Dick Hill was a hillbilly singer from the Nebraska area. His career
started with a program that aired at 6:30am over KBRL out of McCook,
Nebraska in 1946. When he was done playing his guitar and spinning
records on his show, he would pack up and attend McCook High School.
While now retired, his career spanned nearly 50 years and he is one
of the original members of the Nebraska Country Music Foundation's
Country Music Hall of Fame.
When he was in high school, he formed his first band, the Drifting
Troubadours. The band stuck together for about four years, playing
on programs over local radio stations including KRVN in Lexington,
Nebraska, the Midwest Jamboree and the Hayloft Frolic, both of which
aired over KHOL-TV, Channel 13 in Kearney, Nebraska. Those programs
reached audiences in the Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska
An early version of that band included such folks as Chuck Howard
on the Hawaiian steel guitar, Swannie Swanson on the big bass fiddle
and Jim Fellows on the mandolin. Later on in the 1950s, the band personnel
changed a bit. They would make local appearances, sometimes sponsored by
the local business folks such as White Trailer Sales or Sidders Factory
When he was on KBRL out of McCook, Nebraska back in 1947/48, he would
make his appearance in the early morning hours on the air, then would
leave and head off to school.
The Midwest Jamboree and Hayloft Frolic shows were on the air
from 1955 to 1959. The Jamboree was on Friday nights and the Frolic show
aired on Mondays. In a Hasting Tribune interview with Rebecca Oltmans
of March 17, 2000, Dick mentioned that audiences haven't forgotten how
they gathered around the tv's with their families, even when the reception
was fuzzy and snowy on their television sets. "That was their Friday night
entertainment." Dick said.
The Midwest Jamboree was on from 10:30pm to 11:30pm on Friday evenings.
He was good enough of a performer to make a living at it for a while. The
show gave them exposure to allow them to gain a bit of a following.
Several nights a week, the band would get into a '49 Buick and an old Oldsmobile
and drove over the gravel roads to play at fairs, rodeos and dance halls
across the listening area. The article notes that their band included
a fiddle, accordion, bass and guitar players and a lead singer who sounded
a bit like Hank Snow.
Dick noted that "...there wasn't a soul around." when they arrived on the
scene at their engagements, but when they started performing, "...it was
The fans and the artists may have been closer back then. Dick notes in the
March 2000 article that they were usually invited to spend the night with
a local family, but mostly couldn't, but did stay long enough to enjoy
a late-night or early morning breakfast.
Hillbilly musicians were known to drive many a mile to personal appearances
and back then, that could mean some memorable trips.
Dick recalled that
one of the most vivid memories was a return trip from Stockville. It seems
that rain had fallen much of that particular day. They had started home
from a show and the road was a wet, muddy, gravel road. As they came over
a hill, a lightning flash '...lit up a washed out bridge.' Dick noted that
they slammed on the brakes and found another route home.
The shows went off the air in 1959 and Dick moved to Colorado and took
a temporary break from playing. The Hayloft Frolic was the first
of the shows to go off the air.
In six years, he moved back to Hastings
where he joined Larry Mager and the Countrymen. Later on, he played with
Gordon Whitten and the Western Wanderers.
Dick was also part of a long running, popular radio program that aired
over KHAS radio from 1980 to 1995.
In an october 20, 1990 interview with Karen Griess in the Hastings Tribune,
Dick notes that country music's style had changed from its early 'hillbilly'
styles to a 'pop rock influence' today. In the 1940s Dick said, "...music
fell into three categories: hillbilly, popular and classical. Now it's
one big conglomerate."
Since 1947, Dick has worked in country music on radio, television and is
also a well-known country music historian, too.
Back in the Fall issue
of 1974, The Journal of Country Music published a radio log that Dick
had kept as a teen-ager listening to WSM and the Grand Ole Opry in 1944
These were the war years and as the Journal's article notes,
perhaps for teenagers back then, especially in the rural areas such
as the Nebraska Prairie, they had
to find ways to deal with their free time.
Dick chose to fill his time logging the songs, tunres and other miscellaneous
notes of the shows that he listened to over the radio on WSM on Saturday
nights. Dick was kind enough to share that article with us and if you
visit the "Programs" section of this site and view the page for the WSM Grand
Ole Opry, you will see a sample of those logs each time you load the page. You'll
enjoy a trip back to that era and see the tunes they were singing over the radio
Dick recalled in that article:
"I re-read a lot of the entries and it sure brought
back a lot of memories, as the Opry was my favorite program back
in the 1940s, and I well remember hearing the
different programs each Saturday night, for that was all I did
when Sat. evening rolled around. Saturday meant three things for me:
no school, bath nite, and then the Opry! till midnight. Lots
of times I used to get up early on some mornings and hear the early shows from WSM.
At the time I lived in a small town southeast Nebraska called Tecumseh.
In addition to those logs, Dick was an avid collector of records, tapes
and printed matter related to the music. As he says sometimes, "the stuff
piles up". He's sold off most of his collection of records and other
items over the years, but still has a collection of the music on tape to
He's retired from performing and working on the radio. he keeps in touch
with many of the folks of that era, too. But on occastion
he still makes an appearance at a local station to lend a hand or
provide a few tunes from that bygone era for the folks to listen to.
Dick Hill is also one of the original members of the Nebraska Country
Music Foundation, founded in 1980, and is in the Nebraska Country Music Foundation
Hall of Fame.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Group Members included:
- Dick Hill, rhythm guitar, vocals
- Chuck Howard, steel guitar
- Swannie Swanson, bass fiddle
- Jim Fellows, mandolin
Credits & Sources
- Country Roots; Rebecca Oltmans; Hastings Tribune; Friday, March 17,2000.
- Souvenir Book, Nebraska Country Music Festival 1985
- The Journal of Country Music; Volume V, Number 3, Fall 1974;
Country Music Foundation Press; Nashville, TN
- Photos and other clips provided courtesy of Dick Hill.
|Sound Sample(RealAudio Format)