Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Barn Storming and Barn Dancing

Barn Dances predate American history. It's a tradition that is said to have descended from a tradition of bohemian round dancing in Bavaria. It rose to prominence in the late 1800s. This is the source of the tradition of the dance, and therefore the root of the radio program it was all founded upon.
A barn dance is any kind of dance held in a barn, but usually involves traditional or folk music with traditional dancing. It is a type of dance, originating in America and popular in Britain in the late 19th century and early 20th, derived from Schottische. Folk dancing events are often also referred to as "barn dances", despite being held in locations other than barns.
There have been a substantial number of "Barn Dance" themed programs. WBAP-AM is generally credited with debuting the first Barn Dance type of program in 1923. Even if I exclude the very similar Jamboree, Jubilee, Stampedes, Follies, Round ups, Hoedowns and Hayride programs the numbers are almost really surprising. Obviously those too are barn dance radio programs. According to the book Music of the World War II Era by William H. Young there were approximately 5,000 country music programs in radio land in the year 1935.

It seems impossible at first, but there were easily thousands of similar country music and variety radio programs on air at that time. There were about 600 stations on air by then [source] Even if they all broadcast only 12 hours a day, that's 7,200 hours of programming per day, 50,400 per week!  The math bears out the possibility at the very least. What I'm trying to do is to indicate their enormous popularity. Despite the obvious strength of country radio today, it is nothing compared to it's former prominence.  The "Barn Dance" formatted programs debuted essentially along with radio, then exploded toward the end of WWII.  The 1944 Music Year Book remarked on the phenomena, they "hold and build audiences."  But by then the National Barn Dance was in it's 12th year.

WRVA-AM - Old Dominion Barn Dance - 1946
KMBC-AM - Sears Roebuck Barn Dance - 1928
WLS-AM - National Barn Dance - 1924
KMOX-AM - Old Fashioned Barn Dance- 1930
KFH-AM -  KFH Barn Dance - 1946
WNAX-AM - Missouri Valley Barn Dance - 1940
WBRM-AM - Carlisle Family Barn Dance - 1933
WBAP-AM - Barn Dance Show - 1928
WSM-AM - WSM Barn Dance - 1925 (Grand Ole Opry)
WHO-AM - Iowa Barn Dance Frolic - 1931
WLW-AM - Renfro Valley Barn Dance - 1937
WOV-AM - Broadway Barn Dance - 1944
WXYZ-AM - Lazy Ranch Boys Barn Dance 1950?
KSTP-AM - Sunset Valley Barn Dance - 1944
WNOX-AM - Tennessee Barn Dance - 1942
WDVA-AM - Virginia Barn Dance - 1949
WHAS-AM - Old Kentucky Barn Dance - 1949
KMPC-AM - Country Carnival Barn Dance1948
KVOA-AM - KVOA Barn Dance - 1954
KRKD-AM - Los Angeles County Barn Dance- 1943
WMCA-AM - WMCA Barn Dance - 1935
KNX-AM - Hollywood Barn Dance - 1943
WBT-AM - Crazy Barn Dance - 1931
WAOK-AM - Hocking Valley Barn Dance
KLRA-AM - Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance - 1946
WBRM-AM - Carolina Barn Dance - 1949
KRKD-AM - Foreman Phillips County Barn Dance - 1944
WCKY-AM - Liberty Theater Barn Dance - 1950s?
WEAU-AM - Chippewa Valley Barn Dance - 1948
WJHL-AM - Hawkins County Barn Dance - 1952
WKNX-AM - Michigan Barn Dance - 1954
WVLK-AM - Kentucky Mountain Barn Dance - 1949
WINS-AM - Village Barn Dance - ????
KTBB-AM - Texas Barn Dance - ????

Many of these stations have become what we now call heritage brands and are still broadcasting today in one form or another. Of those 30 or so radio stations listed above almost none are still airing country music. WSM of course has stayed the course with Country Music simulcast on both 650 AM and 95.5 FM. But WNAX moved Country to their FM stick on 94.1 and flipped the AM side to News Talk and small town 1250 WBRM-AM is still a country station today.  But that's all.  WOV became WADO and now airs regional Mexican music. WXYZ became WXYT and now airs Sports talk. WAOK and WDVA are a Gospel stations. KVOA became KCUB in 1953, it's a talker as well. KLRA became KELC-AM in the 1980s and went talk. All the others are News, talk or News/Talk as well.

There are still a handful of radio stations airing Barn Dance programs today.  Thought admittedly the format is dissimilar, the persistence of the branding is what's interesting.

KRFC-FM   - Poudre Valley Barn Dance
WMPG-FM - Barn Dance Radio
WSM-AM   - Grand Ole Opry
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