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WSM
City of license Nashville, Tennessee
Broadcast area Nashville metropolitan area
Branding 650 AM WSM
Slogan Nashville's Country Legend
Frequency 650 (kHz)
First air date 1925
Format Country music
Power 50,000 watts
Class A
Facility ID 74066
Transmitter coordinates 35°59′53.5″N 86°47′27″W / 35.998194°N 86.79083°W / 35.998194; -86.79083
Callsign meaning We Shield Millions (slogan of former owner, National Life & Accident Insurance Company)
Owner Gaylord Entertainment Company
Webcast WSM Online @ Eonstreams
Website www.wsmonline.com

WSM (branded The Legend) is the callsign of a 50,000 watt AM radio station located in Nashville, Tennessee. Operating at 650 kHz, its clear channel signal can reach much of North America and various countries, especially late at night. It now bears the distinction of being the only clear channel station in the eastern U.S to broadcast music; practically all the others employ a news/talk format. The WSM callsign is also assigned to an FM station in Nashville, and was shared by Nashville's then co-owned television Channel 4, now WSMV, until 1981. WSM has been nicknamed "The Air Castle of the South". WSM broadcast in (C-Quam) AM stereo, which could be heard over several states at night, from December 6, 1982 thru 2000.

Contents

Heritage

WSM's unusual diamond-shaped tower

It first signed on in 1925 and is primarily associated with the popularization of country music through its weekly Saturday night program the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio program in history, begun as the WSM Barn Dance in 1925. WSM played a major role in the history of American music and radio by broadcasting country music's signature program over a huge area for decades.

The station traditionally played country music in the nighttime hours, when listeners from around the United States would tune in. Before the advent of television, the station broadcast long-form radio (both local and NBC network) programs in addition to music. After television became popular (thus largely eliminating the audience for the old full-length radio programs of the past), WSM adopted an "MOR" (middle of the road) music format during the daytime hours, and continued to play country music at night. It was not until about 1979 that WSM adopted a 24-hour country music format, which it continues to program to this day.

Tower

WSM's unusual diamond-shaped antenna (manufactured by Blaw-Knox) is visible from Interstate 65 just south of Nashville (in Brentwood) and is one of the area's landmarks. At 808 feet (246 m), it is the tallest of eight such towers that remain in use in North America. As a tribute to the station's centrality in country music history, the diamond Blaw-Knox antenna design was incorporated into the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's design in 2001. It was also part of the CONELRAD US National Emergency Plan in the event of a nuclear war, or another national catastrophe.

FM sister

WSM had a companion station, WSM-FM, that was the first to broadcast on the FM band in the United States, beginning in 1941. However, it has not been on the air continuously ever since nor always under the 'WSM' callsign (the current WSM-FM began in 1968, an acquisition from another broadcaster); hence other FM stations have a longer history of continuous operation. WSM-FM (95.5 MHz) was WSM's sister until 2008, when Cumulus Media, the full owner of WSM-FM since 2003, ended its operating agreement with the AM (see below). Despite identical callsigns, the two stations are no longer related.

Ownership and facilities

For most of its history, WSM was owned by the Nashville-based National Life and Accident Insurance Company, along with WSM-TV, and the Grand Ole Opry. The stations' call letters derived from the company's motto, "We Shield Millions". Studios were first located in the NL&AI building on Seventh Avenue and Union Street in downtown Nashville; this was the original home of the Opry, until 1934. The studios remained until the mid-1960s, when NL&AI began carrying out plans to build a new headquarters building downtown and construct new studios for WSM-TV in west Nashville (the TV station had been located near Belmont College). Upon construction of the new headquarters, NL&AI chose to relocate WSM radio to the TV station's building, and the station, joined in 1968 by its new FM sister, broadcast from that location, on Knob Road, from about 1966 to 1983.

In 1981, WSM-TV was sold to Gillett Broadcasting and changed its callsign to WSMV; however, there was still a considerable overlap in the on-air personnel of the two operations in the years immediately following this change. In 1983, the American General Corporation (now part of the American International Group) bought NL&AI. American General, which had no desire to operate broadcasting outlets, soon decided to sell the NL&AI entertainment assets, including Opryland Hotel, Opryland USA, The Grand Ole Opry, WSM-FM, and WSM-AM, to Gaylord Entertainment Company. Gaylord would add the Nashville Network, now Spike TV, to those holdings soon after those acquisitions. It would also move the WSM radio stations to new facilities at the Opryland Hotel, departing their 1970s building on Knob Road, which still houses WSMV today.

WSM currently operates out of the former Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl museums adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry House. The studio itself is located within the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, and visitors to the hotel may look into the studio 24 hours a day, provided the curtains are open, which they usually are.

In 2001, management had sought to capitalize on the success of sister station WWTN's sports trappings by converting WSM to an all-sports format. Word was leaked to other media resulting in protests, including longtime Opry personalities and country music singers, outside the station's studios. Management eventually made the decision to keep the station on its classic country format.

WSM's "fishbowl" studio inside the Gaylord Opryland hotel

In recent years, the operations have been reorganized again. In 2003, WSM-FM and WWTN, sister stations to 650 WSM, were sold to Cumulus Media. Cumulus intended to purchase 650 WSM as well, but Gaylord decided to maintain ownership at the eleventh hour. Through a 5-year joint sales agreement, however, Gaylord paid Cumulus a fee to operate WSM's sales department and provide news updates for the station. Gaylord Entertainment continued to control WSM and operate all other departments, including programming, engineering, and promotions. The agreement ended in 2008, at which point all control of the station reverted to Gaylord. The Opry, WSM, and its hotel division are now Gaylord Entertainment's core holdings.

Reception outside the Nashville area

Since October 2002, the station has been a choice on Sirius Satellite Radio, which carried a full-time simulcast of WSM's AM 650 signal, except during NASCAR races. In 2006, the Sirius channel programmed by WSM ceased carrying the AM simulcast. WSM still programmed the channel known as WSM Entertainment (Channel 111) as a separate satellite radio feed, and it carried the same classic country music format as the AM signal. WSM personalities voiced announcements on WSM Entertainment. Some programs on AM 650 were still carried on WSM Entertainment, such as the evening request program and the Grand Ole Opry. As of September 13, 2006, WSM programming is no longer carried on Sirius. About a year later, rival XM Satellite Radio announced the carriage of the Grand Ole Opry on Nashville! channel 11 beginning in October 2007, as well as the Eddie Stubbs Show on America channel 10 beginning in November 2007.

WSM continues to reach a worldwide audience, through both its powerful 50,000 watt clear channel AM signal and via its Internet simulcast.

Miscellany

Country and bluegrass legend John Hartford parodied the distinctive style of WSM DJs on the album Aereo-plain, humorously changing the station's call letters to the phrase "Dorothy S. Ma'am."

Famous station alumni

  • Ralph Emery served as the overnight host of WSM from the late 1950s until the early 1970s. Because of his time slot, listeners all over the U.S. could hear Emery spin country music records. This and the Grand Ole Opry solidified WSM's central role in the history of country music. In the 1980s, Emery gained further national fame as the host of Nashville Now! on The Nashville Network; before then, he hosted syndicated radio and television country music interview shows, and a long-running, highly-rated morning show on WSMV-TV.
  • Pat Sajak (host of TV's Wheel of Fortune) served as the afternoon air personality on WSM during the mid-1970s. During that time, he doubled as a voice-over announcer and weekend weathercaster on WSM-TV, channel 4.
  • Larry Munson was a sportscaster for the Nashville Vols, Vanderbilt Commodores men's basketball and Vanderbilt Commodores football in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as working for WSM-TV. He is best known today as the legendary voice of Georgia Bulldogs football.
  • Grant Turner (born Jesse Granderson Turner) was known as the "dean of the Opry announcers" and had a nearly 50-year association with the station, also announcing country music programs in the early morning hours. His show was so popular that NL&AI used its title, Opryland USA, as the name for the theme park built in 1972.
  • Teddy Bart, another Nashville broadcaster of long tenure, began as a singer on shows like Waking Crew and parlayed his skills into hosting that show and Nashville's first-ever call-in talk show in the late 1960s. He also hosted WSM-TV's Noon Show in the 1970s and anchored WKRN-TV's newscast briefly in the early 1980s before launching the group-discussion radio talk show Roundtable on WLAC in 1985, a show that ran for 20 years on several different stations.

See also

External links

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