Air Castle of the South
WSM and the Making of Music City
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: Music in American Life
Title Page, Copyright
This book began to take shape thanks to the kindness of Wade Jessen and Kyle Cantrell, both of whom shared time and information with me many years ago when I had nothing to offer them but questions about country music, radio, and Nashville. They offered me an overview of ...
Introduction: The Muse of Music City
On the bitter cold morning of January 8, 2002, a grassy berm at the sprawling interchange of Briley Parkway and McGavock Pike in Nashville, Tennessee, became an impromptu grandstand for protesters. More than one hundred citizens waved signs, clapped their mittens, and urged passing motorists to honk in support of traditional country music. “Keep country ...
1 On the Very Air We Breathe
Dr. Clayton E. Crosland, associate vice president of one of the Southeast’s finest finishing schools, wasn’t precisely sure what to say, but he did not wish to be misunderstood. ...
2 The Ears Are Eyes
WSM took Tuesday off and switched on again Wednesday afternoon. Opening night announcer Jack Keefe sat before a microphone in the velvet opulence of the WSM studio and described game one of the World Series, based on a steady stream of balls, strikes, hits, and outs from a news wire. A few blocks ...
3 A Pleasing Spectacle
The skywave, bouncing between the atmosphere and the earth, carried WSM’s 5,000-watt, clear channel signal remarkable distances. In the early 1930s, the station received letters from Honolulu, New Zealand, and Northern Ontario. Margaret Joyce, the ten-year-old daughter of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman ...
4 Air Castle of the South
Late in the fall of 1933, WSM transmitter engineer Jack Montgomery stirred himself at about ten minutes to five in the afternoon and left the white transmitter house in the meadow in Brentwood. The sun was setting early now, heralding the nightly coming of the skywave that would amplify WSM’s signal over thousands of miles. The tower soared above his head, poised as if for ...
5 We Must Serve These People Tonight
With two additions between 1929 and 1934, the National Life Home Office grew into a muscular, U-shaped edifice just off Nashville’s Capitol Hill. Out front, Union Street dropped down a block to the Hermitage and Andrew Jackson hotels and the grand quadrangle that was War Memorial Plaza. And ...
6 Guts and Brass
The night of December 15, 1939, was icy cold in Atlanta, but the thousands of people crowded on Peachtree Street scarcely noticed. They were dazzled by searchlights panning the sky and playing across the facade of the Loew’s Grand Theater, which, on this gala evening, was festooned with Confederate ...
7 One of Our Boys Shoots the Moon
By 1943 troops nearly outnumbered civilians in greater Nashville, and the city was frequently overrun with soldiers in training or in transit. They filled the hotels, the bars, the theaters, and the streets. Sometimes, when space simply ran out, they slept in parks or on the steps of the post office on Broadway. Many ...
8 It Helped Everybody in the Long Run
Harry Stone felt betrayed. Over nearly twenty years he’d managed WSM from a part-time local station to a national powerhouse with a signature show. Just one year before he’d been named vice president and general manager of WSM. And then, without warning, old man Craig made Jack DeWitt his boss, at a ...
9 The Balance of Power Has Shifted
Americans lived with the idea of television, the bewitching vision of it, for decades before the TVs themselves arrived like an army of flying saucers in department stores across the nation. Even before WSM radio went on the air, popular-science magazines showed people gathered around color television ...
10 Jack, We Got a Real Problem
In coat and tie, surrounded by records, he sat before an open microphone and a pair of industrial-weight turntables in a small studio on the fifth floor of the National Life building on a winter’s night in 1952. Wide-eyed and wired with enthusiasm, “Smilin’” Eddie Hill sounded like nothing that had ever been broadcast from the Air Castle of the South. He was a thirty-year-old hillbilly ...
11 A Code and a Concern
Bob Cooper wanted the world to know that the 1960 DJ convention was on the level. The general manager of WSM radio knew that Congress was investigating record and radio ethics and that rock DJs like Alan Freed were being pilloried on a national stage. Besides outright payola (money in exchange ...
12 The Whole Complex Is a Studio
Jack DeWitt’s retirement and Craig’s death coincided with the most radical changes yet for National Life. Chairman Dan Brooks and president Bill Weaver had both climbed to prominence through the company’s investment division, managing the billions of dollars in accumulated reserves insurers have to carry. ...
Epilogue: Signal Fade
For his stewardship of the Grand Ole Opry and the growth of TNN and CMT, E. W. “Bud” Wendell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998, just one year after his retirement as Gaylord’s CEO. He was remembered by former employees and Opry artists as a warm, effective leader whose ...
Index of Song Titles
About the Author
CRAIG HAVIGHURST is an independent writer and producer based in Nashville. A former music critic and business writer for the Tennessean, he now reports for public radio and writes for print and television. As ...