“Louisiana Hayride” began as a radio program and evolved into an early television show credited with propelling the careers of some of the 1950s and ‘60s biggest stars.

Based in Shreveport, Louisiana, the show was named for a book by the same title by author Harnett Thomas Kane that examined a series of 1939-40 Louisiana scandals.

The first radio show was aired April 3, 1948, live from the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium with emcee Horace Logan, who remained as the show’s producer until 1957. Among the first show’s guest performers were Kitty Wells, The Tennessee Mountain Boys, Johnnie and Jack and several other acts.

The Bailes Brothers and Red Sovine wrote the show’s introductory song shortly before its first broadcast, with the lyrics,  “Come along, come along. The sun is shining bright; the moon is shining bright. We’re gonna have a Louisiana Hayride tonight.”

Within a year the show was so popular that a network of 25 stations was broadcasting portions of it with the flagship station being KWKH/1130 in Shreveport. Military troops were entertained overseas through Armed Forces Radio. CBS radio network had syndicated the show by 1953, and it was broadcast by 198 U.S. affiliates.

The live shows drew crowds from far beyond Shreveport, filling hotels and restaurants. Tickets were 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children with an average of about 3,300 tickets sold for every performance.

One “Hayride” sponsor was Johnnie Fair brand syrup, which also paid $5,000 for a 15-minute morning program that regularly featured live performances by a young crooner named Hank Williams, who called himself the “Ol’ Syrup Sopper.” In 1949 Williams’ on air vocal performances, in which he played only a guitar, were recorded on acetate and stored. In 1955, nearly three years after his death, these were issued as singles by MGM.

By the mid-1950s “Louisiana Hayride” was televised and continued to serve as a venue where new performers could try out their acts. Webb Pierce, Jimmie Davis, Will Strahan, Slim Whitman, Floyd Cramer, Sonny James, Hank Snow, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves, Claude King, Jimmy Martin, Johnny Cash, Frankie Miller, Tex Ritter, Nat Stuckey, Bill Carlisle, Red Sovine, Grandpa Jones, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Lefty Frizzell, among countless others, performed on “Louisiana Hayride.”

The “Hayride” treated musicians as professionals and expected that they would be or become a paid member of the Federation of Musicians union. Bandleaders made $18 with band members taking home $12 each. Featured artists could make up to $24. Honky tonks and clubs paid more, but the kind of exposure the “Hayride” provided was more valuable than cash to artists hoping for a successful touring schedule, a recording contract or a future at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry was rather conservative and did not allow drums and electric guitars for many years, while the “Hayride” did. This offered opportunities for early rock-a-billy acts to be featured. One of these was Elvis Presley.

Presley sang on the “Hayride” radio program in 1954 and on the television show the following year in his first TV appearance. He was offered a one-year contract, so he had gained quite a following among the younger “Hayride” ticketholders and viewers. It was during the Dec. 15, 1956, show that an attempt to calm the excited crowd entered forever into pop culture. Presley, who was 19, had finished his set and was already headed for his next gig. The emcee loudly announced to the encore-demanding crowd, “Elvis has left the building.”

The changing times and the growing popularity of rock-and-roll took a toll on shows like “Louisiana Hayride.” On Aug. 27, 1960, the show ended. However, the radio station KWKH used the name for packaged music tours until 1969. Several other music-related entities have used the name “Hayride,” including a dinner theater country music syndicated show that ran from 1975-1987. A local reunion show in 2003 called “One More ‘ride” featured 60 acts from the original show, including  Kitty Wells, the Browns, Betty Amos, Homer Bailes, Billy Walker, Mitchell Torok and Hank Thompson.

 In August 2009  “Louisiana Hayride” (1948–1960) was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Story by Claudia Johnson