Media Working Group (Lexington, KY)

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    Archival black and white photo of eleven member of a country band onstage in front of a painted country scene

The WLS Prairie Farmer Road Show in Wisconsin, 1936. Photo by James G. Buchanan

Back in the 1920s and 30s, there was one promoter of country music that was second only to the Grand Ole Opry—the WLS radio program, National Barn Dance. The radio program, broadcast out of downtown Chicago, began in 1924 and ran until 1960, presenting live music and entertainment to millions of people every Saturday night during its 26-year run. In FY 2006, Media Working Group received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support post-production and editing costs for a documentary film about the program, The Hayloft Gang: The Story of the National Barn Dance.

National Barn Dance appealed not only to rural audiences but also to city listeners who had come from rural communities. The pioneering program set the standard for the hundreds of similar barn dance radio programs that followed in its wake. Some of the iconic performers featured on National Barn Dance included “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry; Country Music Hall of Famers Red Foley and Bradley Kincaid; and Lulu Belle and Scotty Wiseman, “The Sweethearts of Country Music.”

The one-hour film incorporates archival film footage, photographs, and music with interviews with surviving performers and listeners, broadcast historians, folklorists, and folk and country music experts. Activities supported by the NEA grant included the digitizing and editing of archival film footage, the creation of graphic materials and music, and the recording of the film’s narration by Garrison Keillor. The completed documentary will be broadcast on public television in partnership with the Independent Television Service, WTTW National Productions, and Kentucky Educational Television. The Hayloft Gang is expected to premiere on PBS in late 2008.

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report)