Radio stations come and go. You’ll like a station, but you’ll tune in one morning, and instead of oldies, they’ll be talking sports.
That’s what I like about WSM-650 AM in Nashville, which began broadcasting 87 years ago today. It’s always there, playing country music.
Its nickname is “The Air Castle of the South.” At night, its 50,000-watt signal can be picked up all across the South and Midwest, and it’s online (and there’s an app for that).
WSM has a neat history. It was founded by the National Life and Accident Insurance Co. as a way to advertise its insurance policies. Its motto was “We Shield Millions.”
On Nov. 28, 1925, it launched the “WSM Barn Dance.” Back in those days, radio stations played a little bit of everything, and before the “Barn Dance,” WSM played operatic music. One Saturday night in 1927, the announcer, “Judge” George Hay, introduced the “Barn Dance” by saying, “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from the grand opera, but from now on, we will present the grand ol’ opry.”
It’s been the Grand Ole Opry ever since.
Because of the Opry, a lot of musicians set up camp in Nashville, and because they wanted to make records close to home, the city got a bunch of recording studios, eventually, Nashville became Music City.
If you ever visit Nashville, you can visit WSM, or, at least, look through the window at the disc jockey. WSM’s studios are in the Magnolia Lobby of the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, which is named after Opryland USA, which was a theme park that Gaylord Entertainment razed in the 1990s because it thought it would make more money with a shopping mall. The executives who thought that are no longer with the company.
The only recording studio that’s open for tours is the former RCA Studio B, which is down on Music Row, an area that’s home to record labels, recording studios, video production houses and other business who serve the music industry. RCA Studio B is known as “The Home of 1,000 Hits,” and that’s no exaggeration. It’s where Elvis recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” Roy Orbison recorded “Only the Lonely,” and Dolly Parton recorded “I Will Always Love You.” You should go. (The Jolie did when she passed through Nashville a couple of years ago.)
But country music is what makes Nashville unique, and without WSM, it wouldn’t be Music City USA.