In 1946, 'Sky King' first aired as an American
adventure series on the radio.
The series was likely based on a true-life person,
Jack Cones, the Flying Constable of Twenty-nine Palms during
the 1930s. The radio show was the brainchild
of Robert Morris Burtt and Wilfred Gibbs Moore. (Moore also
created 'Captain Midnight.')
Originally, Sky King was a daily 15-minute serial radio
episode, and by 1947, it was a 30-minute program twice a
week, sponsored by Peter Pan Peanut Butter. The show aired on
the radio until 1954, and ran concurrently with its
television version that began in 1952.
'Sky King' was a story about an Arizona rancher and airplane
pilot, named Schuyler "Sky" King. The setting took place on
Sky's "Flying Crown Ranch," near the fictional town of
"Grover," Arizona. Sky's plane, a Cessna T-50 twin-engine
bamboo bomber, was called the "Songbird."
Although the story was considered to be a
Western, Sky always captured the bad guys, and found lost
hikers as well, using his airplane. Several actors played the part of "Sky" in
the radio version, including Earl Nightingale and John Reed
Many radio shows of the 1940's era offered "premiums" to its
listeners. On November 2, 1947 in the episode titled
"Mountain Detour," the "Sky King Secret Signalscope" was used.
Listeners were advised to get their own, for only 15 cents and
the inner seal from a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter
(produced by the show's sponsor, Derby Foods).
Everyone listening to the radio show surely wanted a Signalscope.
It included a
glow-in-the-dark signaling device, whistle, magnifying glass
and Sky King's private code. The Signalscope even allowed a person to
see around corners and trees as well.
Other Sky King premiums were just as innovative, such as the
"Sky King Spy-Detecto Writer," which had a "decoder" (cipher disk), magnifying
glass, measuring scale, and printing mechanism in a single
package slightly over 2 inches long.
Or the "Magni-Glo Writing Ring," which had a luminous
element, a secret compartment, a magnifier, and a ballpoint
pen all in the crownpiece of a "fits any finger" ring.
The Television Show
Kirby Grant starred as "Sky
King" in the televised series that began in 1952. Grant
was a pilot in real life, and the "Songbird,"
the Cessna T-50 aircraft
used in the televised series, was actually his personal
Gloria Winters co-starred as Sky's
teenage niece, "Penny," and Ron Hagerthy played the part of Sky's
nephew, "Clipper." Penny and Clipper were also pilots, though
still relatively inexperienced, and they often looked to their uncle for
guidance and mentoring. Penny was an accomplished air racer
and rated multiengine pilot, who Sky trusted to fly the
Other television cast characters in Sky King were Chubby
Johnson, who played the role of "Jim Bell," Sky's ranch foreman, and
Ewing Mitchell as the sheriff, "Mitch." Mitch was
competent, intelligent and skilled. He was always turning to
Sky for help, due to their friendship, and the great resource
of Sky's flying
Kirby Grant's original Songbird aircraft was made of wood,
(nicknamed "bamboo bomber" accordingly). When it
eventually became unsafe to fly, he sold it, and
then flew a twin-engine Cessna 310B for the remainder of the
Sky King series. Although Grant changed from one plane to
another during the course of the series, the later plane was
not given a number (i.e., "Songbird II"), but was simply
known as "Songbird."
72 individual episodes of the low-budget television series of
Sky King were made for approximately $9,000 each. They
filmed in black-and-white during three periods, as sponsors
The television series ran on NBC from Sept 16, 1951, until Oct 26, 1952.
Then ABC picked up the series and ran the same NBC episodes
from November 8, 1952, until September 12, 1954. A season of
new episodes was aired from 1955 to 1956, and then from 1957
to 1962. Although the show continued in syndication for
years afterward, the actors did not receive any
residuals. There is a myth that 136 televised episodes
of Sky King actually
existed, but 72 was all there were.