Howard Stern has never been a country DJ, but that doesn’t mean the format is shock free. Here are seven surprising moments in country radio.
7. Marty Stuart calls Opry listeners “Old Farts”
Marty Stuart became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nov. 1992. During his induction ceremony, he introduced one song by saying, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to sing you not-so-new country fans a new favorite. That’s just a polite way of saying I’d like to sing you old farts a song.” Stuart later apologized.
6. DJ spends 33 days on a billboard
Duncan Stewart was a DJ at Nashville’s WSIX-FM in 1988. It was a a sluggish season for University of Tennessee football, so he decided to support the UT Vols in an unusual way. Stewart took up residence in a 4×8 wooden box on a billboard, which read “Go Big Orange,” and swore to remain in the box until the team won a game. Stewart had to leave the box after 33 days, because he injured his ankle climbing a ladder. Even then, he slept at the foot of the billboard.
5. Ralph Emery gives The Byrds the bird
In 1968, The Byrds recorded “Sweethearts of the Rodeo,” a fusion of rock and country. The album is legendary now, but was poorly received then. When The Byrds played the Opry, they were booed off stage. They later appeared on Ralph Emery’s live show, and Emery denounced them as “hippies” whose album wasn’t actual country music. The Byrds responded with a song about Emery, “Drug-Store Truck-Driving Man,” about a right-wing, redneck DJ who “sure don’t think much/like the records he plays.”
4. KOKE changes its formula
An Austin, Texas radio station with the call letters KOKE-FM changed formats on New Year’s Eve 1972. This happened largely at the behest of a fellow who just moved back to Texas after a sojourn in Nashville: Willie Nelson. He returned to Texas because the dominant style in Nashville at the time, “The Nashville Sound,” excluded Nelson’s twangy realness. He knew he and his music would find support in Austin. He subsequently helped change the format of a radio station to meet his needs. Nelson often performed live on KOKE-FM, which also played an unheard-of blend of country and rock, called “progressive country.” By the end of 1974, KOKE-FM was named the most innovative station in the country by Billboard magazine.
3. “Cruise” lasts 22 weeks
If it lasts for 22 solid weeks and happens at multiple stations, is it still considered a moment? Yes, if it’s a sign country music is shifting. Early in 2014, the song “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line reached 22 weeks atop of the country charts. It stayed at number one longer than any other country song. The previous record holder was Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” and it stayed at the top for only 21 weeks. This was 63 years ago. Florida Georgia Line’s tune might strike a lot of folks as something other than a pure country song. It was, after all, remixed by Nelly.
2. Richard Nixon, Opry Star
In 1974, the Grand Ole Opry moved from its longtime venue, Ryman Auditorium, to a new theatre built specifically for the show. It was near the entrance to a newly-built theme park, the now extinct Opryland. Listeners of the initial broadcast from the Grand Ole Opry House were surprised to hear a voice they definitely knew, but not for his music. The voice belonged to the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon. He made a speech and played several songs on the piano. He even told a few jokes, suggesting Roy Acuff should be President while Nixon stayed in Nashville and learned to play the yo-yo.
1. Six standing ovations
The singer who took the Opry stage on the night of June 11, 1949 never expected to play there. He had auditioned three years earlier, and the Opry rejected him. In 1952, the Opry severed its ties with him, because of his worsening behavior and drinking problems. That night in 1949, however, the young man garnered six standing ovations. It was the most any Opry performer had ever received. The audience in the Ryman, and doubtless the listeners at home, knew they were hearing someone they’d never forget. They were right. His name was Hank Williams.