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Sagebrush Roundup
Fairmont, WV
Year Started:  1938
Date Started:  December 10, 1938

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
  • WMMN Family Album 1941
  • Mountaineer Jamboree; by Ivan Tribe; 1984
  • Radio Varieties; December 1940; F. L. Rosenthal Publisher; 1056 West Van Buren Street; Chicago, Illinois

Uncle Rufe Armstrong and his Coon Hunters

Jake Taylor and the Rail Splitters

Cowboy Loye Pack

The Blue Bonnet Girls

Kent Westberry

The Davis Twins

Cherokee Sue

Joe Edison

Chief Red Hawk

Fiddlin' Hank (Hank Holland)

Hank (The Cowhand) Stanford

Lennie Aleshire

Florence Curry (Blue Bonnet Girls)

Slim Mays and his Buckaneers

Norma Frances Armstrong

Radio Dot Smokey

Emma Jean Furby and Bradley Furby

George (Sleepy) Jeffers

Paul Buskirk

Enoch Haney

Grandpa Jones

Singing Gabbards

Buddy Starcher

Blaine Smith

James (Froggie) Cortez


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