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‘Ranger Bill’: A Cynical Memory, Defeated

“Oh, great, just another example of Christians making such painfully cheesy stuff”? Shut up, brain.
| Feb 19, 2019 | 4 comments |

Last week I experienced an painful and random memory: that of a Christian-made children’s radio program called “Ranger Bill.”

It must have been in the early 1990s that I listened to this. Probably on a Christian FM radio station. In or near Ashland, Kentucky. On a Saturday morning when the station was doing its best to provide an Alternative for Saturday morning cartoons.

The year was ~1993, but the program sounded like a radio drama from seventy years earlier.1

Transcribed from my mental MP3:

(thunder crash)

TIN-CANNED ANNOUNCER:

“Raaaannnn-gerrr Bill!
Warrior of the woodland!”

(secondary thunder crash)

This intro was followed by a secondary announcer. He described how Ranger Bill fulfills his ranger duties. He battles against extreme odds and traveling dangerous trails. Where? In the air. On horseback. Or in a screaming squad car. Each cited feature was accompanied by beneficial sound effects.

And why, you ask, does Ranger Bill do all these feats? All for the satisfaction and pride of a job well done.

(a series of notes is squirted from
the most comical organ imaginable)

I didn’t remember the plots. I only recall over-acting, over-seriousness, and a Comical Old Geezer Character.

If I don’t remember much, then why did I find this memory painful? Because it came with a cynical thought. Something like this:

“Oh, great. Here’s another example of Christians making such painfully cheesy stuff. This old-tyme radio drama didn’t help anyone. It didn’t get anyone Saved. It likely did little to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ with artistic, creative excellence.”

I’m glad to report that, almost instantly, my mind turned on itself. I had a better series of thoughts like this:

  • Horseradish.
  • You have no idea of their budget or creative limits.
  • You don’t even know what the original audience would have expected.
  • You’re falsely judging other people (presumably Christian sisters and brothers).
  • This was a different era. Even a “retro” audio drama may have met its own creative standard.
  • Technically, you were barely in the intended audience then. You’re definitely not in the audience now.
  • Christians have made many fantastic audio dramas. Years later, they hold up very well. For example, see, Josiah DeGraaf’s retrospective on the long-running series Adventures in Odyssey.
  • So stop. Being. So. Silly.

Sure, Christians have done silly things. Some have even done worse things. And it’s okay to point out problems, or even to criticize.

But if we remember these old things, let’s not cringe or act like the Cool Kids will shun us.

As if we’re the stereotypical teenager who’s embarrassed to be seen with her parents at the mall.

As if we’re kids from a 1990s TV commercial, who hawk some breakfast cereal while Parents Just Don’t Get It.

Plot twist: sometimes our cringing cynicism about the Christian cultural Thing is what’s really immature, not the Thing itself.

So even in these little, random-memory ways, let’s show charity to other Christians (including older generations!). Let’s appreciate their attempts as products of their time, and/or our times. Let’s put away childish cynicism, and grow up.

  1. Wikipedia informs us that Moody Bible Institute actually made the “Ranger Bill” program in the 1950s. Even then, it sounded like it could have been a series from thirty twenty years before. (Note: Footnote amended per the opinion of a friend with more radio-drama savvy than I.)
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Autumn Grayson
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I’ve found that things I loved as a kid give me a far different impression than when I view them later as an adult. I liked one cartoon called The Weekenders, for instance, and at the time liked the animation style. But as an adult I think I watched a couple episodes on youtube, and although I still kind of liked the show, I didn’t think as well of the animation style.

Now days we’re probably partly spoiled by innovations that have been made over time. Back then we would have been fine watching pixelated movies. Now days, we want things in HD, for instance. It’s not bad to want things in HD, but we should probably be self aware about our expectations.

julie d
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julie d

I used to listen to Ranger Bill too. So stereotypical, but good anyway

Audie Thacker
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Audie Thacker

If you ever want a real cringe, go over to YouTube and look up cartoons you liked as a kid. I’ve done that a few times, things like SuperFriends and Kids Super Power Hour with Shazam, and…let’s just say, I’m pretty sure I must have lost mounds of brain cells watching those things.

Tamra Wilson
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Tamra Wilson

Ah, yes, I listened to that a few times. I remember the audio quality being so bad I could barely understand, so I don’t really have an opinion. But this is what I always say, stuff was a product of it’s time, we need to remember that and not be making fun of it for it’s quality.