Nashville's radio station WSM
("We Shield Millions," the slogan of its insurance-company
first broadcast on October 5, 1925. Two years later, at the start of his
Barn Dance show, compere George D. Hay announced "for the past
hour we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera, but
from now on we will present
The Grand Ole Opry ."
This piece of slang became the name of America's longest-running radio
show, still going out to millions every Friday and Saturday evening on
WSM-AM (650); the original "hillbilly" jam session has become country
music's elite showcase.
the WSM studios, the show moved
in 1943 to a former tabernacle -
the Ryman Auditorium . There it acquired a make-or-break
reputation; up-and-coming singers could only claim to have made it
if they had gone down well
at the Opry. Among thousands of hopefuls who tried to get on the
show was Elvis Presley, advised by an Opry official in 1954 to stick to
truck-driving. The first appearance of Hank Williams , in 1949,
commanded an unequaled six encores. Within four years,
the Opry audience was singing his
evangelical I Saw the Light on
the news of his
drink- and drug-induced death.
In 1974 the show moved on again, this time to a new
4424-seat theater in what was the Opryland theme park
(now the Opry Mills mall) - one of many Opry spin-offs,
including hotels, TV stations and a record label. Among more than sixty
stars currently on the Opry roster are old-timers like Hank Snow and
Charlie Louvin, perennial superstars like Dolly Parton, and current
country chart-toppers such as Garth Brooks and Alison Krauss. However,
of the younger artists are busy touring, so most shows are dominated by
whose best days have past.
Throughout the year, two performances on Saturday
night at 6.30pm and 9.30pm and one on Friday night at 7.30pm feature up
to twenty acts. During the summer there's an extra Friday night show
and matinee on Tuesday.
The line-ups are usually announced
at the box office on the preceding Thursday.
Tickets are $23-25 and not too hard to get, especially if you book
in advance. Contact the box office at 2808 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN
37214 (tel 615/889-3060).