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Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
WHO
Des Moines, IA

Iowa Barn Dance Frolic (WHO)

WOC — WHO Barn Dance Frolic - 1930's

WOC-WHO Barn Dance Frolic Cast - 1930's
Top row: Smiling Sam; Schultze's German Band; Happy Wheeler
Second Row: Klondike Ed; Frankie & Johnny; Harmonica Joe; Cranberry Bill's Jokers; The Four Novelty Aces; Elmer's Sunset Symphony; Gene Laffler (Announcer); John Behan (Musical Director)
Third Row (Seated): Operatic Hill-Billys; Louisiana Lou; Martha and Lem; The Calico Maids; Lars Larsen; Widow Smithers and Sadie
Fourth Row (Front): Pine Hollow Four

Promo Ad - KIOA - Stan Widney - Tone's Coffee - July 1948 Promo Ad - Iowa Barn Dance Frolic - October 1941

The show actually stated in Davenport, Iowa over radio staion WOC (sister/co-owned station to WHO) and then moved to Des Moines after a year. The 1931 broadcasts of the Barn Dance Frolic were thirty minutes.

In 1932 the program was moved to Des Moines. The show originated at first from the President Theater.

Later, the show expanded to a three hour production, and by 1935 was being held at the Shrine Auditorium which had a seating capacity of 4,200 seats. Many shows at this time were standing room only.

Iowa Barn Dance Frolic Promotional Ad - 1950's

Based upon a review of station information, it appears that by the late 1930s, the show had stabilized or standardized at a 2 hours and 15 minutes broadcast on Saturday nights.

It appears that programs were not broadcast during some of the summer months (perhaps July and August, this is not clear). One might suggest that the Barn Dance "stars" were on the fair circuits at that time and combine that with the fact that the auditorium was not airconditioned at that time, too.

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic — 1940

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic Cast - 1940
Front Row: Zelda Scott; Jimmy and Jaynane (Wilt); Lois Bullington
First Row (Seated on Floor): Reed Snyder (engineer); The Songfellows: Stu Steelman; Ken ; Harris White; Keith ; Norem Kids: Dode Norem, Bud Norem, Eddie Norem; Williams Brothers: Bob Williams, Don Williams, Dick Williams, Andy Williams
Second Row: Max Robinson; Tillie Boggs; Robert Blaylock; Stan Widney (announcer); J. O. Maland (VP Central Broadcasting Co.); Marge Calvert (of Judy and Jen); Harold Fair (WHO Program Director; Conductor WHO Concert Band); Sunset Corners Choir: (Three Little Girls Who Love To Sing): Ada Beth, Kay Neal, Virginia, Ruth; Lem and Martha; Captain Ernie Sanders
Third Row: Buddy Webster's Borerland Buckaroos; Glen Burklund; Jerry Smith; Sunset Corners Symphony: Hank, Don, Will Williams, Chuck and Fid
Fourth (back) Row: Eddie Lewis (harmonica king); Bill Austin; the Square Dancers and their caller; Max Allen (with funny hat); Dick Anderson; Jack Kerrigan (singing announcer)

WHO Barn Dance Frolic Ted Turner - Riverview Park - 1934

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic — 1948

WHO Barn Dance Frolic Cast - 1948

The Barn Dance continued to be held at Shrine Auditorium after World War II. In the late 1940s, KRNT Radio (Cowles Communications, owned by the same family that owned and controlled the Des Moines Register and Tribune) purchased the Shrine Auditorium. Za-Ga-Zig Temple was forced to sell because of financial problems. The name of the venue was changed to KRNT Theater, but on the Barn Dance show, it was identified as the "Radio Theater."

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic — 1951

WHO Barn Dance Frolic Cast - 1951
Back row: Bob Williams (announcer); Del Donahoo (announcer); Buckaroo Band: Red Scobee (five string banjo and bass; Slim Hayes (fiddle, vocals); Cec Hunsinger (accordion & band leader); Jack Lester (electric guitar, banjo); Roger Kent (trombone, clarinet); Cy Reeves, (clarinet); "Uncle Twid" Martin (comedy; fiddle Dosi Do Boys); Cowboy Em (Embert Misher - leader of Dosi Do Boys)
Middle Row: Lem Turner (comedy); Skeeter Bonn (Yodeler, vocals); Bill Austin (pianist); The Songfellows: Stu Steelman, Ken Black, Harris White, Bill Fisher; Mrs. Hogan; Shorty Hogan (Bell Family); Joe Zanotti (accordion; Dosi Do Boys); Roy Shaw (Bass; Dosi Do Boys); John Schweker (?)
Front Row (Seated): Tom Donovan (engineer); Cliff Carl (emcee and Manager); Ray and Kay Barnard, the Banjo Kids; Zelda Scott (vocals)-former singing partner of Jerry Smith, the Singing Cowboy and later with Bobby Dick); Lee Jacobs; Bonnie and Mike Hogan (Bell Family); Gene Godt (announcer and "old homely philospher"); Norval Ulrich (steel guitar - Dosi Do Boys; Clem and Little Buford with Roy Shaw)

Promo Ad - KIOA - Stan Widney - Tone's Coffee - July 1948 Promo Ad - Iowa Barn Dance Frolic - October 1941

When you browse the roster of folks and see some of their pictures, you can see the similarity to other Barn Dance shows but still done in a unique way for their local setting. The WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic was set in a fictional town of Sunset Corners, for several themes around that crop up for that town.

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic

Look at the backdrop on the cast photo above and you can see how the characters wove into the show. Lem Turner's Farm Implements - of Lem and Martha fame. Pappy and Cliff, probably Cliff Carl who worked with Shari Morning as "Mayor Tillie Boggs and Pappy Cliff". It is perhaps unfair to compare them to other shows, but one can't help but notice some similarities, perhaps each of them taking the best from others to find a way to strike a chord with their local audiences. Then there's a drawing in the book of the Sunset Corners Opry House. Sort of like a precursor to fictional towns like Lake Wobegon maybe?

Our correspondents tell us that the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic aired from 8:00pm to 10:00pm every Saturday night. At one time the show was being held at the Hoyt Sherman Theatre. Earlier, the show was held at the Shrine Auditorium.

From Radio Station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa each Saturday night, the tunes and and fun would go out to listeners far and wide. The show was staged at the Shriner's Auditorium back then in Des Moines. We learn in the 4th Edition of the "WHO Des Moines Picture Book" that Stan Widney was the producer, announcer and more for the show at one time.

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic Cast - 1953

The Barn Dance radio broadcast with its cast of performers continued until July 4, 1953 from the "downtown studios". The following week (July 11), the show broadcast was only one hour. On July 18, it was only one half hour followed by the Grand Ole Opry for a half-hour. This may have been the last radio broadcast. Dusty Owens wrote of how he and other "live" performers of WHO were notified of their dismissals from the staff. He said they came to work one day and he found two notices in his mailbox (yellow, not pink). They read:

"'Dusty Owens & His Rodeo Boys' program 7:45-8:00a.m., Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday is cancelled July 21 and thereafter, with last live program Saturday, July 4, and last recorded program Saturday, July 18."

"'Dusty Owens' Rodeo Boys with Mary Randolph' 5:40-6:00p.m., Monday through Friday, is cancelled July 6 and thereafter, with last program July 3. June 29 through July 3, the program will be ten minute duration, 5:40-5:50pm."
Dusty noted those notices came "out of the lbue like lightning with absolutely no previous warning, not even a hint or rumor." He said every one was dumbfounded. Later, they learned that the board of directors of the company had decided that television was going to be the main focus for WHO and the radio budget would be cut. The only members retained were the Buckaroos and The Songfellows.

The Barn Dance was also at one time broadcast on co-owned WHO-TV, Channel 13 for a time in the mid-1950s. Based upon information from Bob Williams, one of the directors of the program, the show was conducted in the television studios at 1100 Walnut Street. One of the sponsors was a local Lincoln-Mercury dealer.

WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic — Radio Broadcasts End 1953

Radio Log - July 4, 1953
Radio Log - July 11, 1953
Radio Log - July 18, 1953
Radio Log - July 25, 1953

Promo Ad - KIOA - Stan Widney - Tone's Coffee - July 1948 Promo Ad - Iowa Barn Dance Frolic - October 1941

Biographical details of some cast members:

  • Norval Ulrich - steel player - (B: January 21, 1916 — D: January 20, 1973)



Stuart Steelman (The Songfellows)



Shari Morning and Cliff Carl



Laura Ellen Holaday



Ruth Miller



Charles Pray (Chuck and Don)



Abbie Neal and the Ranch Girls



William (Bill) Austin

 

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank George Davison for the early history notes, based on WHO history files
  • Souvenir Program, W-H-O Iowa Barn Dance Frolic, circa 1930s
  • Email Correspondence with Dusty Owens to Author; May 17, 20020


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