Today is a big date in country music history: it was on April 3, 1948—seventy-five years ago—that the Louisiana Hayride debuted on KWKH out of Shreveport, Louisiana. By this time Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry was already firmly entrenched as the radio home of country & western music, which ironically created an opening for enterprising competitors. Detractors viewed the Opry as the staid powerhouse unwilling to put newcomers on the air or otherwise take risks. Opry management simply did not want to stray from the formula that had been paying dividends for so long. Radio, not television, still very much controlled the airwaves in the years immediately after the Second World War and there was no shortage of challengers to the Opry’s artistic orthodoxy. Into this breach stepped the 50,000 watt KWKH. The talent pool in the Hayride’s earliest weeks and months was somewhat weak, though Kitty Wells was a regular throughout the spring and summer of 1948. Things changed when a still relatively unknown Hank Williams made his Louisiana Hayride debut on August 7 before quickly moving on to greater heights elsewhere.
Many of the performers who graced the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium stage were mediocre at best, and Hayride shows were notoriously hit or miss. The program’s weakness however was also its greatest strength. The bean counters at the Ryman might never stray too far from the tried-and-true, but the Hayride management—with nothing to lose—was more than happy to take a chance on an unknown. The young Elvis played the Hayride numerous time. So did Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, and scores of other innovators. Essentially anyone on the way up—or down—came through Shreveport and played the show. When the Opry let Hank Williams go due to his unreliability, it was back to the Hayride that he came. The Hayride was a weekly radio staple for a dozen years. On August 27, 1960 a pre-Hee Haw Grandpa Jones played an inspired cover of Jimmie Rodgers “Waiting for a Train” on the final night of the radio program. The Hayride did carry on in various incarnations and under different names for another decade or so, and even hosted such figures as Marty Robbins, Tex Ritter, Loretta Lynn, and the Louvin Brothers to name a few. Still, it was the period from 1948-1960 that holds the most cultural relevance.