WMMN Sagebrush Roundup
The WMMN Sagebrush Roundup came about during a surge of popularity
of hillbilly music in the West Virginia area back around 1938. WWVA had
their jamboree of course and other stations were finding success with them.
Uncle Nat Royster came up with the name and suggested it to then manager
of WMMN Mr. Kelchner. The first shows were done in a studio at the station
and were scripted by Mr. Royster and directed by Murrell Poor.
On those first shows were such performers as Curley Mitchell and his
Ploughboys, the Buskirk Family, Tex Mitchell, the Trading Post Gang,
Cowboy Loye and his Blue Bonnet Group, and the Rhythm Rangers with Little
Sammie Ash. The show soon moved to the Fairmont Armory and featured
square dancing after the show. Per a WMMN Family Album of 1941, it was
quite a hit and had played to over 300,000 people since that opening
night in December 1938.
In reading Ivan Tribe's Mountaineer Jamboree, we find that this show had
some good qualities. WMMN charged admission and the artists got to
share in the gate receipts. Not only that, but the show was auditioned
to be on the CBS Network for possible nationwide broadcast. Back then,
only shows originating in the major cities such as in Chicago, Nashville,
Des Moines, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Wheeling, Charlotte and Charleston with
stations with more wattage than WMMN was putting out were getting the airplay.
A 1940 Radio Varieties article tells us that Joe Edison came to WMMN
from an unidentified Youngstown, Ohio radio station to join the announcing
staff. He was also appointed the chief producer of the Sagebrush Roundup
show that was airing each Saturday night from the Fairmont Armory.
Some well-known musical legends appeared on the Sagebrush Roundup early
in their careers. Probably foremost among them would be future Country
Music Hall of Famer, Grandpa Jones and his Grandsons. Back then, they say 'Grandpa'
was barely old enough to vote. But the WMMN Family Album mentions he did generate
one of the heaviest amounts of fan mail back then.
The WMMN Family Album also has performing on the Sagebrush Roundup other acts
such as The Singing Gabbards, which was a father-son duo. Later Arthur 'Rusty'
Gabbard performed on his own. Enoch M. Haney otherwise known as Eli, from
Smithfield, PA played mandolin, banjo and guitar back then and was
for a time part of the features in the "Old Hickory Nuts Gang". Later on,
he was with Uncle Rufe's Coon Hunters. Jake Taylor's Railsplitters came on board
from WWVA's Jamboree. A comedic talent of sorts, Jimmy James also performed there,
doing things on the trombone. It seems like this was the same Jimmy James we find
later on the WLS National Barn Dance.
Howard Hopkins Wolfe also known as "Foxy" was program director of WMMN back about
1938 and did announcing duties prior to that. Back then, WMMN was doing quite
a bit live broadcasting of hillbilly music - up to five hours a day not to mention
the Saturday night Sagebrush Roundup.
On November 16, 1940, the Sagebrush Roundup did a Third Anniversary show at the
Armory. A 1940 article mentions the show played to "...almost fifteen hundred
paid admissions for the one show." The article further mentions that the Sagebrush
Roundup's entertainment for a typical show included "...vaudeville skits, hill billy
and western music and songs, with lots of excellent novelty thrown in for good measure."
Fans from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio would make drives of up to 200 miles
to attend the show in person back then.
While it may not seem like a far range of listeners to drive to the show in person,
we have to keep in mind that back then, WMMN had just been given permission
to up its output to 5,000 watts in both and day and night time broadcasts and
was only broadcasting 21 hours a day. In December 1940, they wrote "...it is planned
to give a mixed program of both popular and Hill Billy music starting every morning
at 3 o'clock."
Credits & Sources
- Radio Varieties; December 1940; F. L. Rosenthal Publisher;
1056 West Van Buren Street; Chicago, Illinois
Chief Red Hawk
Uncle Rufe Armstrong and his Coon Hunters
George (Sleepy) Jeffers