PRESENTED BY THE
ROCKABILLY HALL OF FAMEŽ MERCHANDISE & SERVICES
John Baker is a busy young man. Handles School Time daily. Everybody's Hour Sunday morning, in charge of special events, and often herd on Dinnerbell Time.
Check Stafford handles Prairie Farmer Bulletin Board, meets visitors.
Dan Hosmer, character actor, usually heard in old man parts, writes several programs. Has a dozen "voices."
Edythe Dixon, experienced newspaper woman, handles station publicity.
Otto and the Novelodeons, although highly skilled musicians, are always inventing comical new arrangements. Above, from left to right, Otto (Ted Morse), Zeb Hartley, Art Wenzel, Buddy Gilmore. In front, Bill Thall. Strange as it may seem, they are serious minded young men, Otto (little Genevieve) being most serious of all. He was formerly a school band director.
THE CHURCH QUARTET
Sunday morning listeners are well acquainted with these four fine young people, The Little Brown Church Quartet. They are: Lois and Reuben Bergstrom, Ruth Slater and Vernon Gerhardt. They have been heard for several years as part of the church service on Sunday mornings.
As you look at charming Virginia Lee, (above) you may not know it but you are also looking at dear old Sunbeam, for this versatile young lady takes both parts. Native of the South, she is well qualified to write and interpret the interesting experiences of the Southern girl whose life she portrays.
He tells tall stories so convincingly that you almost want to believe they're true. Youngest of six children, 23 years old, born near Durant, Oklahoma, graduated in journalism from Oklahoma University. Came to WLS direct from college, after having local radio experience in Oklahoma. Studious, polite, and well liked by everybody. Real name is Donald Allen. Arrived in Chicago driving a cattle truck because he didn't have bus fare.
The Hoosier Sod Busters are so well known and well liked that little more needs to be said about them. They have developed harmonica and guitar music into real art. Sometimes use four five harmonicas in the same piece. Standing, Reggie Cross; sitting, Howard Black. They have made hundreds of personal appearances.
THE WLS QUARTET
A new group, organized late in 1937, rapidly gaining favor. They sing the fine old melodies preferred by WLS listeners. Left to right (below) they are: Paul Nettinga, first tenor; Ken Stevens, second tenor; Robert Speaker, baritone; John Neher, basso. Talented young men, you'll like them better the oftener you hear them.
Another Look at the WLS History
During the early years of Country music commercialization on radio, the National Barn Dance out of Chicago, reigned as the most significant of the live-audience broadcast, jamboree-type programs. The WLS Barn Dance originated on April 19, 1924 when station officials put together a program designed to appeal to rural folk with square dance-type fiddle music and vocals. A vice president of Sears Roebuck and Co. who owned the station found the initial April 19 broadcast offensive to his sophisticated ears, but dropped his objections when he realized how much listeners liked the program. George D. Hay was the first announcer and he later went on to initiate the Grand Ole Opry.
Early performers on the program included folks like Grace Wilson, Chubby Parker, Walter Peterson, and Tommy Dandurand, but the first real star was the Kentucky ballad singer Bradley Kincaid who began with the show in 1926. Stars of lesser stature included Pie Plant Pete (Claud Moye), Arkie the Arkansas Woodchopper (Luther Ossenbrink), and the blind duo of Mac and Bob (Lester McFarland and Robert Gardner). Early programs were performed in front of a live audience of about one hundred from a small theater in the Sherman Hotel although shows held elsewhere drew crowds of 10,000 and 20,000.
Beginning in March, 1932, the National Barn Dance played to two sell-out crowds of 1,200 each Saturday night for the next twenty-five years, at the purpose-built TV studio at the Eighth Street Theater. By then star performers included Gene Autry, who subsequently became Hollywood's premier singing cowboy, his later comic sidekick, Smiley Burnette, Red Foley and the Cumberland Ridge Runners with Karl and Harty, George Gobel, Patsy Montana, the Prairie Ramblers, Louise Massey, and somewhat later Country radio's all-time favorite couple, Lulu Belle and Scotty.
From May, 1932, the NBC network carried a half-hour of the program. By the late 40's, the National Barn Dance had lost some prestige due to increasing concentration of the Country music industry in Nashville and at the Grand Ole Opry, but could still make its share of waves. Folks like Bob Atcher, Dolph Hewitt, the DeZurick Sisters, and the comic duo of Homer and Jethro had star stature and the station that gave America its first singing cowboy star in Autry also provided its last in Rex Allen. The ABC-TV network carried a half-hour of the show for thirty-nine weeks in 1949 and by the time the Eighth Street Theater closed at the end of August 1957, some 2,617,000 paid customers had seen the program live.
The Barn Dance continued until March 1960 when WLS changed formats and terminated the program. However, the show did not die. With Hewitt providing the leadership, the Barn Dance moved over to WGN radio and initiated a syndicated version for television as well. Atcher, Hewitt, Arkie the Arkansas Woodchopper, and comedian Don "Red" Blanchard from the older days became mainstays of the rejuvenated program, assisted by such newer artists as Ruth and Edith Johnson, instrumentalists Bob and Bobbie Thomas, Holly "Cousin Tilford" Swanson, and the Sage Riders band. Kapp Records released a good sampler album of Barn Dance performers from this period. Under this format the show continued until 1969.
During its period of existence, only the slightly younger Grand Ole Opry rivaled the National Barn Dance in significance and overall only the Opry and the Wheeling Jamboree survived longer on a major station. In a sense, virtually all the great radio barn dances emulated the one in Chicago and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance and the Boone County Jamboree/Midwestern Hayride could be characterized as direct spin-offs since John Lair started the former when he left Chicago for Cincinnati.
The WLW management initiated the Hayride when Lair moved his operation to is permanent home in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. Overall, it is quite difficult to overestimate the importance that the National Barn Dance played in the growth of Country music on radio in the second quarter of the 20th century. Sadly, no anthologies of the music of performers from that era have ever been released.
-Ivan M. Tribe
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