July 22, 2022
Did your grandparents listen to Prairie Farmer WLS radio, loaded with news and entertainment? According to wttw.com/timemachine, Prairie Farmer was “the voice of the farmer.”
A friend shared the 1939 and 1940 Prairie Farmer WLS Family Albums. They provide a treasure trove of broadcasting history.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. wanted to target farmers. Sears started its own radio station. On April 12, 1924, the station commenced officially, using the call sign WLS for World’s Largest Store.
Sears sold the station to Prairie Farmer in 1928. In 1960, a fledgling national communication company, American Broadcasting Co. — better known as ABC — wanted WLS. The Prairie Farmer directors agreed to sell, but only if the company also bought Prairie Farmer. That’s why Midwestern farm magazines were once owned by ABC.
Back in the day, WLS offered market reports, news, livestock, weather and produce reports. Noted legends Captain Stubby; Red Foley; Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy; John Turnipseed; the Lazy Farmer; Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers; the Sodbusters; and the Arkansas Woodchopper performed frequently.
Well-remembered was the “WLS Barn Dance,” a “wildly popular vaudeville show.” Twice every Saturday night for more than 30 years, the show packed a Chicago theater.
A DIFFERENT HAYLOFT: The “Ole Hayloft” column in this Prairie Farmer story about the “WLS Barn Dance” referred to a fixture of the barn dance for many years.
Service to listeners and rural communities was a Prairie Farmer WLS priority. The radio company’s Neighbors’ Club one year provided 375 wheelchairs and 290 radios for hospital-bound children.
Longtime president and publisher of Prairie Farmer Burridge D. Butler described the company’s mission best in 1940: “Our organization feels its responsibility to keep WLS a great medium of service and information, a guidepost of the American way.”
Hayhurst writes from Terre Haute, Ind.
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