the familial connections between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet with vintage broadcasts from both shows.  Finally, the third member of the “WXYZ triumvirate” is represented by the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon sets Return to DangerFrozen TrailsOn, You Huskies!Relentless Pursuit, and King Takes Over.

One Comment

  1. John Wooding says:

    Even now (88 years of age) I recall listening to The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and Sgt Preston on our Silvertone console when we lived on the Southside of Chicago! My mother said I must have an alarm cock in my head because no matter what, I was there to hear The Lone Ranger program at 7:30 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening! The other kids’ programs were aired from 4:45 to 6:00 every evening….Jack Armstrong, Don Winslow of the Navy, .Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, and Captain Midnight. Later, we listened to I Love a Mystery ay 10 PM, even though we were supposed to be asleep by then!

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