Back in the early days of bluegrass, before that name even became associated with the music, the Farm and Fun Time show on WCYB radio in Bristol, VA was a regular stop for those performers that launched the style. Flatt & Scruggs, The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse, and Mac Wiseman were among the artists who appeared on the program, which aired first thing each weekday morning, mixing farm and weather reports with hillbilly music for rural listeners across Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
During the 1950s, the circuit worked by these bluegrass pioneers involved finding a radio program with sufficient reach, and appearing there for months on end. The stations paid the bands a fee, but the real money for them came by scheduling live shows in the afternoons and evenings within the listening area, but close enough to get back home in time for the next morning’s radio date.
Most acts would exhaust the live performance possibilities within 6-8 months, so they would move on to another station in a different region, while a different act would take their place. This is also where the tradition of selling records and merchandise at live shows got started, as attendees were eager to buy the song they had been hearing on the radio.
Farm and Fun Time ran on WCYB from 1946 through much on the 1950s, until rock n roll and rockabilly music took over the airwaves. But when The Birthplace of Country Music Museum kickstarted the program in 2017, it has been given a second life there in Bristol. Initially it ran during the noon hour once each week, but it has now been repurposed as a big, monthly show that airs on the second Thursday of the month, live from the Museum.
It has become popular as both live radio, with an old timey vibe, and as a destination event where locals and visitors line up to attend the broadcast in person. It includes a mix of live music and comedy, with some old fashioned storytelling thrown in for good measure. Even advertisements are delivered live, in the old time way. Music is typically provided in the bluegrass or old time style, and popular touring acts guest on each show.
Today the Birthplace of Country Music, who produces and transmits the show on their Radio Bristol channel, has announced an affiliation with Blue Ridge PBS in Roanoke that will allow the airing of the monthly show on television throughout southwest Virginia, and bordering counties in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina. It will be viewable through the three Blue Ridge PBS digital broadcast affiliates (WBRA-TV 15.1, Southwest Virginia PTV 15.2, and Blue Ridge PBS Kids 15.3), and on cable and satellite systems that carry their signal. Those include WBRA and Blue Ridge Create. It will also be available through Blue Ridge Streaming online.
The live radio shows will be recorded for rebroadcast, with the first set to debut at Blue Ridge PBS on Saturday, April 4, at 7:00 p.m. (EDT). Bill and The Belles will serve as hosts, a group led by Farm and Fun Times’ writer/producer, Kris Truelsen, who says that getting it TV has been a long time goal.
“The combination of homespun humor, heartwarming stories, and great live music have helped make Farm and Fun Time a big success for Radio Bristol, and most every show sells out. From the beginning we knew we had something special and have talked about syndicating the show for some time.”
A sentiment shared by Leah Ross, Executive Director of Birthplace of Country Music, the non-profit parent organization which manages the Museum and radio station.
“We have the world-class Birthplace of Country Music Museum – an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution – the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and Radio Bristol. Syndicating Farm and Fun Time is the next step in our organization’s growth. We hope for a long and mutually rewarding relationship with Blue Ridge PBS.”
There are 4 million people in the Blue Ridge PBS footprint, and if the show does well, it could be picked up by other affiliates in the larger PBS system.
Sounds like a second life for Farm and Fun Time, a great opportunity to share both traditional and contemporary roots and mountain music to a wider audience.
Well done all!