The USA’s longest running radio show has been entertaining listeners for more than 90 years. Not only is the program the longest running in the United States, but it’s also one of the oldest live radio shows in the world, falling just below well-known broadcasts like the Shipping forecast.
Though radio is far from the latest form of entertainment in the US landscape, it remains a popular choice for countless Americans.
According to some studies, around 92% of US consumers listen to AM/FM radio. There are more radio listeners in the country than TV viewers (87%), smartphone user (81%) and even PC users (54%). Approximately 244.5 million American adults tune into their favorite shows every month.
The incredible volume of radio listeners throughout the United States has helped countless shows and programs stand the test of time. Many programs have entertained generations of listeners for decades, ever since radio became popular in the early 1900s.
Today, we’re exploring the longest running radio show in the US, as well as some of the runner-up long-running programs in the landscape.
What is the longest running radio show in US history?
The USA’s longest running radio show is “Grand Ole Opry”, first broadcast on the WSM Radio channel in 1925. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the broadcast focuses primarily on country music – the most popular radio genre in the United States.
Throughout 96 years of operation, this show has delivered more than 5,000 broadcasts, running primarily on Saturday evenings.
Grand Ole Opry began life as the “WSM Barn Dance”, hosted on the fifth floor of a radio station studio known for housing the National Life & Accident Insurance Company in Nashville. By 2004, the show had partnered with a presenting sponsor for the first time.
Today, Grand Ole Opry is presented in conjunction with Cracker Barrel, a well-known American restaurant. Drive throughout Nashville on any of the major roadways in the city, and you’re likely to see signage highlighting the show, and its incredible heritage.
Interestingly, the Grand Ole Opry isn’t just a well-known radio show, it’s also known for having a massive influence on the culture of Nashville, and the country music landscape.
About the longest running radio show in the US
The Grand Ole Opry show was first introduced when a radio announcer known as George D. Hay introduced his very first broadcast of the WSM Barn Dance. The very first show featured an incredible performance by Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a 77-year-old fiddle player.
Presented from downtown Nashville, the show rapidly gained popularity, with locals actually visiting the National Life & Accident Insurance Studio where it was hosted.
What started as a relatively modest one-hour radio program quickly bloomed into a phenomenal piece of Nashville culture, and a major part of the country music landscape. Two years after the initial program, the name “Grand Ole’ Opry” was coined by Hay.
The name of this program has an interesting backstory too. George Hay’s original radio program followed on from a classical music show. Hay regularly joked about the audience transitioning from grand opera to “Grand Ole Opry”, inspiring the new name.
Though the show was extremely popular overall, some Nashville locals were originally against the style of music the Opry offered. At the time, Nashville was trying to develop its image as a cultured space, and certain local leaders felt the rural music sent the wrong image.
The longest running radio program in America today
Today, the USA’s longest running radio show is still extremely popular.
The program now features 2 and a quarter hour of live performance by established country music legends and emerging artists alike. While the show is best-known for bringing country music into the spotlight, it’s not limited entirely to country music.
Over the decades, the program has also played host to countless other celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, Kevin Costner, and Richard Nixon.
Devoted listeners can even join live audiences to watch the program unfold in person. Each week, the performances can be attended by the general public, from the Grand Ole Opry auditorium based in the aptly named Opryland, located about 20 minutes north-east from downtown Nashville.
While the National Life & Accident Insurance studio is still commonly associated with the Grand Ole’ Opry, the location quickly became too small to host such a significant live show. In its 90+ years on the air, the Grand Ole Opry actually had a number of different homes.
Initially, it moved to the Hillsboro Theatre during 1934, before switching to a religious meeting hall located in East Nashville. In 1939, the show was performed at the downtown War Memorial Auditorium, before moving to the Ryman Auditorium in 1943.
Finally, in 1974, the broadcast settled into a new home, built specifically for the broadcast. The Grand Ole Opry House has remained the home of the show ever since, with the exception of a small 3-month excursion between November and January.
At this time, the program is hosted at the Ryman for a special show, known as “Opry at the Ryman.”
Some of the other longest running radio shows in America
The Grand Ole Opry is by far the USA’s longest running radio show. However, there are a number of other well-known programs which have survived the years in the country.
For instance, the KSL studio has hosted the “Music & the spoken word” show for around 93 years, from Salt Lake City in Utah. Though rehearsals began in 1922, the official weekly program didn’t start until 1929, making this show just slightly younger than the Grand Ole Opry.
The WOR radio show in New York is also well-known for having one of the longest running radio programs in America. The “John Gambling show”, or “Rambling with Gambling” has been hosted by three generations of hosts named John Gambling for 91 years.
Other long-running radio shows in America include:
Metropolitan Opera (90 years)
The Metropolitan Opera, the longest running continuous classical music show in radio history, has been running within the USA for over 90 years. It has appeared on various channels, including the defunct NBC Blue Network, ABC, and CBS radio.
WWVA Jamboree (89 years)
The WWVA Jamboree first launched in 1933, first as a weekly show. Today, the program is limited to semi-annual special broadcasts and re-runs of previous episodes.
King Biscuit Time (80 years)
Known as the longest running daily American radio program, King Biscuit Time has won numerous awards, and still appears on the KFFA channel from Arkansas today.
Folksong Festival (70 years)
Folksong Festival holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running weekly radio program with the same consistent host. It is a folk-focused channel hosted on WNYC.
Midnite Jamboree (74 years)
The Midnite Jamboree has appeared on the WSM channel for a little over 74 years. However, it has had some interruptions in its continuous run, which sometimes causes it to be left out of lists of the longest running USA radio shows.
Night Vision (55 years)
This live call-in broadcast show supports the Christian community in the USA, from the WMUZ-FM radio station. The station is best-known for having a Christian music and talk show format, and is commonly referred to as “The Light”.
Learning from the longest running radio program in America
The USA’s longest running radio show is an excellent insight into just how enduring the radio landscape can be. The USA isn’t just home to one of the longest-running radio shows of all time, it also stands as a core location in radio history overall.
Over the years, shows like the Grand Ole Opry have cemented themselves in radio culture, and changed the way countless local Americans discover country music. Today, it continues to capture the attention of millions of listeners and avid fans.
Even the hosts of the Grand Ole Opry have maintained a long-lasting relationship with the program. Currently, the longest serving host on the channel is Jimmy Dickens, who stayed with the channel for an amazing 67 years – an entire lifetime of radio presenting!
Indeed, no other radio presenter has spent longer with a channel, sans perhaps Queen Elizabeth, who spent 69 years presenting the Queen’s Message each year in the United Kingdom.
Radio Fidelity: For the love of radio.