As the longest-running radio show in America prepares to celebrate its 82nd birthday in Nashville this weekend, there are many reflecting on the many voices and musicians that make the Grand Ole Opry a true slice of Americana. At the center of the current Opry stage, there is a large wooden circle that was taken from the Ryman Auditorium stage, “The Mother Church Of Country Music”, where country legends once stood and sang for many decades. When most people recall the Opry stars they talk about the folks who stood in that famous circle and made music. (Part of the circle can be seen in the photo above. Garth Brooks, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, and Little Jimmy Dickens are shown.)
But just off to the side of the stage there stands a podium where the announcing staff for each broadcast adds their talent to WSM’s signature show. It was there that Grant Turner became for many a household name, as he would announce “now let’s go center stage as the big red curtains rises….”
I concede that many will not have ever heard of his name, or if so, may have forgotten him. But as Nashville celebrates, along with classic country music fans everywhere, it is important to recall the name and sounds of Grant Turner.
His voice and pleasant conversational style were one of the reasons I had my radio tuned often to AM 650 as a teenager. On the weekends he would introduce the host of the half-hour (or quarter-hour portion) of the Grand Ole Opry. In between the music he would read the advertising scripts for the many products that were colorful and nostalgic. Today most of us hate commercials, but Grant Turner made the ads fun. In fact, the Grand Ole Opry ads were a part of the show and still are. The products were perfect additions for Grant’s homey gentle readings for items such as Martha White Flour, or Goo Goo Clusters . This all was just another in a long list of reasons that I fell in love with the radio.
He made his work sound effortless and easy. The fact that it came across that way is a testimony to his professionalism. Anyone who has worked behind a broadcast microphone knows that it is not as easy as it looks…or sounds. But Grant was able to blend his down-home sensibilities with broadcast know-how in such a way as to encourage us to invite him into our homes.
And millions invited him in each week.
Perhaps the reason he understood his role so well on the Opry stage was that he started in radio as a teenager on KFYO, a small station in Abilene, Texas. While still in high school he announced for the station, and also had his own show called “Ike And His Guitar.” He would work in radio for many years, and major in journalism while in college. But on D-Day 1944 he started his work at WSM, which made him famous. In just a few months he became a Saturday night announcer for the Grand Ole Opry.
He was on that world-famous stage on Friday night in October 1991 doing what he loved best. When the radio show concluded he went home. The big red curtain had come down on his last announcing performance on WSM radio. The next evening every performer gave a nod to the podium and a few kind words about Grant Turner who had died at home from a heart attack.
Grant Turner proves that every star of the Grand Ole Opry did not have to stand in the famed circle on stage. As we look back on the memories from 82 years of the Opry, let us recall that for 47 of those years there was the gentle voice from just out of the spotlights that made us all a part of the larger radio family.
It is a rare talent that can make so many people feel so included for so long.