Grand Ole Opry History | Grand Ole Opry

Grand Ole Opry History

will the circle be unbroken

The six-foot circle of dark, oak wood in the Opry House stage is shiny but clearly well worn. Cut from the stage of the Opry's famous former home, the Ryman Auditorium, this circle gives newcomers and veterans alike the opportunity to sing on the same spot that once supported Uncle Dave Macon, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, and others.

"That circle is the most magical thing when you're a performer," says Opry member Brad Paisley, "To stand there and get to sing on those same boards that probably still contain dust from Hank Williams' boots."

Many things about the Opry have changed over the years - its members, the sound of its music, even its home. But there's always that oak-solid center to remind every singer or musician who steps inside that they take part in something much larger than themselves, that wherever they go they have a connection to the legends and the giants who came before them.

As that wooden circle is the heart of the stage, the Opry's heart is its music and its members - a broad scope of styles by a wide range of artists.

"The Grand Ole Opry celebrates country music's diversity," says Opry general manager Pete Fisher. "In addition, the Opry presents the many generations of artists who have formed country music's legacy and continue to forge its future course."

88 YEARS LIVE ON AIR

The Grand Ole Opry began just five years after commercial radio was born in the United States. In 1925, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company built a radio station as a public service to the local community and with the hope that the new medium could advertise insurance policies. The station's call letters, WSM, stood for the company's motto: "We Shield Millions."

Soon after going on the air, National Life hired one of the nation's most popular announcers, George D. Hay, as WSM's first program director. Hay, a former Memphis newspaper reporter who'd most recently started a barn dance show on Chicago radio powerhouse WLS, along with championship fiddler, Uncle Jimmy Thompson, created  the WSM Barn Dance.

Hay's weekly broadcasts continued and proved enormously popular, and he renamed the show the Grand Ole Opry in 1927. Crowds soon clogged hallways as they gathered to observe the performers, prompting the National Life company to build an acoustically designed auditorium capable of holding 500 fans. When WSM radio increased broadcasting power to 50,000 watts in 1932, most of the United States and parts of Canada could tune into the Opry on Saturday nights, broadening the show's outreach.

The new space wasn't enough to keep up with the audience's increasing enthusiasm for the weekly show. The Opry went through a number of homes in several parts of Nashville before settling, in 1943, at the Ryman Auditorium, a former religious meeting house built in 1892. The Opry stayed at the Ryman for nearly 31 years. Many of the show's legends spent most of their Opry runs there. 

In 1955, Ralston Purina began sponsoring an hour-long regional-network television show from the Ryman stage featuring Opry stars. And in 1974, the Opry moved from the Ryman to a new, larger facility at the heart of a multi-million-dollar entertainment complex nine miles from downtown Nashville.  However, the Opry didn’t completely leave the Ryman behind. A six-foot circle of wood was removed from the Ryman stage and placed center stage at the new Grand Ole Opry House. As that wooden circle became the heart of the stage, the Opry's heart is its music and its members - a broad scope of styles by a wide range of artists.

A NEW GENERATION OF OPRY MEMBERS

As country's popularity boomed during the 1980s, Opry management ensured the show's future by adding a new generation of stars to the roster, beginning with the induction of Ricky Skaggs, Lorrie Morgan, and Reba McEntire. By the end of the 1990s, many of country's top superstars - including Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Trisha Yearwood - could call the Opry home. Since then, the Opry has welcomed members like Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, the Oak Ridge Boys, Rascal Flatts, and many more into the family. 

Today, there are more ways to enjoy the Grand Ole Opry than ever before and just as country greats like Jeannie Seely and Jim Ed Brown grew up listening to the Opry on radio, future generations of Opry stars now may hear it on the Internet, on satellite radio, or via the Opry’s mobile app. 

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