Saturday, October 12, 2013

Disc Jockey Convention/Opry's Birthday Weekend

As most of the Grand Ole Opry's annual birthday celebrations have taken place during the month of October, I thought it would be nice to take a few moments and review the history of the event and how it grew into what takes place each year.

Originally known as the DJ (Disc Jockey) Convention, it was organized to honor the Grand Ole Opry while consolidating Nashville's role in the country music industry. The event, which originally commemorated the Grand Ole Opry's Birthday Celebration, was suggested in 1951 by Harianne Moore of WSM's advertising department. The idea was for the country music artists to thank the disc jockeys for playing their records and promoting their concerts, while giving the disc jockeys the opportunity to meet the stars and to tape spots with the artists to be played on their local stations.

The first event took place in November 1952 and involved about 100 DJs, who were invited from a list that was furnished by Acuff-Rose Publications, which kept a national list of disc jockeys. They were welcomed to WSM radio and treated to a Grand Ole Opry show. The first year was considered enough of a success that it was repeated the following year and extended over two days, with record companies and publishers hosting receptions and BMI giving its first country music awards for radio airplay. In addition, DJs organized the Country Music Disc Jockeys Association, precursor to the CMA. By 1958 attendance had grown to over 2,000 with more and more entertainers taking part. In addition to the formal and informal parties, there were now panels on industry issues.

That same year the CMDJ disbanded and the CMA was organized. Since then, the CMA has taken over the event. In 1963, thanks to a push by the CMA, October was declared Country Music Month and the event, which had taken place in November, switched to October to take advantage of the better weather. As attendance continued to grow, the CMA organized their own awards show, along with ASCAP and SESAC, both industry publishing houses. In 1969, the first Country Radio Broadcasters seminar was held and the CRB soon established their own organization.

Because so many country music fans had begun coming to Nashville for the DJ Convention week, the CMA created a festival for just the fans, which was named Fan Fair. Fan Fair still exists today, but has been renamed the CMA Music Festival, while the Country Radio Broadcasters hold their own event.

While the DJ convention no longer exists as it once did, the Opry's Birthday Celebration, which was one of the primary reasons for the convention starting, continues. The birthday celebration grew into such a big event because the majority of Opry members would be in town for the event. That was how important the DJs were to their careers. However, as time goes on, and while the birthday celebration continues, it is not the primary event that it used to be.

As the Opry's birthday month continues, so do the line-ups from past birthday celebrations. On October 13, 1979, the 54th birthday show took place as part of the DJ convention. Here is the line-up from that year's show:

1st show:
6:00: Vietti
Billy Grammer (host): Gotta Travel On
Skeeter Davis: Isn't It Always Love/The Old Rugged Cross
Charlie Louvin: Will You Visit Me On Sundays/Love Don't Care
Billy Grammer: Steel Guitar Rag

6:30: Mrs Grissoms
Ray Pillow (host): Hungry Man's Dream
Del Wood: Keep on the Firing Line
Wilma Lee Cooper: A Daisy A Day
Ray Pillow: Super Lady

6:45: Rudy's
Ernest Tubb (host): Thanks A Lot
Ernie Ashworth: You Can't Pick A Rose In December
Tinker Tubb: Good Hearted Woman
Ronnie Dale: Sweet Memories

7:00: Shoney's
Porter Wagoner (host): Ole Slewfoot
Jan Howard: I Will Survive
Charlie Walker: Don't Play Me No Songs About Texas
Wilburn Brothers: Arkansas
Justin Tubb: What's Wrong With the Way That We're Doing it Now
Susan McCann: Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You
Porter Wagoner: Everything I've Always Wanted

7:30: Standard Candy
Roy Acuff (host): Wabash Cannonball
Jean Shepard: Virginia/Many Happy Hangovers to You
Stonewall Jackson: Come on Home
Crook Brothers: Sally Goodin
Roy Acuff: Lord, Don't Give Up On Me/I'll Fly Away

8:00: Martha White
Grandpa Jones (host): Cindy
Hank Locklin: Send Me the Pillow You Dream On/Danny Boy
Vic Willis & Curtis Young: Shenendoah
Bill Carlisle: No Help Wanted
Grandpa Jones: I'll Meet You in the Morning

8:30: Acme
George Hamilton IV (host): Early Morning Rain
4 Guys: Mama Rocked Us to Sleep with Country Music/When Will I Be Loved
Stu Phillips: Thank God She's Mine
Marion Worth: Take These Chains From My Heart
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Alabama Gal
George Hamilton IV: Forever Young

2nd show:
9:30: Kelloggs
Ernest Tubb (host): Waltz Across Texas
Skeeter Davis: Just When I Needed You Most
Billy Grammer: Steel Guitar Rag
Charlie Louvin: That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine
Wilma Lee Cooper: As Long As I Live
Ray Pillow: Super Lady
Ernest & Justin Tubb: Blue Eyed Elaine

10:00: Fender
Stonewall Jackson (host): Don't Be Angry
Ernie Ashworth: The DJ Cried
Del Wood: Alabama Jubilee
Stonewall Jackson: Washed My Hands in Muddy Water

10:15: Union 76
Roy Acuff (host): Meeting in the Air
Jan Howard: Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Roy Acuff & Cast: Happy Birthday, Honey
Lamar Alexander & Roy Acuff: Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Roy Acuff & Jan Howard: I Saw the Light

10:30: Trailblazer
Grandpa Jones (host): Little Pink
Jean Shepard: Virginia
Wilburn Brothers: It's Another World
George Hamilton IV: Forever Young

10:45: Beech-Nut
Charlie Walker (host): Don't Play Me No Songs About Texas
Vic Willis & Curtis Young: Last Cheater's Waltz
Justin Tubb: What's Wrong With the Way that We're Doing it Now
Crook Brothers: Durango's Hornpipe

11:00: Coca-Cola
4 Guys (host): Mama Rocked Us to Sleep with Country Music
Hank Locklin: Country Hall of Fame
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Katy Hill
Marion Worth: Someone is Looking for Someone Like You
4 Guys: Fire

11:30: Little Debbie
Marty Robbins (host): El Paso City
Jeanne Pruett: Please Sing Satin Sheets for Me/Break My Mind
Stu Phillips: Blue Canadian Rockies
Bill Carlisle: Same Ol Tale That the Crow Told Me
Marty Robbins: All Around Cowboy/Don't Worry/Buenos Dios Argentina/Touch Me With Majic/Love Me/Muddy Water/Among My Souvenirs

Another fine birthday show


  1. THAT was a birthday show.

    Everything we need to know about what is wrong with the current management slipped out of Eddie Stubbs's mouth tonight, and he may have intended it. George Hamilton IV was giving a tour backstage tonight. One wonders whether Eddie was asking himself, why wasn't he then on the Opry?

  2. What did Eddie Stubbs say, Michael? I didn't listen to the show last night, so I didn't hear the comment.

  3. Eddie was introducing some people who were there and said that George IV was giving them tours backstage tonight. And I thought to myself, well, he's there. Why isn't he on the Opry?

    By the way, last night, I was able to listen to the "classic" broadcasts, and then a few minutes of Jim Glaser hosting the Midnight Jamboree. He sounded marvelous.

  4. Of course, back in the day a country DJ was the resident expert on country music. The DJs knew the stars and the stars knew them. There was a personal connection between the local DJ and the fans as could call up and request your favorite song and he would play it. Now, corporations run the show, the DJs are "on-air personalities" (sniff, sniff, snoot, snoot), and the playlist is determined by a computer. And if corporate decides to change formats over the weekend, the guy that was the local rock jock on Friday becomes your country cousin, Elmo, on Monday....regardless of whether they know anything about country music or not.

    A related story: Back around 1984 or so, I was hired to be a researcher for the TNN game show, "Fandango" and spent a lot of happy at the Hall of Fame archives digging through boxes, books, photos, programs, lyric sheets and photos and picking Ronnie Pugh's brain researching questions for the show. (The fact that the Hall fired Ronnie as its head of reference STILL has me angry 20 years after the fact. What a bunch of goofballs!) I did a lot of what Eddie Stubbs would call "deep catalog" research....and I think that's why Bill Anderson seemed to take a liking to me because he never knew anyone my age who knew as much about country music as I did (although I don't think I'm that smart).

    Anyhow, if you recall, the format of the show was similar to Jeopardy! with three contestants answering questions in various categories of country music trivia for high value prizes (like air conditioner filters and a new set of tires....Hollywood we weren't!) and from time to time we would do a celebrity week....Johnny Russell was a force to be reckoned with on those shows...and once we did a week where all of the contestants were DJs from country stations around the USA. For that show, we pulled out some pretty tough questions figuring the DJs would have a fairly easy time with them. They did not. So, on the second show (we taped a week of shows in a single day) we dumbed the questions down a bit. Still, no joy. By the final show, we were pulling "Country Music 101" stuff out of the files ("The Texas Troubadour"---is it Ernest Tubb, Ernest Stoneman, Ernie Ashworth or Ernest T. Bass?....that level of basic) and the DJs were STILL having trouble. This was on a Friday so after the last taping ended, Bill went over to do the Friday Opry and I stayed around to see part of the show. As I passed by his dressing room, a giant hand reached out and pulled me in and it was Bill....and he was FUMING! He couldn't not believe the lack of knowledge that the country DJs had demonstrated and went on for about 15 minutes how embarrassing they were and how there would NOT be another DJ week on Fandango if he had anything to do about it. Of course, all I could do was frown and nod and "yep" a lot....because he was right. I finally escaped but later that night, when I pulled into the gas station on McGavock, Bill was there topping of his car. And he started all over again and went on for another 20 minutes...which was funny because Bill Anderson was usually the mild-mannered, country gentleman that you see on stage and screen. But that day, he was breathing fire and it was not pretty! Passionate and sincere but not pretty!

  5. Barry,

    Very interesting and enjoyable stuff as usual. When Fandango was on, my younger brother and I were around 11 and 17. We loved the show and even then knew a lot more than most of the contestants especially on older topics. When my brother was a senior in high school he took his first radio job and was able to play traditional classic country along with independent artists. That first job was a little low powered station in our home town. He then spent 12 years on a 50k watt station doing six hours on Sunday with no strings attached, able to play just about anything he wanted, even Jimmie Rodgers! After being off a while he is in his third year on another 50k station for three hours on Sunday Not enough time but he got to remember Cal Smith last night, not many can say that. They are a powerful award winning station in Terre Haute and although he knows there are some boundaries, he does not have play list and plays classics from the early 40's to about 1990. He has been very lucky. His real job is a TV news producer. So, he has the option to only do radio where they will leave him alone and let him do his own thing.

    That said, we are always frustrated at how little radio people really know about the music. Like TV, many of them just like to hear themselves talk, they really don't care about the music or the artist. How sad! You might be able to tell that I am proud of my bother. We share the music and I live the radio thing through him and we help each other stay up on our history.

    Thanks for the inside story about Bill. My brother will find it rather amusing. We just saw him in Wabash, Indiana in May.

    Knightsville, IN

  6. Fred, Bismarck:

    Between them, Barry and Jim have explained why 99 percent of country radio is a total waste. I won't turn it on while I'm tooling around town, let alone sit down with it for serious listening. I've known some real jocks in my time, and something always happens to them. They get run off by superiors who are threatened by their talent, and by their love and knowledge of the music, or they quit in frustration over what they're forced to play and find another line of work.

    I used to think the "country music" suits would pay for this down the road, but I don't see that happening. Rather, most of their audience are sheep who follow where they are led.

  7. My personal favorite is when my mother called the local "country" radio station in Las Vegas and asked the morning DJ to play Roy Acuff. He said, "Do you mean Roy Orbison?" She said no, Roy Acuff. He had no idea.

  8. One of my favorite ignorant DJ stories was told by another DJ on the air who was complaining about one of his own co-workers! This was about a dozen years or so ago and basically the DJ, whose station prided itself on being "classic country" said he was driving when he heard the co-worker say that the next song was from Lefty "Frizzle" (spelled the way he pronounced it). Said DJ indicated that he almost drove off the side of the road when he heard that.

    Thanks for the great Bill Anderson story, Barry! Bill is one of my favorites and that story just adds to my respect of him.

    Sad to say, but we're probably not that many years away from when a DJ won't know the difference between George Jones or George Strait.

  9. I seem to remember that the Opry started a DJ of the month program sometime in the late 1970s or 1980s. If my mind is working right, one of the first, if not the first, receipient of the award was Jay "Jaybird" Drennen, who broadcast on WSLR in Akron. He was from Texas and also a fine gospel singer. He was a legend in Akron and was on mornings and then overnight before he retired. He was a friend and he knew his country music and the stars. In fact, the first time I met Charlie Walker and found out I was from Canton, Ohio, he asked me if I knew his friend Jaybird. You bet I did and he was a great guy. Jaybird was always proud of that award, getting to go to the Opry to receive it and when he interviewed the stars that came to promote their tour dates, he always mentioned it. I am not sure how long the Opry did this or who else they gave this award to. Like many things with the Opry, I think this kind-of faded out over the years. So many of the great country DJs are now in the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame, located on a wall at the Nashville Convention Center. Jaybird is one of the inductees.