Robert "Uncle Bob" Hardy, born
to his parents, Alfred and Nota Hardy who had a farm near
the town of Arlington in Monroe County, Indiana. Those early years
on the family farm were times that his mother played a great role and influence
in his life. For one, he hardly got to know or remember his father as he had
passed away in 1928. His mom made do with what they had left, the farm and
a bit of money in the bank. Like many back then, he grew up listening
to the legendary WLS National Barn Dance from Chicago, Illinois on Saturday nights.
He began his career in music,
radio and television at an early age. In fact, Arlie Kinkade wrote back in 1946
that he had heard from Smilin' Bob Hardy when he was working at WAOV out of Vincennes,
Indiana back then. Bob told Arlie that he had had his own show prior to being
at Vincennes and had worked theatrical engagements in the Indiana area.
Bob went on that he wanted to join up with an act (he was just twenty years old
at the time) and was willing to travel. He was said to sing "...sentimental,
comedy and hillbilly songs; has a yodel that some call the 'Swiss Yodel'.
It didn't seem to take long for this Hoosier native to catch on either.
Even before that, Bob was working part-time at radio station W9XHZ as an announcer
and also as a singer for the station. He left college in the fall of 1946
to take the job at WAOV. He had second thoughts about leaving school, and
then enrolled at Indiana University. But before he cracked too many books
to study, he was on the staff of W9XHZ again and shortly after that,
was working with WTTS. It appears that radio station W9XHZ was an experimental
FM station out of Bloomington sometime before 1950, but never went commercial.
Bob writes in his book that he had two shows a day back then, and was working
for no pay - "Breakfast with Bob" and "Supper Time Serenade".
In our conversation with Bob and reading his book, "Growing Up In Country Music",
he tells of how a program he started grew as imaginations and creativity will
do sometimes. He didn't want to just do a standard radio show, so he created
a mythical place called Happy Valley. The show led listeners to believe they
were listening to folks drop by and spin a yarn or two or sing a few songs around the
potbellied stove at the general store.
Originally, the group used the name of the Hoosier Vagabonds, but as the show became
popular, it became the Happy Valley Folks. The Hoosier Vagabonds included Chester Frame,
Maurice (Buddy) Hardy, Jimmy (Pappy) Campbell, Donny Dodson,
and of course, Bob Hardy. Along about 1949, when the owners of WTTS added a television
station (WTTV), the make-up of the band began to change also. A young local singer, bobby Helms,
became a popular member of the Happy Valley show.
Another photo of the Happy Valley Folks shows the group included Rusty Barrow, Ruth
Baxter, Bob Hardy, Maurice (Buddy) Hardy, Richie Richardson and Jack Davis.
Uncle Bob gave up the leadership of the Happy Valley Folks to Freddie Helms, Bobby's brother
when he left to go to work at WJCD, a station broadcasting in North Vernon back then.
Later, when Freddie was called into the armed forces, the leadership of the group fell to man
by the name of Jack Noel.
While the position in North Vernon gave him some needed experience, he wanted to go back to Bloomington. Finally,
a spot on the staff opened up and once back, Uncle Bob thought he would become part
of the show he helped create and made popular, the Happy Valley Folks. But that was not to be
much to his surprise. He continued to work at the station a few months before getting
the idea to start his own show and would call it the Hayloft Frolic.
While management at the station may have underestimated Uncle Bob's popularity, his
former band members didn't. Bob told us that one Sunday he was at his mother's place
when he got a visit from Bobby Helms, Joe Edwards and Sandy Smith. They all wanted
to know when they were going to start with Bob. He was taken aback until they told him
that they had heard he was going to start a new show and they wanted to work with him.
It was on January 5, 1952 that television audiences in Bloomington, Indiana
first got to watch the Hayloft Frolic show. The show grew in popularity
and later that year, the Farm Bureau Co-op became its main sponsor. At one
time the show was airing on Thursday evenings at 8:30pm. The show went on to become
the most popular country music television show in Indiana and was number two
to the Mid Western Hayride out of WLW in Cincinnati in the midwest.
An undated photo from Bob's autobiography shows the Hayloft Frolic included
the talents of Barbara Jean Riggle, Leon Baker, Charles Rohrer, Betty Thompson, eddy Thompson, Joe Edwards,
Sandy Smith, Bobby Helms, Al Rohrer and John Hiland. A female singer who was part
of the show was Darlene Wright, a native of Dubouis County in Indiana. Other members
seen in some of the old Hayloft Frolic folios we came across were Howard "Pasco" Scott
on steel guitar, Sunny Norman on electric guitar, Edde Lee, Johnny Beasley,
Billy Gardner on fiddle, Herschal Calbert on the big bass fiddle, Freddy Helms,
Another member of the Hayloft Frolic cast a youngster by the name of Sandy Smith.
He was a major talent on the show and Bob writes in his book, like a third son
to him. Sandy was good enough to have gotten his own radio program over WTTS
in early 1954. He was always borrowing Bob's acoustic guitar and one Sunday in
July of 1954, stopped by to borrow it as Sandy and a friend of his drove to
Vincennes to hear some musicians who were friends of Sandy's. Driving
back to Bloomington in the middle of that Sunday night, the car went off the road
and Sandy and his friend died.
During this time, he was also developing a kinship with the children in
the Indianapolis area with another daily show - "The Western Ledger", entertaining
the kids, introducing movies and showing off his television co-star, his horse,
But as time went on, the band underwent personnel changes and Uncle Bob tried
to help others in their musical endeavors.
Maurice Hardy was his brother decided he had to leave the band and tend to his farm.
Pappy Campbell decided he had had enough of show business. That of course meant there
would be opportunities for others to get into the music entertainment business. One
was a guitar player by the name of Joe Edwards. WSM Grand Ole Opry fans will recognize
him as a long-time mainstay of the Opry house band. Another member was a youngster
by the name of Bobby Helms. Bobby of course went on to some fame with hits such
as "My Special Angel", "Fraulein" and "Jingle Bell Rock".
Uncle Bob helped Bobby get his foot in the door in Nashville to record those legendary
tunes. Uncle Bob had established himself enough that he called Ernest Tubb and told him
he had a fellow he thought had enough talent to sell a few records. Ernest as he would
seemingly always do for youngsters trying to make a name, offered to put him on his show
at the record shop, the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.
Uncle Bob and Bobby Helms and a few others got on a small plane and flew to Nashville
one February evening. Bobby did a few tunes for Ernest, with Uncle Bob playing rhythm
guitar, Scotty Scott on steel. Ernest liked what he heard and contacted Paul Cohen
of Decca records. He got his recording contract and his first record was "Tennessee Rock and
Roll". The flip side of that first record was a tune Bobby had written while working
one evening at Uncle Bob's western wear store he had at the time. They had finished a
show after the broadcast of a Hayloft Frolic show and Bobby sang it for Uncle Bob,
"I Don't Owe You Nothing".
But Bobby apparently didn't take advice too easily sometimes, and didn't have the career
that one might have had with the hits he had. Uncle Bob writes in his book that he had
to let him go from his show - he was difficult to manage. Something he reiterated in our conversation.
Bobby wanted Uncle Bob to manage his career, but Uncle Bob felt he was not the person
to take Bobby to that next level - he needed someone who was on the inside of the industry, not
someone who was based in Indiana. Bobby wanted someone to manage his career, but seemingly
wouldn't take listen at the same time. A story too often told in the entertainment industry.
It seems WTTV had a show in the early 1950s for the kids called "The
Old Western Ledger". The announcer for that show would pull up an old
book called of course, the "Western Ledger" which was a way to introduce a western
movie at the time. But the announcer had a drinking problem and sometimes
was not able to show up and do the show. Bob was called upon to take over
during those times. Eventually, the problem became worse, and more shows were missed
and before long, Bob was made the permanent host of the show. It was during this
stint that the announcer of the show, Stan Wood, introduced him to the viewing
audience and one day called him "Uncle Bob" - a name that stuck with Bob for most
of his career.
One incident we got a kick out of in our conversation with Uncle Bob was the tale
of an early experiment in the power of television advertising over WTTV. It seems
the local department store, H. P. Wasson & Co. wanted to do something unique for
an Easter promotion to help advertise its new toy department. They had seen some
small success with previous ads for a bicycle. But now they wanted to tap into two
of WTTV's popular personalities - Les Satherwaite, a cartoonist and Uncle Bob Hardy.
The stars promoted the upcoming personal appearance at the Wasson store. Kids were told they'd get
autographed pictures, free candy, ballons and rides on a merry-go-round. The station
ordered up about 3,000 pictures and a couple thousand ballons and bushels of candy.
Little did they know how they underestimated the appeal.
By 10:00am that first Saturday, 500 people had ridden the escalators to Wasson's fifth
floor. They immediately ordered 5,000 more balloons. All of the pictures were given
out and Les' drawing hand nearly fell off with the number of pictures he was drawing
for the kids. Uncle Bob was entertaining the kids with his stories and shooting off
his gun (with blanks of course) in the store in between stories. Store employees
were said to have gone home with battle fatigue that day.
The results? The store management estimated they had over 20,000 people visiting the
fifth floor that day. The store was doing business in every department. The lunchroom
served over 900 hamburgers.
If that wasn't enough, they repeated the event on the next Saturday, April 9, 1955.
The lunchroom tried a "Les and Bob" lunch special and sold over 700 of those.
They ran out of the 100 Uncle Bob's Western Clothes Corrals giveaways to the first
visitors 20 minutes before the store even opened. Never underestimate Uncle Bob's
drawing card it seems as another 20,000 came for his 'second' Wasson's appearance.
Walter Wolf, then the president of the H. P. Wasson & Co.
was quoted as stating, "These were two of the finest days of the 50 years of Wasson's history."
Back in those days, it seems fan clubs were popular with the kids. Roy Rogers,
the king of the coboys had one and gave Bob the inspiration to start one as well.
The station management agreed and they initially printed up about 3,000 membership
cards for the "Western Ledger Club". You might say the club became popular - at its
peak, it had over 63,000 members!
But before its peak, Uncle Bob had more legends to be made. It seems he got the idea
one day around 1954 when membership was about 40,000 members to have a get together of all
the members for a day. Station management was a bit skeptical about such an event.
But we know what a determined person can do sometimes. Uncle Bob knew someone at a
nearby state park and arranged to have the get together at McCormick's Creek State
Park near Spencer, Indiana. He made an arrangement with them on the parking and concessions.
Station management was still skeptical but told him he could promote the show, but exclusively
on their station and programs only - they wanted to test how successful television advertising
The event was on Sunday, June 10, 1954 from 10:00am to 5:00pm. Like the baseball
movie, "Field of Dreams" where he's told "...build it, they will come.", Uncle Bob must
have known if he held the event, the members would come. Indeed they did. A softball game
got cancelled as part of the events because the field was needed for a parking lot. The state
park had never seen more than 4,000 people up to that point. That day, they had over 35,000
admissions for the Old Western Ledger Roundup show. You think station management understood
what television advertising could do?
History notes that thirty-two years later, Uncle Bob staged a reunion concert of sorts
at the same park with sixteen members of the old Hayloft Frolic show and had over 6,000
fans show up.
With the "Hayloft Frolic" and "The Western Ledger" going full tilt for Uncle Bob
at WTTV, things were looking pretty good in the mid-1950s. But another event
turned Bob's career out west. In 1957, WTTV lost its network affiliation. Station
management was faced with many decisions to make and one they made was to cancel
all of their live programming. Which meant, Uncle Bob was out of work.
He found work at a small station in Decatur, Illinois and then moved to a radio
station in Brazil, Indiana. Duing one long winter spell, he found himself under
his mobile home with a blowtorch, trying to thaw out some pipes. It was a moment
like that when the thought came to Bob that perhaps it was time to move to a sunnier
climate, such as Arizona. He moved in 1962 and stayed there ever since.
Once again, he found
himself on not only on television, but entertaining another generation of children
it seems. Folks from Yuma, Arizona might remember him as Captain Almost of the S.S. Kiva,
a local children's show back then. Some things are just meant to be. Bob was the operations
director of KIVA-TV at the time and got asked to take over the helms of the mythical
ship after the actor who was playing the role of Commander Kenny left Yuma.
An undated article by Jessica Acosta, newspaper reporter, relates how he got the name Captain Almost for that show.
It seems in their haste to get him ready for the show, they hadn't really discussed
what his name would be. The guy playing the first mate character, Bennacle Bill asked
his new skipper what his name was. Uncle Bob had to come up with something quick for
in those days, television was live and often ad-lib. Bob replied, "Captain Almost,
because I'm almost a seaman." In a sense, he was right about being almost a seaman,
for the S.S. Kiva didn't sail on water, it sailed on land as Bob said, "...water
made us seasick." You can see where they had some fun with this show with a sense
of humor like that.
Bob could seemingly improvise just about anything. As time went on, he found an old military
seabee coat, then took some pieces or ornamental material from old band uniforms and
added it to the coat to create Captain Almost's uniform. He told one fan who spotted
him at a carnival in full costume what branch of the military he was from as the
uniform had gotten her attention. He just smiled and told her "The Arizona Navy".
Ms. Acosta relates that part of the charm of the show was the participation of the
children. The KIVA-TV studios were open to any kids who wanted to be a part of the
show. Some were even given bit parts to play in the show during a half-hour episode
of this daily show. Bob told Ms. Acosta that they would select one child each
show to ring the ship's bell and another one to 'steer' the ship - something
they all got a kick out of doing.
During his years in Arizona, he found himself doing some parts in movies as well
as television. One movie, The Night of the Lepus was a bit of a science fiction
flick about rabbits that had gone bad. Uncle Bob played the part of a college
professor who thought he had a serum to control the rabbits. We'll leave it to you
to rent the movie and find out whether the serum worked or not.
In 1970, he was offered the position of director of Broadcasting for Arizona Western College in Yuma.
He held that position until he retired in 1992. He told Mike Leonard in an undated
interview that he "...felt guilty teaching..." because the students he was instructing
were studying for the degree he didn't get himself when he first went to college. That
was the inspiration for him to go back to school, getting an associate degree at Arizona
Western, then completing the work to earn a bachelor's degree from Northern Arizona University -
at the age of 50.
We also learned in that article that Bob did a series of 23 shows that were called
"Country Boy in a Country Concert" where all the proceeds went to scholarships
for the broadcast department at Arizona Western. In fact, the shows raised enough
money to endow a scholarship fund, which Uncle Bob named in honor of his mother, Nota
Uncle Bob hasn't slowed down at all. He still keeps in touch with many of his old music
friends. In fact, he still gets together with Joe Edwards at a reunion concert of sorts
that Joe puts on back in Bloomfield, Indiana. That show has been going on since about 1991 and
appears to have become an annual Labor Day weekend event. Uncle Bob had appeared at the first
event that was held in the yard of Joe Oliphant's historic home in Bloomfield, when the
event drew 800 people. Uncle Bob appeared at the 2004 event as well.
Uncle Bob has recorded several albums at Joe Edwards' recording studio
in Nashville. They began their careers together and while they may have went in different
directions, that friendship they established has stood the test of time. Joe was instrumental
in helping get Uncle Bob an appearance on stage at the Grand Ole Opry as well. Making
those albums contains their share of anecdotes. Bob told us of the session where he
recorded the album "Uncle Bob Hardy's Family Memories". In addition to Joe Edwards on guitar,
this one featured the steel guitar of Little Roy Wiggins, who was known as Mr. Ting-a-Ling
and gave Eddy Arnold's early records their distinctive sound. When Roy arrived to play at the session,
he asked Uncle Bob how he wanted Roy to play. Uncle Bob told him simply that he wanted listeners
to know it was Little Roy Wiggins playing. Listening to that album we can tell you
Roy's distinctive sounds was heard and most enjoyably so.
On the personal side, Uncle Bob married the former Mary Wise in 1949. Together,
Bob and Mary had two sons, Steven and Timothy. They parted ways
however in a few years as the life of a performer and its travel demands had its toll.
He later married Betty Hodgin on May 6, 1956 in Monroe County, Indiana. Betty, too,
was a native Hoosier, born in 1929 in Carmel, Indiana. Betty's first
marriage had been to a performer, helping her adjust to the sometimes sudden changes
in their lives. Betty died of cancer in 2004. They had two daughters, Cheri and Melodi.
"Timeline & Trivia Notes
- The Night of the Lepus (1972)
- The Animals (1972)
Network Television credits:
- Petrocelli (NBC)
- Bearcats (CBS)
Stage Actor Credits:
- Ah Wilderness (O'Neal)
- The Odd Couple (Neil Simon)
- Look Homeward Angel (Wolfe)
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Mr. Uncle Bob Hardy himself
for providing us with various old articles and clippings and photos and for granting
us the pleasure of a phone interview in 2005 to help compile this write-up.
- National Hillbilly News; November 1946; Orville & Jenny Via; Huntington, WV
- The Hayloft Frolic WTTV Folio No. 2; Circa 1952
- Uncle Bob Hardy Presents The Hayloft Frolic WTTV Folio No. 3; Circa 1953
- The Biggest and Best In the Mid-West Hayloft Frolic Folio No. 4;
- Cowboy Songs; Issue No. 42; August 1955; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- "Catching Up With a Legend"; Mike Leonard; Bloomington Herald-Times; Undated; Copy
provided by Uncle Bob Hardy
- "Ship Ahoy! Yuma youngsters entertained by Capt. Almost in '60s"; Jessica Acosta;
Newspaper unknown; undated; Copy provided by Uncle Bob Hardy
- "Joe Edwards, Friends Coming to Bloomfield"; Nick Schneider; Linton Daily Citizen;
August 10, 2004
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