PRAIRIE FARMER MAGAZINE / WLS BARNDANCE

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Prairie Farmer was already the voice of the farmer, but it got another voice in 1924 when a vaudeville show took to the airwaves from radio station WLS in Chicago. Shown here is the whole “Hayloft Gang” in 1936. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

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The show became very popular very quickly, and the WLS studios were too small to hold the audience. So they moved the show to the Eighth Street Theatre at 8th Street and Wabash Avenue in 1931. This photo is dated 1933. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

The Prairie Farmer was (and still is) the voice of the farmer: a publication that has been in circulation since 1841. And in 1924, thanks to radio station WLS, it got an additional outlet in the form of WLS Barndance, a wildly popular vaudeville show – so popular that it eventually outgrew the radio’s own studios and moved to the Eighth Street Theatre at 8th Street and Wabash Avenue. There, twice every Saturday night for more than three decades it packed the house, with tickets often selling out weeks in advance.

The juxtaposition of this country music show emanating from a big-city studio didn’t seem to bother anyone. It was down home and it was big business: the perfect combination of culture and commerce.

Acts included Gene Autry, Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Mac and Bob, the Arkansas Woodchopper, and many, many more. Some of these WLS stars went on to become well known on the national stage.

Of course, the public’s taste in music is nothing if not changing. WLS Barndance was broadcast until 1960; that year, WLS introduced what it called “a bright new sound,” and on May 2, on his first day on the job, a young DJ named Dick Biondi was playing Elvis.

People waited in line for hours, even when they had reserved seats. For two shows a night, every Saturday night, they packed the house, often selling out weeks in advance. This photo was taken in the 1940s. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

Prairie Farmer publisher Burridge Butler. He didn’t just entertain; he looked out for his farmers, educated them, and advocated at the national level on major policy issues. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

Patsy Montana, known for her yodeling, was a very popular act at the Barndance. Her big hit was “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” which she recorded with the Prairie Ramblers, shown with her. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

The Cumberland Ridge Runners brought mountain music – and a touch of humor – to the Barndance. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

Gene Autry was one of the stars who rose from Barndance favorite to Hollywood superstar. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications

Burridge Butler often took his show on the road to connect with his farm family. Photo Credit: Museum of Broadcast Communications