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.