WSM Grand Ole Opry
The mother church of country music. The oldest, continuing radio
show broadcast in the United States. It wasn't the first. But it
has outlasted most if not all to become the most recognized live
weekly radio broadcast show.
The beginning of the show trace its roots back to the Solemn Old
Judge, George D. Hay. He was no stranger to the live barn dance type
radio shows. He was hired away from WLS in Chicago where he had
started what became known as the WLS National Barn Dance show which
became one of the longest running shows itself. Mr. Hay came
to Nashville on October 5, 1925 for the dedication of the
inauguration of radio station WSM. One month later, he had
joined the station itself.
The Solemn Old Judge
had a keen sense of what his listening audience would enjoy. At 8:00pm on
November 28, 1925 he launched what was first called the "WSM Barn Dance",
and the show began with George D. Hay and Uncle
Jimmy Thompson, an eighty-year old fiddler who could fiddle the "taters off teh vine"
as the entire cast. Uncle Jimmy claimed to have known a thousand tunes.
Mr. hay asked the listening audiences if they had any requests
and soon the telegrams came pouring into WSM. Uncle Jimmy was on for an
hour and Mr. Hay asked him if he had fiddled enough. Uncle Jimmy replied,
"Why shucks, a man don't get warmed up in an hour." He boasted that he had
just won an eight day fiddling contest in Dallas, Texas. Uncle Jimmy
was accompanied by Mrs. Eva Thompson Jones on piano. Could you
imagine such a show starting in this day and age with all the demographic
studies and everything else that goes along with that before station
managers put a show on the air? Back then, the Solemn
Old Judge used his instincts to provide entertainment he thought his listening
audience would enjoy.
Soon, the popularity of the show began to grow. Folks would be allowed
to come to the studios and listen to the show and be a part of the
broadcast. But soon, they outgrew their home.
Around that time, Edwin W. Craig, an official of the National Life
Company suggested that the construction of a new studio be done, and
thus, Studio C was built, capable of holding an audience of 500. But
it soon became apparent that the studio wasn't going to be enough. A search
for a new home began and soon they found the Hillsboro Theatre, whidch
was a former movie house in what was then the southwest part of the city.
But the audiences continued to grow. They just couldn't get enough
of good ole hillbilly music.
There was a huge tabernacle across the Cumberland River in East Nashville
that became available. The floor was said to be covered in sawdust
and had splintery benches, but the audiences outgrew this location, too
in about two years.
In July 1939, they moved to the War Memorial Auditorium and at that
time they decided to charge an admission fee of 25 cents to hopefully
curb the size of the audience. But it wasn't to be. The weekly crowds
average over 3,000 folks.
Finally, in 1943, the Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium out of necessity.
The Ryman had been built in 1891 as the legend goes, by a riverboat
captain by the name of Tom Ryman. He came to a religious tent meeting
to heckle a preacher, but instead stayed and converted his life. He then
built the structure for the Reverend Sam Jones. Because there was a
Confederate Veterans reunion in 1897, a balcony was added
for the meeting to the auditorium. By then, the Ryman could seat some
And there the Opry stayed until March 16, 1974 when the new Opryland complex
opened. But still, the Ryman Auditorium kept its place in history. On
occasion, the Opry moves its shows to the Ryman to keep in touch with
its historical base. Shows are still held there. Fans can also take
tours of the home of Country Music as some will call it.
This author can remember visiting the old Ryman Auditorium in the heat
of a summer with his family. People were lined up outside the auditorium,
waiting for their turn to attend the show. Hand fans were being sold
by little kids in the streets, surely no one would want to not get one
as the heat was stifling. In the street, one could hear the music being
played over the loudspeakers at a nearby record store. We can remember
Charley Pride's latest tune being played then - a song from a cut of his
Tenth Album, "Able Bodied Man"; yes, we remember trivial details.
Through the years, we made several pilgrages to visit the show,
with a college roommate, with family or alone. If you go to Nashville,
you make a point to attend WSM's Grand Ole Opry.
This begins our trip into history of the Grand Ole Opry. We have to
start somewhere. We'll update the page from time to time with more
tidbits on the history of the Opry. Each time you visit, you'll see
a different list of the Grand Ole Opry in its earlier days. For now,
we'll leave you with this sign-off by the Solemn Old Judge himself,
George D. Hay:
The tall pines pine,
The pawpaws pause,
And the bumble-beee bumbles all day;
The eavesdropper drops,
And the grasshopper hops,
While gently the ole cow slips away
Judge Hay's Valediction