Bristol honors radio history

Richard Thompson has a put together a fine report on the renaming ceremonies in Bristol honoring WCYB. Gary Reid of Copper Creek Records and Penny Parsons of the Penny Parsons Company also contributed to this story.

WCBYThe Farm and Fun Time radio program, which was instrumental in bluegrass beginnings, now has recognition in downtown Bristol, on the Tennessee/Virginia state line. The thoroughfare previously known as Winston Alley has now been renamed as Farm and Fun Time Alley. WCYB’s radio show Farm & Fun Time was an important radio show in the history of early bluegrass music. The station featured many of the finest bluegrass and old-time artists of the period. The show had a loyal audience base in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. It was a highly influential part of the lives of many people from the region, some going on to become major bluegrass artists themselves.

The Stanley Brothers, circa 1948 at WCBY, Bristol, TN. Courtesy of Muleskinner News.Ralph and Carter Stanley, the Stanley Brothers, worked on the program from just after Christmas 1946. At that time, the program was approximately an hour long, from 12:05 to 1:00 and transmitted at 1,000 watts, increasing to 5,000 watts in September 1947. The program was then extended to fill a two-hour slot. In February 1957 the Stanley Brothers recorded The Flood of ’57 and a year later did No School Bus In Heaven, both for Mercury, utilizing the station’s studio. Also, shortly after leaving Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the fledgling Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys group found a niche on the program for about a nine month period through to March 1949.

The program was broadcast live from a studio in the General Shelby Hotel. It also helped to establish the careers of other legendary bluegrass performers, including the Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman, Carl Story, The Sauceman Brothers, and Curly King & Tennessee Hilltoppers, as well as the brother duet act the Blue Sky Boys.

Larry Gorley, Rhythm and Roots Music Committee official and DJ on WOPI’s Bluegrass Jamboree, shares this brief recollection of what Farm And Fun Time meant to him and his family ‚Ķ‚Ķ..

“I remember listening to this radio show as a boy and my most vivid memory is visiting my grandparent’s home in the country during summer vacation from school. They would stop whatever work was being done and gather around the kitchen table for lunch. And after the blessing was said, they would turn the kitchen radio on to WCYB and ‘Farm & Fun Time’. Listening to the program gave them great pleasure as well as the latest farm news and it was only in my later years that I found that so many others made it a point to be tuned into the show that could be heard in several states.”

Rhythm & Roots Reunion Chairman Ed Harlow offers this assessment of Farm And Fun Time in its heyday ……….

“The show rated in the same category as the Grand Ole Opry, Louisiana Hay Ride and shows from Wheeling and Charleston, West Virginia.”

An unveiling ceremony to honor the show that aired from 1946 to 1965 took place on site on Friday, September 14 as part of the weekend’s Rhythm & Roots Festival activities. About 40 enthusiasts joined officials in attendance.

Street sign just prior to the unveiling    Unveiling of the plaque (featuring Roy Webb, and two of Curly King's daughters)

You can read the report on the unveiling ceremony from the Bristol Herald Courier online.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.