WLS Turns 30:

The 1954 WLS Family Album

Curator's note: As WLS celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, the Prarie Farmer Days of the 890 spot on Mid-America's radio dial were winding down. But the "WLS National Barn Dance" and the rural-oriented programming of one of the nation's premier 50,000 watt clear channel stations were still going strong. Here you can enjoy the photos and text WLS provided its loyal listeners six years before the fiddlers, the yodlers, the pickers, the strummers and the bucolic comics were forever silenced.

Above: A crowd of country and city folk packs the auditorium of Chicago's Eighth Street Theater on a Saturday night in anticipation of the "WLS National Barn Dance" broadcast.

Below: The "WLS National Barn Dance" cast on the stage of Chicago's Eighth Street Theater. Given the resolution of the photo, it's difficult to identify the individual performers. But I believe "Captain Stubby" Fouts is eighth from the right. Eighth and ninth from the left (wearing business suits) are Homer and Jethro. Johnny Frigo is almost dead-center with his fiddle at his chin. And towering over everybody in the back is "Cousin Tilford".

  • Bob Atcher. He sang and presided over the last days of the WLS National Barn dance before he served as Mayor of Schaumburg, Illinois.
  • Lulu Belle and Scotty. Among the most durable of the WLS personalities (Lulu Belle also had a career in politics when ABC pulled the plug on the WLS country folk). Alas, they and their kids (whom you will see on this page) are all deceased.
  • Homer and Jethro. Masters of parody (and Jethro was a master of the mandolin).
  • Donald "Red" Blanchard. He was actually sort of funny.
  • Dolph Hewitt. An easterner who sang western.
  • Arkie. Outlasted just about everybody at the Prairie Farmer station.
  • Pruth McFarlin. An African American who sang songs of faith.
  • The Chore Boys. This versatile backup group featured the legendary Johnny Frigo on fiddle.
  • The Rangers of the Air. They provided accompaniment for week-day programs on the Prairie Farmer station.
  • Billy Lee Holmes and Don Stevens. You heard them on the "Barn Dance Preview".
  • Skeeter Bonn. He picks, sings and aspires to be a recording star.
  • Woody Mercer. An Arizona cowpuncher who found that radio was his true calling.
  • Phyllis Brown. From Chicago's Southwest Side, she was noted for her diction.
  • School Time. Back in a time when radio had an educational component.
  • Jack Holden. The "Dean" of WLS staff announcers.
  • The WLS News Department. It was more than "rip and read".
  • The WLS Weather Department. The farmers of Mid-America depended on these gentlemen.
  • Martha Crane. Survived more than three decades at WLS.
  • The WLS Orchestra. Live from studio A.
  • The WLS engineers. Busy at work in the 1230 West Washington studios and at the transmitter site near Tinley Park.
  • Turntable Operator Max Thompson. If you wanted to spin records at WLS, you needed a musician's union card.
  • WLS Alumni. Honored for their WLS roots are Pat Buttram, George Gobel, Rex Allen and Smiley Burnette.

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
Audio and video downloads
About the Curator

Comments or suggestions? click here to send them to Rich Samuels

Created by Rich Samuels (e-mail to rich@richsamuels.com)