While WSM and The Grand Ole Opry may be the flagship of traditional country radio that opens its arms wide and accepts bluegrass, this show/station combo wasn’t the only entry point for bluegrass and traditional music into the radio world.
The National Barn Dance, on the Sears-Roebuck owned WLS (The call letters stood for Worlds Largest Store.) in Chicago, was one of the longest running and most loved programs on radio. The show was a mixture of music, comedy, and drama that lasted for nearly 40 years. The show began on April 19, 1924. This was the first Saturday night after WLS went on the air. Edgar Bill, the original WLS station manager, comments:
We had so much highbrow music the first week that we thought it would be a good idea to get on some of the old time music. After we had been going about an hour, we received about 25 telegrams of enthusiastic approval. It was this response that pushed the Barn Dance!
The story behind the National Barn Dance will now be told on film in the form of a PBS documentary entitled The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance.
The film explores the interaction that the National Barn Dance created between sponsors, musicians, and listeners and how this dynamic profoundly altered country music and radio programming.
The production is co-sponsored by Kentucky Educational Television and WTTW National Productions in Chicago. PBS broadcast is expected to take place in the fall/winter of 2008.
In addition to the documentary, the University of Illinois Press will be publishing a book of essays and photographs about the National Barn Dance, to coincide with the film.
The film’s producers are still still seeking underwriters to support the completion of post-production and editing.
Anyone who might have an interest and the means to support this non-profit educational documentary is encouraged to contact Steve Parry in Chicago.
Producer: The Hayloft Gang