Louisiana Hayride was a "barn dance"-style radio program on KWKH out of Shreveport, La., that was loosely modeled on its more famous cousin, Nashville's The Grand Ole Opry, along with Chicago's lesser-known WLS Barn Dance. The program, originally called Cradle of the Stars, launched on April 3, 1948, and went on to feature some of the most revered names in country music.
In fact, from the onset, Louisiana Hayride proved to be an invaluable tool for breaking new artists and new singles, as Hank Williams -- who first appeared on the show in August 1948 -- would attest. (Williams, who eventually had his own sponsored radio program on WSM/Nashville, would often record Hayride shows ahead of time so he could tour.) Performing a new song on a show like Louisiana Hayride was very often just the leg up an artist needed to propel a regional hit. With a firm commitment to exposing new and regional talent to a wider audience, the show became a beloved stop on artists' Southern tours.
Within a year of its debut, the program was so popular that a regional 25-station network was pieced together to broadcast portions of it. The music was certainly a large part of that popularity, but the rotating emcees who kept the show moving with interviews and artist cues provided another kind of magic. Here, the artists were given a chance to connect with the listeners and let their personalities shine.
By 1954, a special 30-minute version of Louisiana Hayride was broadcast overseas on Armed Forces Radio. Another watershed moment came in August 1954, when a teenaged Elvis Presley made his debut, singing "That's Alright Mama." (Incidentally, it was Hayride emcee Horace Logan who coined the iconic phrase, "Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.") By the late '50s, however, the growing popularity of rock 'n' roll, in addition to the rise of televisions, cut into the show's popularity. On August 27, 1960, Louisiana Hayride ended its regular run.
In the years since, there have been many attempts to revive the name and what it stood for. Probably the best testament to the program is the volume of quality live music recorded during its tenure. Rhapsody has many of these releases available, so let's take a listen to some of them.