The Grand Ole Opry was once a place to sell insurance and today is one of the best country music radio shows in history. It opened in 1901 when states deputy insurance commissioner C.A. Craig won the National sick Accident and Insurance Company at auction before renaming it the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The company today is owned by Gaylord Entertainment and is going strong. Here is a look at the full history behind the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville.
How it began
The Grand Ole Opry started as a tool for insurance to be sold before it was transformed to the longest lived country music radio show that it is today. After C.A. Craig won the insurance company at auction for $17,250, it was renamed the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The offices were located on the second floor of a residence on Union Street after being moved several times over the years.
National Life built a five story building at 7th Avenue where it would remain for 40 years. They decided to make an emblem to represent the company and it was a popular tradition at the time. The emblem for National Life would be a shield to represent their motto of “We Shield Millions.” The logo became their call letters for the time they made it to radio in 1923 when C.A. Craig’s son, Edwin, offered the idea to National Life’s board as a marketing tool.
The first radio show went live in 1925 from their 5th floor offices. The aired words were “This is WSM, We Shield Millions.” After a month the popular radio announcer George Hay went on air with a hillbilly program and over the next few years, the show became a barn-dance WSM. In 1927, Hay made an announcement that they have been listening to music taken from the Grand Opera that they will, from then forward, present as the Grand Ole Opry. The show has been called this ever since.
Grand Ole Opry
The radio show’s popularity increased and suddenly the venue had to increase in size to accommodate audiences. After trying to take it to The Belcourt Theatre, the Dixie Tabernacle and the War Memorial Auditorium, it finally made a home at the Ryman Auditorium in 1943 where it would remain for three decades.
In 1963 the insurance company purchased the Ryman Auditorium, changed the name to Grand Ole Opry House before moving again in 1969 where it became a theme park and hotel in a spot east of downtown. In 1974, the Grand Ole Opry moved to downtown Nashville and the building was called the Grand Ole Opry House.
The American General took over National Life Insurance and decided to negotiate the sale of some assets including Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, the theme park and the WSM radio station. Ed Gaylord, an Oklahoma businessman bought it and today the Grand Ole Opry is still owned by Gaylord Entertainment.
Today, you can still hear the WSM radio station live and live shows every week.
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