About The Artist
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, Rhythm.
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 could be.
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 M. Hardy.
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.
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