William Conrad

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William Conrad
William Conrad 1952.JPG
Conrad in 1952, when he created the role of Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke
BornJohn William Cann Jr.
(1920-09-27)September 27, 1920
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedFebruary 11, 1994(1994-02-11) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, director, producer, voice actor
Years active1945–1993
Spouse(s)June Nelson (1943–1957)
Susan Randall (1957–1979)
Lewis Tipton Stringer Huntley (1980–1994)
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For the New York politician, see William N. Conrad.
William Conrad
William Conrad 1952.JPG
Conrad in 1952, when he created the role of Matt Dillon on the radio version of Gunsmoke
BornJohn William Cann Jr.
(1920-09-27)September 27, 1920
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedFebruary 11, 1994(1994-02-11) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActor, director, producer, voice actor
Years active1945–1993
Spouse(s)June Nelson (1943–1957)
Susan Randall (1957–1979)
Lewis Tipton Stringer Huntley (1980–1994)

William Conrad (born John William Cann Jr.;[1] September 27, 1920 – February 11, 1994) was an American actor, producer and director whose career spanned five decades in radio, film and television.

A radio writer and actor, he moved to Hollywood, California, after his World War II service and played a series of character roles in films beginning with the quintessential film noir, The Killers (1946). He created the role of Marshal Matt Dillon for the popular radio series Gunsmoke (1952–1961), and narrated the television adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959–1964) and The Fugitive (1963–1967).

Finding fewer on-screen roles in the 1950s, he changed from actor to producer-director with television work, narration, and a series of Warner Bros. films in the 1960s. Conrad found stardom as a detective in the TV series Cannon (1971–1976) and Nero Wolfe (1981), and as a district attorney in the legal drama Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992).

Early life[edit]

William Conrad (also known as John William Conrad) was born John William Cann Jr. on September 27, 1920, in Lexington, Kentucky. His parents, John William Cann and Ida Mae Upchurch Cann, owned a movie theatre,[2][3] and Conrad grew up watching movies. The family moved to southern California when Conrad was in high school. He majored in drama and literature at Fullerton College, near Los Angeles, and began his career as an announcer, writer, and director for Los Angeles radio station KMPC.[4]

Conrad served as a fighter pilot in World War II. On the day he was commissioned in 1943 at Luke Field, he married June Nelson (1920–1977) of Los Angeles.[5] He left the United States Army Air Corps with the rank of captain and as a producer-director of the Armed Forces Radio Service.[6]



William Conrad estimated that he played more than 7,500 roles during his radio career.[7] At KMPC, the 22-year-old Conrad produced and acted in The Hermit's Cave (circa 1940–44), the Los Angeles incarnation of a popular syndicated horror anthology series created at WJR Detroit.[8]:319

He was among the supporting cast for the espionage drama The Man Called X (1944–48); the syndicated dramatic anthology Favorite Story (1946–49); the adventure dramas The Count of Monte Cristo (Mutual 1947–48), The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Mutual 1947–48), The Green Lama (CBS 1949) and Nightbeat (NBC 1950–52); Romance (1950) and Hollywood Star Playhouse (1950–53); Errol Flynn's The Modern Adventures of Casanova (Mutual 1952); and Cathy and Elliott Lewis's On Stage (CBS 1953–54).[8]:431, 244, 181, 706, 299, 507, 584, 326, 467, 512

Conrad was the voice of Escape (1947–1954), regarded as radio's greatest high-adventure series.[8]:232

He played Warchek, a menacing policeman, in Johnny Modero: Pier 23 (Mutual 1947), a detective series starring Jack Webb, and was in the cast of Webb's crime drama Pete Kelly's Blues (NBC 1951). He played newspaper editor Walter Burns opposite Dick Powell's reporter Hildy Johnson in the ABC radio drama The Front Page (1948). He was Dave the Dude in the syndicated drama anthology series, The Damon Runyon Theater (1948); Lt. Dundy in the NBC radio series, The Adventures of Sam Spade (1949–1950); boss to government special agent Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Silent Men (NBC 1951); and a New Orleans bartender in the NBC adventure drama, Jason and the Golden Fleece (1952–53).[8]:374, 541, 273, 189, 12, 615, 368 Most prominently, Conrad's deep, resonant voice was heard in the role of Marshal Matt Dillon on CBS Radio's gritty Western series, Gunsmoke (April 26, 1952 – June 18, 1961). The producers originally rejected him for the part due to his ubiquitous presence on so many radio dramas and the familiarity of his voice. But his impressive audition could not be dismissed, and he became the obvious choice for the role. Conrad voiced Dillon for the show's nine-year run. In addition, he wrote the June 1953 episode "Sundown."[9] When Gunsmoke was adapted for television in 1955, executives at CBS did not cast Conrad or his radio costars, despite a campaign to get them to change their minds.[10]

His other credits include Suspense, Lux Radio Theater and Fibber McGee and Molly. In "The Wax Works", a 1956 episode of Suspense, Conrad performed every part.[7] Because of his CBS Radio contract, he sometimes appeared on shows on other networks under the pseudonym "Julius Krelboyne".

In January 1956 Conrad was announcer on the debut broadcast of The CBS Radio Workshop, a two-part adaptation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which Huxley himself narrated. "On the air, The CBS Radio Workshop was a lightning rod for ideas," wrote radio historian John Dunning, who cites Conrad's "tour de force" performances in the subsequent broadcasts '"The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes" (March 23, 1956) and "A Matter of Logic" (June 1, 1956).[8]:144–145 Conrad directed and narrated the 1957 episode "Epitaphs", an adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters's poetry volume Spoon River Anthology.[11]

"And '1489 Words' (Feb. 10, 1957) remains a favorite of many, a powerful Conrad performance proving that one picture is not necessarily worth a thousand words," Dunning concluded. "A lovely way to end a day, a decade, or an era."[8]:145


The Maltese Falcon sat on a bookshelf in Conrad's California home until his death in 1994.

As an actor in feature films, Conrad was often cast as a threatening figure. His most notable role may be the first for which he was credited, as one of the gunmen sent to eliminate Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946). Conrad also appeared in Body and Soul (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Joan of Arc (1948) and The Naked Jungle (1954).

In 1961 Conrad moved to the production side of the film business, producing and directing for Warner Bros. film studio.[12] His most notable film was Brainstorm (1965), a latter-day film noir that has come to be regarded as "a minor masterpiece of the 1960s"[13] and "the final, essential entry in that long line of films noirs that begins at the end of the Second World War."[14] Conrad was the executive producer of Countdown (1968), a science-fiction thriller starring James Caan and Robert Duvall that was the major studio feature début of director Robert Altman.

Conrad narrated the documentary "Design For Disaster", produced the Los Angeles City Fire Department, about the November 1961 Bel Air wildfire that gutted several neighborhoods, at the time the worst conflagration in Los Angeles history.

As a token of appreciation from Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros., Conrad received one of the two original lead-metal falcon statues used in the classic film, The Maltese Falcon (1941). The falcon sat on a bookshelf in Conrad's house from the 1960s. Standing 11.5 in. (29.2 cm) high and weighing 45 lbs. (20.4 kg), the figurine had been slashed during the making of the film by Sydney Greenstreet's character Kasper Gutman, leaving deep cuts in its bronze patina. After Conrad's death the statue was consigned by his widow Tippy Conrad to Christie's, which estimated it would bring $30,000 to $50,000 at auction. In December 1994, Christie's sold the falcon for $398,500.[15] In 1996, the purchaser, Ronald Winston of Harry Winston, Inc., resold the prop to an unknown European collector "at an enormous profit" — for as much as $1 million.[16]

Late in life Conrad narrated the opening and closing scenes of the 1991 Bruce Willis feature film Hudson Hawk.



As "Bill Conrad", Conrad narrated the animated Rocky and Bullwinkle series from 1959 to 1964. He narrated This Man Dawson, a 33-episode syndicated crime drama starring Keith Andes in the 1959–1960 television season and then became the familiar voice narrating The Fugitive, starring David Janssen, on ABC television from 1963–67. He could also be heard introducing Count Basie's Orchestra and Frank Sinatra on Sinatra's 1966 "Live at the Sands" LP.

Conrad intoned a rhyming narration heard over the credits of the 1970 John Wayne film Western Chisum. His voice is heard in the Clio Award-winning 1971 public-service announcement about pollution featuring Iron Eyes Cody, created for Earth Day by Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council.[17] From 1973 to 1978, Conrad narrated the TV nature program, The Wild, Wild World of Animals. Also, during the 1970s he appeared in and narrated a number of episodes for ABC's American Sportsman, and in the CBS documentary, The Lost Treasure of the Concepcion. He later narrated The Making of Star Wars (1977), the 1978 World Series U.S.-baseball highlight film, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and The Rebels (1979). He performed the role of Denethor in the 1980 animated TV version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King.

Other voice work included narration for Knight Rider and The Highwayman.


He and Sam Peckinpah directed episodes of NBC's Klondike in the 1960–1961 season. Conrad's credits as a director include episodes of The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Route 66, Have Gun – Will Travel, and 77 Sunset Strip, as well as ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!.

In 1963, Conrad directed Jeffrey Hunter in what became a 26-week Warner Bros. Western television series, Temple Houston. On orders from then studio boss Jack Webb, Temple Houston episodes were put together in two or three days each, something previously thought impossible in television production. Work began on August 7, 1963, with the initial airing set for September 19. Jimmy Lydon, a former child actor, adult actor, and a producer with WB at the time, recalled that Webb told the staff, "Fellas, I just sold Temple Houston. We gotta be on the air in four weeks, we can't use the pilot, we have no scripts, no nothing — do it!"[18] Lydon recalled the team having worked around the clock to get Temple Houston on the air. Co-producer William Conrad directed six episodes, two scripts simultaneously on two different soundstages at WB. "We bicycled Jeff (Hunter) and (Jack) Elam between the two companies, and Bill shot 'em both in four and a half days. Two complete one-hour shows!" said Lydon.[18]


Conrad guest starred in NBC's science-fiction series The Man and the Challenge. In 1962, he starred in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and guest starred in episodes of ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!.

The 1970s saw him starring in the first of three television detective series which would bring him an added measure of renown: Cannon, which was broadcast on CBS from 1971–76. While starring in the show he weighed a hefty 230 pounds (104 kg), and grew to a portly 260 pounds (118 kg) or more.

"I heard that Weight Watchers had banned its members from watching the show, but it turned out to be a gag," Conrad said in 1973. "The publicist for Weight Watchers did call and suggest that I have lunch with their president. I said sure – if I could pick the restaurant."[19]

He starred in two other TV series, Nero Wolfe (1981) and, with Joe Penny, Jake and the Fatman (1987–92).

Later life[edit]

In 1957 Conrad was married to former fashion model Susan Randall (1940–1979), and the couple had one son, Christopher.[20] In 1980, Conrad married Tipton "Tippy" Stringer (1930–2010), a TV pioneer and the widow of NBC newscaster Chet Huntley.[21] She helped manage his career during their 14-year marriage.[22]


William Conrad died in Los Angeles on February 11, 1994, from congestive heart failure.[23] He was buried in the Lincoln Terrace section of Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery, California.


Conrad was posthumously elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.[24]



1945Pillow to Postuncredited
1946The KillersMax
1947Body and SoulQuinn
1948Arch of TriumphPoliceman at Accidentuncredited
1948To the VictorFarnsworth
1948Four Faces WestSheriff Egan
1948Sorry, Wrong NumberMorano
1948Joan of ArcGuillaume Erard
1949Any Number Can PlayFrank Sistina
1949TensionLt. Edgar Gonsales
1949East Side, West SideLt. Jacobi
1950Escape (TV series)Narrator
1950One Way StreetOllie
1950The MilkmanMike Morrel
1950Dial 1119Chuckles
1951Cry DangerCastro
1951The Sword of Monte CristoMajor Nicolet
1951The RacketDetective Sergeant Turck
1952Lone StarMizette
1953Cry of the HuntedGoodwin
1953The Desert SongLachmed
1954The Naked JungleCommissioner
1954The Bob Mathias StoryNarratoruncredited
19555 Against the HouseEric Berg
1956The ConquerorKasar
1956Johnny ConchoTallman
1957The Ride BackSheriff Chris Hamish
1957Zero Hour!Narratoruncredited
1958The Rough Riders (TV series)Wade Hacker"The Governor"
1958–1961Bat Masterson (TV series)Clark Benson
Dick MacIntyre
"Stampede at Tent City"
"Terror on the Trinity"
1959-30-Jim Bathgate
1959–1960This Man Dawson (TV series)Narrator
1959–1960Rocky and His Friends (TV series)Narrator
1961The Aquanauts (TV series)Corey"Killers in Paradise"
1961–1964The Bullwinkle Show (TV series)Narrator
1962Target: The Corruptors! (TV series)Dan"Yankee Dollar"
1962Have Gun—Will Travel (TV series)Moses Kadish
"The Man Who Struck Moonshine"
1962GE True (TV series)Dr. James Fallon"Circle of Death"
1963The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV series)Sgt. Cresse"The Thirty-First of February"
1963–1967The Fugitive (TV series)Narratoruncredited
1965Two on a GuillotineThe Fat Man in the Hall of Mirrorsuncredited
1965My Blood Runs ColdHelicopter Pilot (voice)uncredited
1965BrainstormMental Patientuncredited
1965Hoppity Hooper (TV series)Narratoruncredited
1965F TroopNarrator"Scourge of the West", uncredited
1965Battle of the BulgeNarratoruncredited
1966Chamber of HorrorsNarratoruncredited
1968CountdownTV Newscaster (voice)uncredited
1969The Dudley Do-Right Show (TV series)Narrator
1969The Name of the Game (TV series)Arnold Wexler"The Power"
1970It Takes a Thief (TV series)Strategy Room Announcer (voice)"Situation Red"; uncredited
1970The Brotherhood of the Bell (TV movie)Bart Harris
1970The High Chaparral (TV series)China Pierce"Spokes"
1970Men at Law (TV series)Kornedi"Survivors Will Be Prosecuted"
1970D. A.: Conspiracy to Kill (TV movie)Chief Vincent Kovac
1971O'Hara, U. S. Treasury (TV movie)Keegan
1971–1976Cannon (TV series)Frank Cannon
1973Gunsmoke (TV series)Narrator"Women for Sale"
1973–1975Barnaby Jones (TV series)Frank Cannon"Requiem for a Son"
"The Deadly Conspiracy: Part 2"
1973–1976Wild, Wild World of Animals (TV series)Narrator
1974The FBI Story: The FBI Versus Alvin Karpis,
Public Enemy Number One
(TV movie)
1975Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan
(TV movie)
1976The Macahans (TV movie)Narrator
1977The City (TV movie)Narrator
1977The Force of Evil (TV movie)Narrator
1977Moonshine County ExpressJack Starkey
1977The Making of Star WarsNarrator
1977Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (TV series)Host and narrator
1977–1978How the West Was Won (TV series)Narratoruncredited
1978Night Cries (TV movie)Dr. Whelan
1978Keefer (TV movie)Keefer
1979Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (TV movie)Narratoruncredited
1979The Rebels (TV movie)Narrator
1979–1981Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (TV series)Narrator
1980Battles: The Murder That Wouldn't Die (TV movie)William Battles
1980The Return of the King (TV movie)Lord Denethor (voice)
1980Turnover Smith (TV movie)Thaddeus Smith
1980The Return of Frank Cannon (TV movie)Frank Cannon
1980Jockey (TV documentary movie)Host (Himself)Directed by Martin Pitts Written by John Underwood
1980The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour (TV series)The Lone Ranger (voice)as J. Darnoc
1981Nero Wolfe (TV series)Nero Wolfe
1981Side Show (TV movie)Ring Announcer (voice)
1982The Cremation of Sam McGee:
A Poem by Robert W. Service
1982Police Squad! (TV series)Stabbed Man"Testimony of Evil"
1982Shocktrauma (TV movie)Dr. R. Adams Cowley
1983The Mikado (TV movie)The Mikado
1983Trauma Center (TV series)Narrator
1983Manimal (TV series)Narrator
1984Murder, She Wrote (TV series)Major Anatole Karzof"Death Takes a Curtain Call"
1985In Like Flynn (TV movie)Sergeant Dominic
1986Hotel (TV series)Art Patterson"Shadows of a Doubt"
1986Killing Cars (de)Mr. Mahoney
1986Vengeance: The Story of Tony Cimo (TV movie)Jim Dunn
1986Matlock (TV series)D. A. James L. McShane"The Don"
1987The Highwayman (TV movie)Narratoruncredited
1987The Highwayman (TV series)Narratoruncredited
1987–1992Jake and the Fatman (TV series)Jason Lochinvar "Fatman" McCabe
1991Hudson HawkNarrator


1955Highway Patrol (TV series)"The Trap"
1958Target (TV series)"The Unknown"
1959Mackenzie's Raiders (TV series)"The Pen and the Sword"
1959Bold Venture (TV series)"Go Fight Sidney Hall"
"Dial M for Mother"
"Oh Kaplan, My Kaplan"
"The Last Hungry Man"
"One of Our Friedkins Is Missing … Fine"
"The Glittering Skull of Irving Tezcula"
1959The Rifleman (TV series)"Three Legged Terror"
1959The Rough Riders (TV series)"Deadfall"
1959–1960This Man Dawson (TV series)
1959–1960Tombstone Territory (TV series)"Marked for Murder"
"The Black Diamond"
"Silver Killers"
"The Governor"
1959–1961Bat Masterson (TV series)"Wanted: Dead"
"The Reluctant Witness"
"The Good and the Bad"
"Ledger of Guilt"
1960Lock-Up (TV series)"Poker Club"
"So Shall Ye Reap"
1960Men into Space (TV series)"Mission to Mars"
"Mystery Satellite"
1960Klondike (TV series)"Klondike Fever"
"Saints and Stickups"
1960–1961The Case of the Dangerous Robin (TV series)"The Nightmare"
"The Caper"
1961The Aquanauts (TV series)"The Stakeout Adventure"
1961Route 66 (TV series)"First Class Mouliak"
1961Naked City (TV series)"A Kettle of Precious Fish"
"The Day the Island Almost Sank"
"Bridge Party"
1961–1962Target: The Corruptors! (TV series)"Prison Empire"
"Play It Blue"
"Babes in Wall Street"
"My Native Land"
"A Man's Castle"
"Journey into Mourning"
"A Book of Faces"
"Yankee Dollar"
1962Saints and Sinners (TV series)"A Night of Horns and Bells"
1962–1963Have Gun–Will Travel (TV series)"One, Two, Three"
"Don't Shoot the Piano Player"
"Darwin's Man"
"A Miracle for St. Francis"
"The Black Bull"
1962–1963GE True (TV series)"Harris vs. Castro"
"The Handmade Private"
"The Last Day"
"Man with a Suitcase"
"Mile-Long Shot to Kill"
"The Wrong Nickel"
"The Amateurs"
"Open Season"
"Defendant Clarence Darrow"
"The Moonshiners"
"Security Risk"
"The Black-Robed Ghost"
"Pattern for Espionage"
"The Tenth Mona Lisa"
196377 Sunset Strip (TV series)six episodes
1963The Man from Galveston
1963–1964Temple Houston (TV series)"Billy Hart"
"Thy Name Is Woman"
"A Slight Case of Larceny"
"The Gun That Swept the West"
"The Town That Trespassed"
1963–1971Gunsmoke (TV series)"Panacea Sykes"
"Captain Sligo"
1965Two on a Guillotine
1965My Blood Runs Cold
1981Side Show (TV movie)


1957The Way Back
1959–1960This Man Dawson (TV series)
196377 Sunset Strip (TV series)"88 Bars"
1965Two on a Guillotine
1965My Blood Runs Cold
1966An American Dream
1967First to Fight
1967A Covenant with Death
1967The Cool Onesexecutive producer
1968Countdownexecutive producer
1968Assignment to Killexecutive producer
1980Turnover Smith (TV movie)executive producer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "California Death Records" October 18, 2010
  2. ^ Ancestry.com. State of California. California Death Index, 1940–1997. Sacramento, CA, USA: State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics
  3. ^ Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census, Olustee, Jackson, Oklahoma
  4. ^ Kahana, Yoram, "The Wolfe Man in His Lair." The Australian Women's Weekly, January 29, 1982, pp. 95–96. Retrieved from the National Library of Australia, May 27, 2013
  5. ^ Cedar Rapids Tribune, January 13, 1955
  6. ^ Hayward, Anthony (February 14, 1994). "Obituary: William Conrad". The Independent (London). 
  7. ^ a b William Conrad at the National Radio Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Dunning, John, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1998 ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3 hardcover; revised edition of Tune In Yesterday (1976)
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ The CBS Radio Workshop. J. David Goldin, radioGOLDINdex database. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
  12. ^ "Warner Brothers Names Conrad to Head Feature Unit." The New York Times, December 14. 1965. "Mr. Conrad … has been under contract to the studio as a producer-director for the last four years."
  13. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward , eds., Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1979, p. 41.
  14. ^ Christopher, Nicholas, Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 (revised ed., Emeryville, California: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2006, p. 231).
  15. ^ Berry, Heidi L., "Lights, Camera, Auction! Movie Memorabilia Is This Month's Star, From Mae West's Bed to a Maltese Falcon," The Washington Post, December 1, 1994. "Maltese Falcon, Other Movie Memorabilia, Sold at Auction," Associated Press, December 6, 1994. The purchaser was Ronald Winston, president of Harry Winston, Inc. jewelers.
  16. ^ LeDuff, Charles, "Bird Made Him a Sleuth". The New York Times, June 29, 1997
  17. ^ "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful – Iron Eyes Cody". Ad Council, The Classics. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  18. ^ a b Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), p. 107
  19. ^ "Question: I tried to think of…" TV Guide, August 10, 2004. Retrieved 2013-05-27.
  20. ^ "Man of Substance; William Conrad's Gruff, Oversize Presence Was a Perfect Fit for Cannon and Jake and the Fatman". People, February 28, 1994. Retrieved 2013-05-26.
  21. ^ "General Forum on Genealogy". genforum.genealogy.com. Retrieved December 26, 2008.  "Tippy Stringer Conrad, TV weather girl in 1950s", The Boston Globe, October 27, 2010. "Tipton 'Tippy' Stringer Huntley Conrad", Lone Peak Lookout (Big Sky, Montana), October 14, 2010
  22. ^ Brown, Emma, "Tippy Stringer Huntley Conrad, charming D.C. weather beauty, dies at 80". The Washington Post, October 23, 2010
  23. ^ Bourdain, G. S., "William Conrad, 73, TV Actor In 'Fatman' and 'Cannon' Series". The New York Times, February 13, 1994
  24. ^ "William Conrad at the Radio Hall of Fame". 

External links[edit]