Most folks who have a broad sense concerning the evolution of radio in our country know of George D. Hay. He was affectionately known as the “The Solemn Old Judge”. He started the radio program WSM Barn Dance and shortly thereafter uttered a sentence that was a major step in creating the famed and deeply-loved Grand Ole Opry.
His one line has been repeated often in the annals of American broadcasting.
“For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on we will present the Grand Ole Opry.
That was in 1927.
On Saturday night, October 30, 2021, the longest continuously running radio show on WSM will air the 5000th broadcast of the Opry! What a remarkable history has been recorded over those decades.
To lend my voice and delight with this weekend I recorded and released a podcast episode on Wednesday that pays tribute to classic country music, WSM, and Grant Turner, an iconic voice of the Opry from the stage where all the radio magic happened.
We need to make sure this weekend Hay is remembered. I know the Opry will be front and center with his importance, and here is why.
Initially, he had been a newspaperman, on The Memphis Commercial Appeal. It was there that he earned his nickname, the Solemn Old Judge, covering jury trials and where he was first attracted to mountain music while attending a country hoedown in Mineral Springs, Ark. That gave Hay the inspiration for a “radio barn dance” after he became a radio announcer, first in Memphis and later at Chicago’s WLS, where he helped create “The National Barn Dance.”
Hay’s initial “WSM Barn Dance,” on Nov. 28, 1925, turned a lot of heads in Nashville; some people were horrified that the new prestige station of the National Life & Accident Insurance Company was allowing “those dreadful hillbillies” on its airwaves. In fact, Hay often had to fight the station moguls to keep the show on the air until it was noticed that “The Barn Dance” was selling an awful lot of insurance policies through its rural salesmen.
At 7 PM CST, nearly 96 years to the week the show made its debut, the Opry will take to the airwaves for the 5,000th time! The tradition continues!
And so it goes.