Randall "Randy" Atcher was the fifth child in a family of eight siblings, born
in Tip top, Kentucky. When he was just eight months old, his family
moved to the Red River valley of North Dakota. The family was a musical
one. In fact, you might know one of his brothers, Bob Atcher, who
was a long-time star on the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago.
He attended grade and high school at West Point, Kentucky and graduated
salutatorian of his class.
But when Randy was 12 years old, the family moved back to Kentucky, but
his professional began to take shape.
He sang and played both the guitar and mandolin at radio station
WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky when he was on
vacation from school and on Saturdays, too up to his graduation from
high school. He enrolled in Western Kentucky State college to continue
his education, but a catastrophic flood in 1937 caused those plans to change
for him and many others as they struggled to rebuild their family
homes and recover from the floods. During that time, he continued
to perform on WHAS, until one day the time came when things were
back to seemingly normal at home. Randy left Louisville, looking
for the future.
In 1938, he formed his first band in Chicago
and soon found his talents were noticed
by another music-world professional, Ben Bernie and he appeared
with him on radio stations WJJD and WBBM, singing before the larger
listening audiences that Chicago offered and was soon gaining a loyal
following of fans. A WHAS write-up on the Randy Atcher show mentions
that Randy was with the Ben Bernie Show on the CBS Network in 1941.
World War II interrupted his career as it did for many artists and
worked his way up to the rank of Air Force major during his
three and a half years service. When he returned
from the service, he had another surprise for his friends and family,
his new wife Daphne, a native of Australia, who he had met and
fallen love with.
He restarted his musical career when he came back, working on the
radio stations. It was at this time that his career saw him
earn a recording contract with the MGM record label and also
become a star of the WHAS Old Kentucky Barn Dance radio show.
It seems coming back to his home state a third time proved to be the
lucky charm. He returned to WHAS radio and the new WHAS-TV
in March of 1950. He formed the Red River Ramblers in 1951.
During his long tenure at WHAS, he became synonymous with a show
that was aired when the WHAS-TV first went on the air in June of 1951,
a birthday show called "T-Bar-V Ranch". It originated from the studios
of WHAS every Friday night and was one of the highest rated of
Louisville-originated shows then. This half-hour show was on at 4:00pm, Monday
through Friday and much as other entertainers have found over the years,
Randy found a lot of joy in working with the little kids on the show
because of the "...free way they express themselves".
Kids all across Kentuckiana knew they were in for a good time when
Randy and his sidekick, Cactus (Tom Brooks) would start off the
T-Bar-V Ranch birthday party show with "One Little, Two Little,
Three Little Cowboys...". The show would have country songs,
interviews with the kids that you know would just be full of surprises
as well as a birthday cake and the comedy of Cactus.
The show also helped out mom and dad at home, too, for it seems
Randy and Cactus would inject little health and safety reminders
into the dialogs of those daily shows. As testament to the sway they
held over the kids, it was reported that scores of parents would
call Randy and Cactus and implore them to tell the youngster at home
that they needed to drink their milk and eat right to grow up to be
big like them.
A promotional item for the show indicates that in November 1953,
the White Castle Systems chose the T-Bar-V show to pitch its hamburgers
three days a week. A year later, ad spots opened up for the other two
days and White Castle quickly snatched up the time over a full 52-week
schedule. The Greater Louisville First Federal Savings and Loan
Association also saw the benefits of their show - they started sponsoring
the show on December 11, 1950 and in three years, reportedly 15,000
children had opened accounts from that advertising.
In a testament to the kids, the release mentions that the 'salesmen' for
T-Bar-V were the 25 or so birthday-celebrating kids that were a part
of the show each day. They were the shows best salespersons as they would
tell everyone when they got back home of the grand experience they had
on the show.
Randy was the star of the show and did most of the commercials, but
his beloved sidekick, "Cactus" Tom Brooks was noted as "...the world's
worst cook and the victim of every prank on T-Bar-V." He had played
the role for many years - as the "...off-key singin', miniature
guitar-pickin' refugee from the Chuck Wagon." In short, the kids loved him.
The show ended without fanfare one Friday in 1970 - when the station manager
told him simply, 'That's you're last show.' And on the following
Monday noted an May 2001 article, the station began airing reruns
of syndicated shows such as My Favorite Martian which were apparently
more profitable to carry than a local, live show. Sadly, not one tape
of the show was ever made. But Randy notes, the people still remember it
fondly. And they held a reunion show of sorts in May 2001, with the
net proceeds from the dinner going to the WHAS Crusade for Children,
for which Randy had been a part of for many years as well as hosting
the local segments at times for the Jerry Lewis Telethons.
A press release from WHAS from August 1953 announced that Randy Atcher
and the Old Kentucky Barn Dance would be a part of the CBS network
Saturday night broadcast lineup on a show called "Saturday Night -
Country Style" every third week. The CBS show would rotate among
various live barn dance / jamboree type shows and we often see
audition tapes and transcripts for this show.
The press release mentions that Randy sang, "hillbilly, western
and folk songs" and was a "fine yodeler". In 1953, he had two daily
quarter-hour shows on WHAS and hosted the Saturday night Barn Dance
In reviewing a page of a WHAS Radio News piece promoting WHAS
events at the Kentucky State Fair in 1959, it seems Randy was
quite a one-man gang at WHAS in those days. And a write-up on his twice
a day show mentions he was booked for personal appearances 12 months
At 12:15pm each day, he hosted a show called "Randy Sings Ballads".
Then at 1:00pm, Randy and the Red River Ramblers did an hour show.
On Saturdays, he did the "Country Record Shop" show from 7:30pm
to 8:30pm, which also had his son, Ranny, working with him on the
show. In fact, his son, a teen-ager then, was good at helping his
dad find some of the new hit tunes of the day and also exposed
his dad to some of the younger crowds liking of rock music. But he noted
in an undated TV Guide interview that his son was playing the guitar
already and noted, "He plays much better than I did at that age."
And then there was the WHAS Old Kentucky Barn Dance
that was on Saturdays then from 6:00pm to 7:00pm. And the popularity
of the barn dance show was such that it was featured on two Saturday
nights at the Kentucky State Fair in 1959 - September 12 and 19.
The WHAS Radio News piece mentions that the show would
on occasion be held in other locations and had more than 100,000
people attend the show in a single year as it appeared "...throughout
Kentucky and southern Indiana." They mention that the show even
appeared at the Indiana State Fair.
An undated TV Press article notes that many people talked of the
18,500 people who attended the Hayloft Hoedown at the Jefferson
County Armory one February as well as another 13,000 who saw the show
at one Kentucky State Fair. But there was a memorable show that 5,000
saw in the summer of 1951 when the show was at the Kentucky State Fair.
The article relates one of the humorous moments in the long run of the
show and of course, Randy was at the center of it.
It was the height of opening Friday night at the Kentucky State Fair
the Square Dance contest had gotten down to the final four teams
and the winning team would be chosen during the "Hoedown" program, which
had been increased to an hour that night.
The show opened just as it usually did - the dancing, the playing
of the sponsor's theme, with the cast singing the closing line, "Goin'
to the Hoedown in a Brand New Ford..." And then announcer Ed Mills
would step up to the microphone and with the enthusiasm an emcee could
stir up, and announce, "And now here's your cowboy star of the Hayloft
Hoedown, Randy Atcher!".
As you might expect, the crowd rose in unison to give Randy a
thunderous standing ovation. The cameras on stage and on a raised
platform were zeroed in on Randy. The script called for him to ride
a 'borrowed' horse, rear it back, hop off and then just go right
up to the microphone and commence singing the opening song.
But the horse had other things on its mind. It reared up, then refused
to go towards the stage. Randy struggled for a few moments to stay on the
bucking horse, but finally had to slide off. Then ran the last 60 yards
to the stage and just about out of breath, started singing the opening
song that night, "I Wanna Ride, Ride, Ride (Down the Trail to San Antone)".
Randy had tried before the show to get the horse used to the crowd noise,
riding him back and forth in the noisy atmosphere. And he had succeeded
in calming the horse. But before the show started, a producer thought
that Randy and the horse were 'too dark' and ordered that a big 1,000 watt
spotlight be shone on them. And it probably spooked the horse like a bolt
of lightning and at the same time, the loud ovation from the crowd starting
off, too. Needless to say, they reported he brought his own horse the
next week. And in one last jab, the article mentions that when the Hoedown
show was to go to the Armory on December 12 (1952) for the debut of the
1953 Ford, they noted, "...you can bet Randy will leave the horse at home."
A TV Guide interview with Randy notes that Randy and the Red River
Ramblers were the stars of a TV show over WHAS called "Hayloft Hoedown"
at the time and had been on the air nearly seven years. Its format
had changed little over the years, and the Hayloft Hoedowners were
added later and he noted in the interview, "The pretty young singers
are the ones we have a hard time holding."
Randy Atcher and his Red River Ramblers (seemingly the inspiration
for the name of his band comes from the days of his growing
up in the Red River valley area of North Dakota) were the mainstays
of the WHAS Old Kentucky Barn Dance. The Red River Ramblers were
quite a group of talented entertainers.
George Workman was the bass and banjo player for the group and had
been with WHAS since 1946. But his first appearance on H-A-S, as they
called it back then, was in 1937 with Sunshine Sue and the Rock Creek
Shorty Chesser, was called the "self-appointed honorary Mayor of
Pleasure Ridge Park, Kentucky." He was known for the novelty numbers
he did as well as his guitar playing. He became a part of Randy Atcher's
group in 1949.
Bernie Smith started on WHAS in 1937 and played both the guitar and banjo.
He played with the Burl Ives band in 1946, but returned to Louisville.
Sleepy Marlin was an international fiddle champion and had been a star
over WHAS since 1951 and was said to have won "...just about every
major fiddling contest conducted."
Also mentioned were Bobby Lewis and Judy Marshall who had started at
WHAS in their teens and had first appeared on the "Hi Varieties" show.
The Hayloft Hoedown would last another decade before finally
presenting its last show at 7:00pm on Saturday night January 2, 1971.
The show was a victim of its own success as well as the popularity
of country music at that time. The trend on television at the time
was toward "big budget, slickly produced, expensive show with
scads of big names." And it became apparent that local shows such
as this couldn't compete with the likes of the Glen Campbell show
or the Johnny Cash show. Seemingly the managers at the station felt
that while they enjoyed the relationship with Randy Atcher and the
Red River Ramblers, they felt a single station couldn't provide the
type of country show the "...public demands." The Hayloft Hoedown show
wasn't the only local show facing the axe at that time as WHAS also
dropped its local Wednesday night movie and began carrying the CBS shows,
Medical Center and Hawaii Five-O. The Hayloft Hoedown was first replaced
in its 7:00pm Saturday night slot by the "Truth or Consequences" game show.
Around the same time, Randy had auditioned with Tina Lou Wallace of the
American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville,
was accepted and had read for them since that time. In 1994, he scored
an award, the "Oscar" for reading, awarded by the American Foundation
for the Blind, the "Alexander Scourby" Award for nonfiction.
Randy is a Kentucky Colonel and has the distinction of being the only
performer (at that time - 1959) to have dedicated a room at Ft. Knox,
the "Western Music Room" and had a life-sized photograph of him on
A newspaper article in May 2001 notes that his wife Daphne died in
1977. Two years later, he married Elizabeth Thorne Blankenbaker, whose late husband
was a puppeteer on the old T-Bar-V Ranch show.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
- Randy Atcher, lead, vocals, guitar
- George Workman, bass, banjo
- Shorty Chesser, guitar, vocals
- Bernie Smith, guitar, banjo
- Sleepy Marlin, fiddle
- Tiny Thomale, piano
Credits & Sources
- *The Old Kentucky Barn Dance, 7:30-8:30pm, Saturday;
Press Release, August 1953; WHAS; Louisville, Kentucky
- Country and Western Jamboree; February 1957;
Volume 2, Number 11; Mahler Publications; Chicago, IL
- *T-BAR-V Data Sheet; Date Unknown
- *WHAS Radio News; Circa September 1959
- *Randy Atcher Recalls...Star of "Hayloft
- *The Randy Atcher Show with the Red River Ramblers;
Circa 1959; WHAS
- *He Just Wanted To Ride; TV Press;
circa late 1952;
- *'Hayloft Hoedown' show to go off the air Jan. 2;
Louisville Courier-Journal; James Doussard, Television critic;
December 19, 1970
- Voices of Talking Books; eyesight.org;
- It's T-Bar-V Ranch Time; Thomas Nord; Louisville
Courier-Journal; May 18, 2001
- * NOTE: We gratefully acknowledge and thank
Mr. Randy Atcher for providing us with copies of the articles denoted
by the asterisk as well as several of the photos.