NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The nation’s longest-running radio show is ringing in its 5,000th Saturday night broadcast with many milestones in country music history to celebrate.
Some of country’s biggest stars will take the Grand Ole Opry stage Saturday night, including Opry members Garth Brooks, Dustin Lynch, Darius Rucker, Trisha Yearwood, Bill Anderson, Terri Clarks, Vince Gill, Chris Janson, Jeannie Seely, Connie Smith, the Gatlin Brothers, and Chris Young.
Through the Great Depression, World War II, Nashville floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Ole Opry has stood the test of time. WSM Radio began in 1925 and eventually evolved into the Grand Ole Opry.
Veteran WSM Radio host Bill Cody recalls country radio being less than welcomed when the show began broadcasting from the National Life and Accident Insurance Company in downtown Nashville.
“It was not as well-received as a lot of people romantically want to remember because the blue bloods in Nashville did not want this hillbilly music on their radio station,” Cody explained. “They wanted the classics, whether it’s classical music, opera, radio drama, that sort of thing, that’s where their head was.”
Even though the genre might not have fit everyone’s taste, it aired at the perfect time for farmers getting home from the fields. The radio show was broadcast through a special speaker to fill the streets of downtown.
“We have an area dedicated to WSM and the innovative technology that they brought to the radio world,” said Emily Frans, Director of Archives and Content Management.
To mark the milestone event, Frans helped curate the Opry Memories exhibit, along with archivists Jen Larson and Tim Davis. Guests can see memorabilia from the Opry throughout the years, including dresses worn on the Opry stage.
“We highlight some Opry debuts, we’ve got a Trisha Yearwood dress from her Opry debut and then even on to some of our most recent Opry members, Carly Pearce,” Frans said. “We really tried to touch on debuts and also just some of the momentous events throughout history. “
In his 27 years of working at WSM, Cody has seen many lives changed on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
“As a host and announcer, you have this sense that you cannot fail. They won’t let you fail, the audience will not let it happen, they are pulling for you from the second they walk in that door.”
Cody says one of his favorite moments was when Darius Rucker was invited to become a member with the help of Brad Paisley. During a performance, Rucker was interrupted with impromptu questions from the audience. Finally, a microphone was passed to Paisley who asked if Rucker was still the worst poker player in country music, followed by an invitation to become the newest member of the Grand Old Opry.
“And I mean the tears, you could just see how shocked and thrilled and for everybody else who was there, so wonderfully emotional he was and that you get to share in that,” Cody said.
The Grand Ole Opry has seen country music evolve from Barn Dances and music played through the streets through modern country broadcast on digital streaming devices. Although the genre has come a far way from where it originated, Cody has no doubts about its future.
“The future to me has never been brighter because you have Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and Luke Combs, and Garth Brooks, and Trisha Yearwood, and Darius Rucker. These people are so viable still to continue for generations to take it to the people.”