INDIANAPOLIS – One of the country’s most popular and longest running radio shows returns to the Indiana State Fair during “A Tribute to the WLS National Barn Dance” presented by Indiana Prairie Farmer Saturday, Aug. 15 in the new Pioneer Village Opry House. Local author, media personality and humorist Dick Wolfsie emcees as the fair hosts two shows at 7 and 8 p.m.
Wolfsie will kick-off the show with a walk down memory lane, describing the history and significance of the WLS National Barn Dance. The show features local kids’ TV personality Hal Fryar, aka Harlow Hickenlooper, and his sidekick and former Barn Dance performer Curley Myers, among others. Just as in the “good ole days,” Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine, which owned WLS radio from 1928-1960, is the media partner for the event.
WLS hit the airwaves April 12, 1924, and the first WLS National Barn Dance broadcast began a week later on April 19. The show featured old-time, “low-brow” hillbilly tunes and square dances that targeted rural farm audiences and city dwellers with rural roots. The Barn Dance provided nostalgic, home-spun entertainment that listeners loved.
The four-hour variety show of music, comedy and down-home entertainment attracted thousands of live viewers to the Eighth Street Theater in Chicago, and even more listeners via radio. The show featured more than 60 bands and 130 acts, including music legends like Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Lulu Belle, The Hoosier Hotshots and many more. Better known as the ‘Hayloft Gang,’ performers on the National Barn Dance helped make Chicago the first home of country music, even before the Grand Ole Opry arrived in Nashville, Tenn.
The Agricultural Broadcasting Company and Prairie Farmer magazine bought WLS on September 15, 1928. The station continued on with the idea that informing farmers was just as important as keeping them entertained, so show hosts kept farmers up-to-date with weather, grain prices and market reports. The WLS National Barn Dance also continued on, broadcasting live from remote locations such as the World’s Fair, the Illinois State Fair and the Indiana State Fair with the slogan “Bringing the World to the Farm.”
The show was a hit at the Indiana State Fairgrounds beginning in the early 1930s, allowing visitors to see their favorite radio show live. Thousands of people would line up at the Coliseum to watch the nationally broadcast program that aired every Saturday evening. It continued to air live through April 30, 1960, moving from the Eighth Street Theater to a studio in the Prairie Farmer building in 1957.
For more historical information about the WLS National Barn Dance, visit http://www.wlshistory.com/NBD