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What is the Grand Ole Opry?

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  • Written By: A Kaminsky
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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It's the Home of American Music, and possibly, one of the best-known and most-loved radio shows in the world. It's influence is world-wide, and it has launched the careers of more than one young talent. The Grand Ole Opry began life in 1927 as the WSM Barn Dance, on WSM Radio in Nashville, Tennessee. It was intended to be a family program, showcasing country music, the radio station and its owners, National Life Insurance. The "WSM" call letters even referred to National Life's motto: "We Shield Millions."

George D. Hay, an announcer on WSM, was the first host of the Barn Dance, and re-named it The Grand Ole Opry in 1927. When WSM boosted its broadcast output to 50,000 watts, eastern Canada and most of the North, South and Midwest in the United States could pick up the Grand Ole Opry on their radios. This increase in the number of listeners meant more people heard the Opry and many traveled to Nashville to be a part of the live audience.

After the show outgrew its old digs, it moved into the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. The building had once been a church, and could seat several hundred in its pews and balcony. Soon, the Ryman became known as "The Mother Church of Country Music," and it was after the move to the Ryman that the Grand Ole Opry really took off and began accruing the mystique it still holds.

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Some of the most famous names in American music performed on that wooden stage at the Ryman: Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Hank Williams Sr. These names have become synonymous with country music, and all began their careers on the Opry stage.

Although greatly beloved by fans and artists alike, in the 1970s, it became evident that the Ryman Auditorium simply was not adequate for the Grand Ole Opry any longer. Parking downtown was a nightmare, and seating was becoming limited. The show moved into the Opry House on the grounds of what was then the Opryland USA theme park. The new facilities were perfect for the show, and could be used when televising the program, or when the Country Music Association Awards were presented.

The Opry board of directors routinely nominates and names new artists to the Grand Ole Opry membership, and to be named an Opry member is a cherished honor and is still considered the peak of a country performer's career. More than one country artist, though accustomed to performing in 80,000 seat arenas, still gets the jitters when performing on the Grand Ole Opry — its tradition is that strong.

The Grand Ole Opry is still a radio show, and the Friday and Saturday night shows are still broadcast live on WSM. Revered country artists and the newbies still perform on the same shows, broken up into 30-minute segments, each sponsored by a different company. Those who attend these shows say the atmosphere is still casual, and audience members can see stars and crew alike, milling around in the wings, talking, laughing, enjoying themselves. Thousands of people from all over the world still make the trek to Nashville, Tennessee to attend the Grand Ole Opry every year. It is also streamed live over the Internet from the WSM Radio Web site. The Grand Ole Opry is an American original, and a true American tradition.

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