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How Nashville became a hotbed for music

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It started with an insurance company and a popular radio broadcast

(WYTV) – What made Nashville, Tennessee such a center for music?

It launched the careers of stars as diverse as Elvis and Jimi Hendrix to Taylor Swift.

At one time, it was just another laid-back Southern city. Most of the credit for the change belongs to an insurance company.

In 1925, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company opened a radio station in Nashville to promote its business. The call letters were WSM — the company motto “We Shield Millions” — and it played classical music and easy-listening “dinner” music.

But on Saturday nights, WSM featured a show called The Barn Dance, an evening of live country music. Saturday was traditionally “come to town” day in the South.

People did that. The Barn Dance broadcast was so popular in Nashville, people would come downtown every Saturday night and crowd outside the WSM station to catch a glimpse of the musicians.

So WSM built an auditorium for the audience and in 1927, changed the program’s name to Grand Ole Opry.

Then in 1932, WSM put up the tallest radio antenna in North America at the time and broadcast a 50,000-watt clear channel signal that could reach every home in America.

That’s when Grand Ole Opry really took off.

Eventually, every country performer wanted to be there from Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to Charley Pride and Elvis.

Nashville is also the home of bluegrass music. Elvis recorded 260 songs there, including his first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” in 1956.

It was WSM announcer David Cobb who ad-libbed an introduction to a 1960 Opry broadcast by saying the sounds were coming from “Music City, USA.” The name stuck.

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