The Old-Time Herald Volume 12, Number 9

Feature
The Brewster Brothers: Their Story and Knoxville’s Glory
By Dick Spottswood
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The Brewster Brothers at WROL-Knoxville; l, Willie G. Brewster, r, Ray Brewster, courtesy of Elaine Vaccaro.

What we call country music has in reality always had an economic base in Southern cities, where recording, broadcasting, and publishing centers have flourished. Wayne Daniel's book Pickin' on Peachtree (University of Illinois, 1990) outlines the early primacy of Atlanta, where fiddlers' conventions in the 1910s begat country music broadcasts as early as 1922 and commercial record-making in 1923. With the growth of the National Barn Dance on WLS, the center of gravity moved to Chicago, especially after 1931, when the station began to broadcast with a 50,000-watt signal that covered much of the Eastern United States and Canada. By the 1940s, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry assumed primary status, largely due to its own 50,000-watt signal and a live half-hour Prince Albert segment heard across the country every Saturday night on NBC radio, and on Armed Forces Radio overseas. Opry exposure gave Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, and many others national stardom that they turned into lifetime careers.

Though these giants reigned, other cities hosted live country music broadcasts from the 1920s onward that featured local, regional, and traveling talent. Record companies in the 1920s and ‘30s regularly scouted Southern towns to locate and record local talent. Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, and San Antonio were broadcast centers and routine destinations for record makers after 1925, but Bristol, Johnson City, Savannah, St. Petersburg, Asheville, New Orleans, Birmingham, and even Ashland, Kentucky, had visits from record companies on one or more occasions before 1930.

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