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Obituaries

George Walsh, 88; Voice of "Gunsmoke," KNX Newsman

January 11, 2006|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

George Walsh, who became known as the voice of "Gunsmoke" after he introduced the western series on CBS radio for nearly a decade then followed the show to television as its announcer, has died. He was 88.

Walsh, an announcer and a newscaster at KNX-AM (1070) from 1952 to 1986, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 5 at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, said his daughter, Fran.

Beginning in 1952, Walsh opened the weekly series that was broadcast live on radio with these words: "Around Dodge City and in the territory out West, there's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers, and that's with a U.S. marshal and the smell of 'Gunsmoke.' "

The radio version of "Gunsmoke," which starred William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, aired until 1961. When it moved to television in 1955, James Arness took over the starring role but Walsh remained as the show's announcer.

Walsh, who once said the "Gunsmoke" cast thought the radio show would last forever, had only to look at the streets of Los Angeles in the 1950s to see the future of episodic drama.

"It was unbelievable. People were standing in the rain outside department stores watching television when it was new," Walsh told The Times in 2000.

For 34 years, Walsh worked at KNX as an interviewer, sports reporter, newscaster and announcer for a number of shows, including a fashion show hosted by film costume designer Edith Head.

One show, "Music 'Til Dawn," featured mainly classical music and aired overnight from 1952 until about 1970. The show won a Peabody Award in 1966.

Another, "This Is Los Angeles," aired nightly at 8:15 and earned him a Golden Mike Award in 1961 from the Radio and Television News Assn. of Southern California.

During one radio show, while Walsh waited to do a commercial, Danny Kaye pulled a prank with an egg sandwich.

"He suddenly walked up and shoved it into my mouth," Walsh told the Riverside Press-Enterprise in 1998. "I don't know how, but I kept talking."

Walsh's voice also reached a broader audience when he recorded "Only you can prevent forest fires," the signature line of Smokey Bear. His voice was used in the West Coast ad campaign, his daughter said.

George Russell Walsh was born in Cleveland on Nov. 29, 1917. Days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Walsh joined the Army Air Forces, serving overseas with Armed Forces Radio and emceeing USO shows.

Upon returning to the United States, Walsh became the program director at an ABC-affiliated radio station in Roswell, N.M., where he broke a story, which he was proud of decades later, about a UFO "landing" on June 17, 1947.

When an Air Force press officer claimed that a "flying saucer" had been captured near Roswell and sent to Washington, D.C., for analysis, Walsh went with the story, which was reported around the world before the military realized that the so-called UFO was actually a radar target.

Walsh came to Los Angeles to attend broadcasting school and was soon hired at KNX as a vacation relief announcer.

After he retired from broadcasting, Walsh worked in the shops on Main Street in Disneyland, a place his daughter said he "just loved."

A careful listener might have been able to connect the Candy Palace clerk with another part of the park -- Walsh's voice was featured on the rides Flight to the Moon and Mission to Mars, which have since closed.

His daughter recalled Walsh, a longtime resident of Monterey Park, as a "kind and gentle man" who insisted on leaving a weekly thank you atop his garbage can on trash day: a chilled bottle of Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino.

In addition to his daughter, who lives in Riverside, Walsh is survived by his wife of 49 years, Charlotte; two other daughters, Janice of Fontana and Carolyn of Monterey Park; two brothers; two sisters; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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