(With the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree celebrating its 3,000th radio broadcast, CMT.com intern Stephanie Pendergrass delves into the show’s history with this feature story.)
In a crowded auditorium, with the lights dimmed, Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown, with his blindingly shiny shirt, peeks out from behind the stage curtains and waves at the audience. Once Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You” begins playing over the speakers, the audience begins singing along softly.
Then with Helen Cornelius and Cooter’s Garage Band — Cooter being the mechanic from The Dukes of Hazzard TV series — by his side, Brown steps out to host the 2,997th broadcast of the Midnite Jamboree, live from the Texas Troubadour Theatre near Briley Parkway in Nashville. It’s about a two-minute drive from the Grand Ole Opry House, giving many tourists a chance to see both shows in the same night.
While the Opry has in fact had a longer stint on the air, the Midnite Jamboree began in 1947 and is the second longest-running radio program in America. It follows the Opry on Nashville radio station WSM-AM every Saturday night. Founded by Country Music Hall of Fame member Ernest Tubb in his record shop in downtown Nashville, the Midnite Jamboree still offers what it did when it first began — a venue featuring country music greats and aspiring newcomers.
The first broadcast took place on May 3, 1947. With entertainers ranging from Loretta Lynn, Tubb’s longtime duet partner who spent her early years on the radio show, to Elvis Presley and Garth Brooks, it’s no wonder the show is celebrating its 3,000th consecutive broadcast Saturday (Aug. 7).
According to Glenda Goleman, general manager for the Ernest Tubb Record Shops, the 3000th broadcast will be hosted by Jean Shepard and is “just going to be a typical Midnite Jamboree. … We don’t have anything, at this point, scheduled any differently, because the show carries itself. It is such a great show.”
Goleman says the show usually features only bluegrass and traditional country. “We like the Loretta Lynns and all,” she notes. “That’s the kind of sound that we like. Bill Anderson, Connie Smith … all of those good ones.”
The radio show always starts with a track from an Ernest Tubb album until the announcer introduces the host of the show. (Carol Lee Cooper stepped down from the announcer role earlier this year. Now, Jennifer Herron often serves in that position.) Following a live performance by the host, a song from Jimmie Rodgers is cued up — a continuing salute to one of Tubb’s heroes.
David McCormick, the company’s CEO, says, “I think the Midnite Jamboree has been going such a long time because we’re giving the folks what they want and can’t seem to find a lot of anymore — traditional country music — and on top of that, a free show. That, coupled with the fact we are continuing the same format for more than 57 years now, and we are now heard worldwide.”
In addition to the WSM-AM broadcast, the live show is available at the record shop’s official Web site. According to McCormick, “We have regulars who have been coming to the Midnite Jamboree for years.” He says 400 to 500 people attend the show every week. “All these folks are looking for a place that has and is preserving traditional country music.”
Elaine Tubb Wintergerter, Ernest Tubb’s daughter, credits the early success of the show to her father, who died in 1984. “So many of the ones that came here, especially in the beginning, was strictly because of E.T.,” she says. “I mean, they loved him.”
At the Midnite Jamboree — as at all of his concerts — Tubb would sign autographs until he gave one to every person wanting his signature.
“I think one of the best things about him was he never ever forgot that the fans are the ones that put him there,” Wintergerter says. “So he always put the fans first, because without them he’d be nowhere. He wouldn’t have anything. … And he always appreciated that because it let him do what he loved to do.”
Jack Greene, a drummer who graduated from Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours to become the first CMA male vocalist of the year, says he’s hosted the show at least 25 times, not to mention the numerous times he was working in Tubb’s band.
Greene says the atmosphere at the Midnite Jamboree is “like having your family there almost” because of the regulars who frequent the show.
“It’s more than just a radio show,” Greene says. “It’s a special way to close out the night.”