PRESENTED BY THE
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.
handles Prairie Farmer Bulletin Board, meets visitors.
character actor, usually heard in old man parts, writes several programs.
Has a dozen "voices."
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
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
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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