As a lad of perhaps 5 or 6 (circa 1958-1960) Saturday mornings were eagerly awaited because they meant two things:
A six hour block of cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, etc) and `juvenile adventure’ shows on TV like Rocky Jones – Space Ranger, Ramar of the Jungle, The Buccaneers, Robin Hood, William Tell, Red Ryder and the north woods exploits of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.
I’d not seen Sgt. Preston in decades, but recently came across several episodes from the series, an archive of the original radio show, and even some Sergeant Preston of The Yukon Comic books available online.
Set in the Yukon Territory during the gold rush of the 1890s, this `Northern’ was vastly different from the ubiquitous westerns of the day.
The Lone Ranger, Annie Oakley, The Range Rider, and other `juvenile’ cowboy shows all had the same `back lot look’, with exterior scenes all pretty much shot in the Hollywood hills; sunny and dry weather, and flat or rolling land.
Sgt Preston, however, had exterior shots filmed around Big Bear Lake, California (it’s mile-high topography a decent substitute for the Canadian Rockies) and featured pine forests, craggy mountains, running streams, and often as not, snow.
Different also was the use of the narrator (effectively carried over from the radio series) who not only set up crucial plot points, he explained the nuances of tracking, or building shelter, or finding your way in the North woods.
Sergeant Preston was educational.
But the story of Sgt. Preston – originally called Challenge of the Yukon – began on radio nearly 20 years before I first laid eyes on the show.
During the golden age of radio (1930s & 1940s) - since all it took was good voice & sound effects talent, a decent script, and a recording study to make a radio show happen – local radio stations often created their own series.
If it proved popular, it could be transcribed (recorded on platters) and could be syndicated on one (or more) of the radio networks.
One of the most successful of these radio show factories was Detroit's station WXYZ, which during the 1930s created two iconic radio series that both transitioned to television and the movies, and are both well remembered today.
The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.
In 1938 the station owner, George W. Trendle encouraged by the success of those two shows, asked for another adventure show, but with a dog as the hero.
The result was The Challenge of The Yukon, which chronicled the adventures of Sergeant William Preston of the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police, and his faithful dog King and his horse Rex.
For 9 years the show ran locally as a 15-minute serial, until in 1947 it acquired a sponsor (Quaker Oats) and went to 30 minutes, and to the ABC radio network until December of 1949. In 1950 the show switched to the Mutual Network.
The show is remembered for its effective use of sound effects, theme music (Emil von Reznicek's overture to Donna Diana), unusual locale, and exciting plots.
While King was arguably the star of the show (he often saved the day) Sgt. Preston was played by several radio actors over the years. The role was originated by Jay Michael, followed in the mid-1940s by former movie actor Paul Sutton took over the role, and briefly by Brace `The Lone Ranger’ Beemer in the mid-1950s.
The OLD TIME RADIO RESEARCHER'S GROUP has put together an astounding collection of COTY (Challenge of the Yukon) episodes ranging from the 15 minute shows of the early 1940s up until the 1950s. Literally hundreds of episodes.
Single episodes can be listened to, or downloaded from Challenge of the Yukon - Single Episodes and the complete collection can be downloaded in 9 CD-sized ZIP file from Challenge of the Yukon both available on the Internet Archive.
The Internet Archive also has a growing number of episodes from the TV show which ran on CBS for 3 years (1955-1958) and then for a decade in Saturday morning reruns.
Currently, the following episodes are available:
When more episodes are available, you’ll find them at this link.
Sergeant Preston was so popular during the 1950s, there was even a long-running comic book featuring his exploits, and those of his companions King and Rex. Many of those are also available on the archive.
Comic Books are usually archived in a .cbr or . cbz format, and require a special viewer. For windows, Linux, and MAC I can recommend the Comical program available at:
It’s open sourced and free.
Since these were `juvenile’ adventure shows the good guys were always obviously good, and the bad guys obviously bad. Crime never pays and Sgt Preston is square-jawed, resolute, and always gets his man.
Usually because King saves his Canadian Bacon.
Corny perhaps by today’s standards. But entertaining stuff, if you yearn to return to a simpler time and place, and perhaps memories of a childhood well spent in front of a glowing Cathode Ray tube.
I suppose there’s nothing left to say on the subject except:
"Well King, this case is closed."