With the Oneida County Fair kicking off tomorrow, we thought we’d remember a special moment at the Oneida County Fair back in 1938.
Gary Entz continues our series A Northwoods Moment in History with the story, starting with the history of the National Barn Dance radio program.
In the 1930s The National Barn Dance was one of the most popular programs on broadcast radio, and it was a great favorite in the Northwoods. Two stars in particular were beloved in the Northwoods, and that was the singing duo of Lulu Belle and Skyland Scottie.
The National Barn Dance radio program began broadcasting out of Chicago’s WLS-AM in 1924. WLS was owned by Sears, the call letters stood for “World’s Largest Store,” and it was founded in order to encourage farm families in rural communities to purchase radio receivers. The station broadcast at 50,000 watts and covered a huge swath of the Midwest, including the Northwoods. In 1928 the station was sold to the Agricultural Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as ABC, but the goal remained the same, which was to provide news and entertainment to rural communities.
Over the years The National Barn Dance featured numerous stars, including Gene Autry, Red Foley, Andy Williams, Pat Buttram, and many others. It was the model for the Grand Ole Opry, which was founded in 1925 with people hired from the National Barn Dance. Of all the acts that performed on the program, however, none were as popular as the sweethearts of country music.
Myrtle Eleanor Cooper, or Lulu Belle, began as a solo singer on the National Barn Dance in 1932. Scott Greene Wiseman joined the program in 1933. The two fell in love, became a comedy and singing duo, and were married in 1934. Lulu Belle was the wisecracking country girl while Scottie was the straight man. Their music was extremely popular in the Northwoods, and Junior High and High School programs in the area regularly imitated the “Barn Dance” with students performing as Lulu Belle and Scottie.
In August 1938, the year Lulu Belle was named “Favorite Female Radio Star” by Radio Guide magazine, the Northwoods got the real deal. The entire National Barn Dance cast, with Lulu Belle and Scottie as headliners, came to perform at the Oneida County 4-H and School Fair. The weather was cool and damp, but 2,200 people still came out for the two shows combined. Enough that fair organizers called it the most successful show in history. The act was so well received that fair organizers brought back Lulu Belle and Skyland Scottie in 1942. On August 26 the streets were jammed with over 1750 people filling the grandstands as Northwoods residents came out to see their favorite country-western radio performers. They did not leave disappointed.
Lulu Belle and Scotty along with the National Barn Dance troupe performed at least one more time in the Northwoods, this time in Crandon in October 1947 and received an equally enthusiastic reception. The couple retired from show business in 1958, and the National Barn Dance ended broadcasts in 1968.
This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear.