Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First Televised Opry Shows on PBS-March 4, 1978

On Saturday March 4, 1978, the Grand Ole Opry was televised on PBS, the Public Broadcasting Network. This was the first time in the Opry's history that the shows were televised in their entirety. This came about when the executives at PBS, faced with cuts in funding from the federal government, began looking at ways to raise additional funds. They came up with the idea of doing something that had never been done before, which was televising the Opry, and approached Opry executives with their idea. And, the Opry management was all for it.

Both shows were televised that night and it was so successful, that the live Opry shows were repeated for the next 3 years after that. Because PBS is commercial free, the Opry agreed not to display the sponsors names on the barn backdrop, as was normally done, and to ask the Opry performers not to mention the sponsors. The Opry also adjusted the times of their on air commercials. During the time when the Opry had their commercials, PBS did backstage interviews and other features regarding the Opry.

The Opry said prior to the broadcast that no special considerations would be made regarding the line up, just because the show was being televised. They would present a normal Saturday night show with the Opry's members. And, many of the Opry's members who were scheduled that night were very happy to be on television coast to coast. Several of the female members were quoted as saying that they would be dressing up a little bit more than normal. The Opry itself was thrilled with the broadcast as it gave many of their fans who could not go to Nashville and only listened to the show on WSM, the opportunity to see an Opry show.

One of the great mysteries from that night is what ever happened to a tape of that show. Many of us, and I have been in contact with many people, have been looking for a tape from that show. We know that at least one exists, but I have not come across it. I still think it could be a great marketing piece of history if the folks at the Opry ever decided to put it up for sale. It would be a great look back. I know some taped it at home and have bits and pieces of the show, but no one has stepped forward with a complete show.

To relive some memories, here is the line-up from both shows that Saturday night, March 4, 1978. I have included the song list from the artists, the sponsors, and the actual times that the segments ran. As you will notice, the 2nd show ended well past midnight. Hope you enjoy.

6:00: Vietti
Del Reeves(host): Two Dollars In The Jukebox; A Dime at A Time.
Stonewall Jackson: Don't Be Angry
George Hamilton IV: Cornbread, Beans, & Sweet Potato Pie
Lonzo & Oscar: When The Fields In The Valleys Turn Green
Billy Grammer: Birth Of The Blues
Willis Brothers: Boots & Saddle
Del Reeves: Folsom Prison Blues; Margaritaville

6:30: Mrs. Grissoms
Jimmy C. Newman(host): Diggy, Liggy, Lo
Jean Shepard: The Things That Might Have Been; It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angles; You Win Again; A Dear John Letter
Del Wood: Alabama Jubilee; Down Yonder
Bessyl Duhon: Opryland Special

6:45: Rudy's (6:51-7:06)
Archie Campbell (host): Make Friends
Skeeter Davis: I'll Fly Away
Osborne Brothers: Rocky Top
Archie Campbell: A.C. In N.Y. Last July

7:00: Shoney's (7:07-7:39)
Porter Wagoner(host): Big Wind's A Comin'
Connie Smith: How Great Thou Art
Don Williams: I've Got A Winner In You
Wilburn Brothers: Because He Lives
Don Gibson: Oh, Lonesome Me
Porter Wagoner: Cold Hard Facts Of Life; Carroll Country Accident; Green, Green Grass Of Home; Old Slewfoot

7:30: Goo-Goo (7:40-8:10)
Roy Acuff(host): Sunshine Special
Minnie Pearl: Careless Love
4 Guys: Cotton fields; Mariah
Crook Brothers: Lafayette
Roy Acuff: How Beautiful Heaven Must Be

8:00: Martha White (8:11-8:42)
Bill Monroe(host): My Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling
Stu Phillips: She Thinks I Still Care
Jan Howard: Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Charlie Louvin: Warm, Warm Woman
Justin Tubb: What's Wrong With The Way That We're Doing It Now
Wilma Lee Cooper: Poor Ellen Smith
Bill Monroe: Crying Holy Unto The Lord

8:30: Stephens (8:43-9:14)
Hank Snow(host): I'm Moving On
Ronnie Milsap: Stand By My Woman's Man; What Goes On When The Sun Goes Down; Day Dreams About Night Things; A Legend In My Time
Bill Carlisle: Leave That Liar Alone
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Nubbin Ridge
Hank Snow: I've Done At Least One Thing That Was Good In My Life

9:30: Kellogg's (9:44-10:15)
Porter Wagoner(host): Dooley
Jean Shepard: If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time
George Hamilton IV: Only The Best
Archie Campbell: The Interview
Osborne Brothers: Midnight Flyer
Willis Brothers: Bob
Porter Wagoner: Tennessee Saturday Night; On A Highway Headed South

10:00: Fender (10:15-10:32)
Bill Monore(host): Mary Jane, Won't You Be Mine
Ronnie Milsap: What A Difference You Made In My Life; Let My Love Be Your Pillow
Kenny Baker: The Lucky Lady

10:15: Union 76 (10:33-10:54)
Roy Acuff(host): Meeting In The Air
Don Williams: Amanda; Your My Best Friend
Billy Grammer: Georgiana Moon
Howdy Forrester: Cotton-Eyed Joe

10:30: Trailblazer (10:55-11:11)
Jimmy C. Newman(host): Colinda
Skeeter Davis: He Will Be There
Del Wood: Just Because
Jimmy C. Newman: Big Bayou

10:45: Beech-Nut (11:12-11:29)
Wilburn Brothers(host): Country Kind Of Feelings
Stu Phillips: I'd Rather Be Sorry
Jan Howard: Better Off Alone
Crook Brothers: Gray Eagle

11:00: Coca-Cola (11:30-11:55)
Hank Snow(host): Tangled Mind
Justin Tubb: You'd Never Be Happy With Me
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Cacklin' Hen
Wilma Lee Cooper: Bury Me Beneath The Willow
Kirk McGee: Freight Train
Hank Snow: Once More, You're Mine Again

11:30: Elm Hill (11:56-12:27)
Charlie Louvin(host): Let's Put Our World Back Together; A Toast To Mama; Love Has To Die All By Itself; I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow
Jeanne Pruett: Break My Mind; A Poor Man's Woman
Bill Carlisle: Amazing Grace
4 Guys: When Will I Be Loved
Charlie Louvin: Warm, Warm, Woman

There you have it. I can tell you that Lonzo & Oscar, Minnie Pearl and Stonewall Jackson were all scheduled for the 2nd show but canceled out. Hope you enjoy this look back and if you find a tape, let me know.


  1. Like you, I've been hunting for it! What wonderful memories this brought back. Thank you.

    Also, I am pretty sure that Marty appeared on a future telecast because you can see his performance of "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife" from the Opry stage on You Tube.

  2. Michael, I have the logs to all of the televised PBS shows and let me see if I can find what year that was. I know on one of the televised shows, Marty Robbins went on for over an hour on the last segment and on another year, the ended the televised portion on PBS and he continued on stage for another 45 minutes. He was unreal. I think I had it down that he did 13 songs that night.

  3. I know that he used to turn the clock back on the Ryman stage, and at one point, on Backstage at the Opry, Tony Lyons, then an Opry announcer, came up to him during an interview with Bill Anderson and gave Marty his own clock since Lyons was the one who had to stay until he finished.

  4. There are 3 videos on youtube from the Opry televised on PBS from March 1, 1980. I tried to contact the person who uploaded the videos to see if there was more (possibly the entire show), but did not recieve a reply. The links to the videos are below:

    Osborne Brothers - Take Me Home, Country Roads

    Vic Willis - Last Cheaters Waltz

    Osborne Brothers - Georgia Mules & Country Boys

    Hopefully more light will be shed on the origins of these films, and on the whereabouts of the tapes of the other shows that were broadcast on PBS.

  5. It is great to find someone who remembers these telecasts - they are almost never mentioned but were the first historical time that the Opry was telecasted in its entirety without interruption in color on television (the Opry had different eras with half hour segments televised, but these were not part of the Opry broadcasts from WSM, but shows that came before the actual broadcasts on Saturday nights, including Pet milk Oprys and the National Life Oprys). The usual interruptions were for commercials, and at times they did not go back to the stage when the hosting artist sang their last song for the segment. Thsi was because PBS used them for their drives to garner funds for the stations.

    The March 4, 1978 telecast was only for the first show and it went until 9:18 pm that evening, running over as usual. March 3, 1979 was the first night they telecasted the Opry live for both shows with a half hour pitch for PBS between 9 and 9:30. March 1, 1980 and March 14, 1981 also saw the Opry telecasted for both shows, although the final show in 1981 was cut short as described above. WSM used to also cut marty off in the early 1970s and in the late 1960s by doing exactly what PBS did that night - they played a previous show where Marty ended with "El Paso" and ended the televised part while Marty was actually singing other material on WSM (PBS ran out of money to telecast it later that night). Marty once sang until 4 am at the Ryman and signed autographs on the front steps of the Ryman until the sun was coming up Sunday morning, as I was once told by someone who was there.

    I used to keep a written log of every weekend on the Opry that I heard, and I never missed the Opry telecasts. I have them all on cassette as well and a couple of single three hour shows on video - though nothing complete.

    When I was employed through the winter months of 1985-6, I remember seeing those cannisters of reels from the PBS Opry shows in the audio production room at the Opry. They were neatly stacked and labelled as PBS OPRY with the year on the spines of the covers. Whatever happened to them beyond that time is a mystery to me - Gaylord has them I suspect, although Gaylord has never been friendly to National Life people since the late 1990s.

    I was told by Opry Manager Hal Durham that the concept behind telecasting the Opry was to leave it as genuine as it always had been and that the TV people would have to work around the radio schedule and leave the Opry intact as it always had been (Gaylord never followed this idea after the late 1990s) so that those who listened to the radio would hear the same show as the people watching on television and in the OIpry House. Gaylord could have learned a great deal from these recordings. They signify the last glory days of the Opry when the colorful backdrops were a huge part of the presentation of the show (making today's show an insignificant shadow to the PBS shows), which were taken out as soon as gaylord bought the show fro0m American General in July, 1983 (they were gone by the summer of 1984 - the last time the original canvas barn was used was during the weekend of Fan Fair in 1984).

    Anyone having those shows on tape I would be glad to see them and do some trading for them.


  6. I wonder what the outcome of this was? I saw one of these shows and actually taped it. It was erased later and I have been looking for a copy ever since.

  7. As many of us know, and this comes from experience in looking for copies of these shows, they are just about impossible to find. Bits and pieces will show up once in a while from private collectors or fans who taped them on VHS. As far as what Gaylord has or doesn't have, the assumption is that they have the originals, as once in a while they will play a clip from those shows. The Opry Museum had some in the Marty Robbin's exhibit. As far as why nothing has ever been done with them, I think there are some licensing and legal issues involved.

  8. I believe Marty closed the March 3, 1979 broadcast. I remember that night like yesterday glued to the TV so thrilled it was being broadcast. I, too, have hoped those shows would resurface. I'd give anything to see them. Please contact me, if anyone ever finds a copy! :-/