Talking About TV's Iconic 'Midwestern Hayride'

Sep 13, 2017

Former "Midwestern Hayride" producer Dick Murgatroyd will be in the WVXU-FM studio Thursday to talk about WLWT-TV's iconic country music show and the Golden Age of Live Cincinnati Television on our 1-2 p.m. "Cincinnati Edition" show.

Joining "Murgy" will be Brian Powers, a music expert from the Cincinnati Public Library; Cameron Cochran, a steel guitar player organizing the "Hayride!" country music concert Sunday Sept. 17 at Woodward Theater; host Mark Heyne, and me.

Poster for Sept. 17 Hayride! concert
Credit Provided by Cameron Cochran

Sunday's "Hayride" concert provided the reason to talk about Cincinnati's signature country music TV show which premiered April 19, 1948 on Crosley Broadcasting's WLWT-TV, two months after the city's first TV station started commercial broadcasting. It aired until 1972.

The "Midwestern Hayride" television show grew out of radio's "Boone County Jamboree," and other Crosley Broadcasting country music shows dating back to the 1930s.

Starting on June 16, 1951, "Hayride" aired 13 weeks in the summer as a "replacement series" on NBC for Sid Caesar's hit "Your Show Of Shows." It aired on NBC or ABC every summer except 1953 and 1956.

Also in the early 1950s, Ruth Lyons' popular live daytime talk/entertainment TV show aired nationwide on NBC, and WCPO-TV was feeding Paul Dixon's and Dotty Mack's record pantomimes to ABC or the old DuMont networks.  Over at WKRC-TV, Rod Serling was writing his first TV dramas for "The Storm" live telecasts – some of which he later expanded into "Twilight Zone" episodes – while  producer Bob Huber sought to get them picked up nationally.

Singer Bonnie Lou
Credit Connie Wernet

"Midwestern Hayride," broadcast on the four-city Crosley network (Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Indianapolis), starred Bonnie Lou, Dean Richards and the Lucky Pennies, the Boyer Sisters, the Briarhoppers, Kenny Price and the Hometowners, Judy Perkins, Hugh Cherry,  the Geer Sisters, Charlie Gore and the Rangers, Helen and Billy Scott, Bobby Bobo, Wally Procter, Ernie Lee and the Midwesterners dancers. Bob Shreve, Willie Thall and Paul Dixon provided the comic relief through the years.

WLWT-TV sought a larger audience in the late 1960s and early 1970s with a weekly syndicated "Midwestern Hayride" show with big-name guest stars such as Tex Ritter, Waylon Jennings, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Willie Nelson and others.

"There weren't many shows back then for country and western artists. We had the biggest names in the world, and we'd get them for $300 to $500, to sing two or three songs," director Bill Spiegel told me years ago.

Price and Rob Reider were part of the cast for the final season in 1972 – nine years before the debut of MTV, which paved the way for Country Music Television and the Great American Country cable channels. 

Read more about Cochran's "Hayride"  live country music-and-comedy sketch show on my Aug. 1 blog,  "Hayride Concert A Tribute To TV's Old 'Midwestern Hayride.' "

Tune in to "Cincinnati Edition" at 1 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, to learn more about TV's old "Midwestern Hayride."