WSM debuted on Oct. 5, 1925, and less than two months later, the station would birth its most famous show (and the show that would make country music famous), the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry was the first of WSM’s shows to develop such an excited audience that fans would visit live studio broadcasts. That tradition continues today not only with the Opry, but with other signature programming including “An Intimate Evening with Eddie Stubbs”, “Station Inn Sessions”, and more.
To celebrate 90 years on-air, we’re proud to put together this interactive timeline, showcasing key events, photos, video clips, and audio files. While this certainly only covers the highlights, we hope you enjoy diving into 650 AM WSM’s history.
October 5, 1925
WSM first signed on the air when the National Life and Accident Insurance Company debuted WSM on October 5, 1925.
The call letters “WSM” reflected National Life’s motto: “We Shield Millions.”
1925: Grand Ole Opry
Less than two months later, WSM birthed it’s most famous show (and the show that would make country music famous, the Grand Ole Opry.
The Opry was the first of WSM’s shows to develop such an excited audience that fans would visit live studio broadcasts.
1928: 650 Kilohertz
In 1928, WSM was given the frequency of 650 kilohertz and admission to an elite group of maximum power, Class 1-A clear-channel broadcasters. In 1932, the station’s new 50,000-watt transmitter made it a nation-spanning giant.
At the heart of this expansion was a diamond-shaped vertical antenna located just South of Nashville, the tallest tower in the nation at the time, thus 650 AM WSM.
1939: The Tower
When the 878-foot tower was built, it was the tallest antenna in North America. Its height was reduced in 1939 when it was discovered that the taller tower was causing self-cancellation in the “fringe areas.”
For a period during World War II, it was designated to provide transmissions to submarines in the event that ship-to-shore communications were lost. It is now one of the oldest operating broadcast towers in the United States.
Country Music Nights
The station traditionally played country music in the nighttime hours. Before television was invented, WSM broadcasted long-form radio (both local and the NBC Network) programs during the daytime in addition to music.
1941: Commercial FM License
National Life and Accident Insurance Company, owners of 650 AM WSM, became the first commercial broadcaster in the U.S, to receive a commercial FM license from the FCC.
1950: Nashville’s First TV Station
WSMV first signed on the air as WSM-TV September 30, 1950. It was Nashville’s first television station, and only the second in Tennessee.
The 50’s Had It All
The ’50s had it all – honky-tonk, bluegrass, crooners, comedy, even a little rock ‘n’ roll. During this time, the Grand Ole Opry not only brought in established acts like Flatt & Scruggs and Mother Maybelle Carter, it could also turn an unknown like Stonewall Jackson into a star.
Some of the acts that made the Opry one of the nation’s most popular music programs during this decade were Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, George Jones, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner, Chet Atkins, Ray Price, Jean Shepard, Hank Snow, and many more.
Young Talent of the 60’s
The ’60’s brought a bevy of young talent, many of whom became superstars before long. In the first year alone, Patsy Cline, Hank Locklin, George Hamilton IV, and Billy Walker all joined the Grand Ole Opry membership ranks.
Playing through the airwaves, among many others, were Ernie Ashworth, Stu Phillips, Dottie West, Patsy Cline, Bobby Bare, Loretta Lynn, Ray Pillow, The Osborne Brothers, Jeannie Seely, Bill Anderson, The Browns, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Connie Smith, and Charlie Walker.
1969: Opryland, USA
In late September, 1969, WSM President Irving Waugh formally announces plans for Opryland, USA.
1970’s: Pat Sajak, Air Personality
Pat Sajak, host of TV’s Wheel of Fortune, served as the afternoon air personality of 650 AM WSM during the mid-70’s.
During that time, he doubled as a voice-over announcer and weekend weathercaster on WSM-TV.
1974: Grand Ole Opry House
In 1974, the Grand Ole Opry found a new home, leaving the urban surroundings of the Ryman, for the brand-new Grand Ole Opry House and adjoining theme park.
In attendance on the first night, March 15, 1974 was none other than President Richard Nixon. That night’s show began with Roy Acuff’s “Wabash Cannonball,” which the Opry seamlessly paid tribute to in their recent celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Opry House’s opening with Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show.
Music City, USA
WSM is credited with shaping Nashville into a recording industry capital. Because of it’s incredible reach, musical acts from all across the eastern United States would come to Nashville in hopes of getting to perform on WSM.
Over time, as more acts and recording companies came to Nashville, the city became known as the center of country music, nicknaming Nashville “Music City USA.”
1980: 24/7 Country Music
While 650 AM WSM is where country music was essentially launched into the American mainstream, it did not begin airing country music full-time until 1980.
Late 1990’s: WSM Goes Online
In the late 90’s, 650 AM WSM launched a 24/7 live web stream of it’s signal accessible via wsmonline.com. Soon to come were upgraded online experiences, mobile apps, video content and much more.
Hit After Hit
Country Music’s popularity exploded during the ’90s, creating a new generation of country superstars, many of whom became official members of the Opry family in addition to delivering chart-topping hit after hit.
Among those include Opry members Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Wariner, Charley Pride, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Johnny Paycheck and many more.
2008: Radio’s Highest Honor
The station has won hundreds of broadcasting awards and was named Country Radio Station of the Century by “Radio & Records” in 2000.
In 2008, 650 AM WSM’s legendary status was recognized in the form of a NAB Marconi Award, the radio industry’s highest honor.
More Ways Than Ever
Throughout the first decade of this century, fans experienced 650 AM WSM in more ways than ever – in person, on air, online, and via free mobile apps.
With unique programming, events and shows, on-air interviews and the Grand Ole Opry, fans had access 24/7.
650 AM WSM Today
Today, 650 AM WSM has become a broadcasting giant and a friend to hundreds of thousands of fans. WSM personalities are nationally recognized figures in country music, and its listeners range from U.S. Presidents to Country Music Hall of Famers, to artists climbing the charts toward their first number one hit.