Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumbWe look back on a series of events that meant much to our country from the 1920s to the 1950s. A major event was the introduction of the radio into homes of America. Prior to the mid-1920s, entertainment meant either going to the local movie theater, go to a live theater (generally in the larger towns), or bringing out the record player and the recording cylinders; flat, 78 rpm records and their players were just starting to appear at this time. Radio broke onto the scene with its music and comedy which changed the “face” The American home.

Amos and Andy on Louella Parsons Show

I remember fondly the console radios at both of my grandmothers’ houses. These were not fancy stereo radios, or even hi-fidelity; they were basic units in the beginning just like the initial TVs of the late 1940s had small screens and were relatively primitive by today’s standards. In the mid-1920s, the radio units were simple and the content available was relatively meager as well. Most of this content was recorded music, live bands (on weekends), and some early comedy shows. And, of course, there was radio news. If you lived in or near a major city you were in luck since you would be able to receive a strong radio signal from your local station. If you lived farther away, you may be able to receive a signal in appropriate weather, but often times you were just plane out of luck.

Thus, some radio stations were given permission to boost their signal strength and became one of the few “clear channel” stations. One such station in Chicago was WMAQ(AM). Why was this important? Because the farmers of the extended area needed to hear the weather broadcast to know when they needed to protect their fields and/or livestock. These stations became the center of a network of stations associated with one of the national networks, such as the National Broadcasting Corporation. These stations and networks also became the home of some of the emerging radio situation comedies, like Amos ‘n’ Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, and others.

In this environment, two broadcasters from North Carolina, Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden. These two had developed a comedy show for WGN (Chicago) called “Sam and Henry”. When a difference of opinion developed between WGN management and the two broadcasters, the latter left WGN for WMAQ to develop a new program: “Amos ‘n’ Andy”. This sitcom featured the interaction of two black men from the south and a small group of their friends, mainly males. Correll and Gosden assumed the roles of all characters and adopted stereotyped characters who spoke with a stereotyped speech pattern. On radio, it wasn’t apparent that two white men were providing the voices of two black men living in Chicago.

However, when the series was adapted for television, a whole new scenario arose. White actors in black face would not pass muster. The stereotyping and hypocrisy became apparent and demanded change. In fact, the NAACP arose to demand that black actors be employed. The also demanded a change in the demeaning portrayal of blacks. Check out these two videos available online for more information on this confrontation…

Racial Stereotyping (Part 1 of 2), Television: Inside & Out…  (7:55)

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMjJyJtVbCw&feature=player_detailpage ]

Racial Stereotyping (Part 2 of 2), Television: Inside & Out…  (6:56)

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npbl1zfwsEw&feature=player_detailpage ]

But now let’s get started on our exploration of Amos ‘n’ Andy and some of the history of the development of this pioneering comedy series on the radio in the mid-1920s… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4680 Words ]


Quotations Related to Radio:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/radio.html ]


“Gossip is the Devil’s radio.”
— George Harrison

“If it weren’t for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, we’d still be eating frozen radio dinners.”
— Johnny Carson

“Radio is a bag of mediocrity where little men with carbon minds wallow in sluice of their own making.”
— Fred Allen

“Radio news is bearable. This is due to the fact that while the news is being broadcast, the disk jockey is not allowed to talk.”
— Fran Lebowitz

“That was the big thing when I was growing up, singing on the radio. The extent of my dream was to sing on the radio station in Memphis. Even when I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I came right back to Memphis and started knocking on doors at the radio station.”
— Johnny Cash

“Yeah, but you need an experienced radio veteran who is a liberal advocate. And there just hadn’t been any radio that did that. And so they weren’t trained – they had developed all these bad habits of being objective and balanced and stuff like that.”
— Al Franken

“Brains, integrity, and force may be all very well, but what you need today is Charm. Go ahead and work on your economic programs if you want to, I’ll develop my radio personality.”
— Gracie Allen

“New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements… the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.”
— Jackson Pollock


WMAQ Radio Chicago: Amos ‘n’ Andy Debuts on Radio in 1926…


AmosnandyAmos ‘n’ Andy
is a situation comedy set in the African-American community. It was very popular in the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s on both radio and television.

Amos and Andy began as one of the first radio comedy series, written and voiced by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll and originating from station WMAQ in Chicago. After the program was first broadcast in 1928, it grew to become a huge influence on radio series that followed. The show ran as a nightly radio serial from 1928 until 1943, as a weekly situation comedy from 1943 until 1955, and as a nightly disc-jockey program from 1954 until 1960. A television adaptation ran on CBS-TV from 1951 until 1953, and continued in syndicated reruns from 1954 until 1966.

WMAQ was an AM radio station in located in Chicago, Illinois, USA, and broadcast at 670 kHz with 50,000 watts. The station was in existence from 1922 to 2000, and was the oldest surviving broadcast outlet in Chicago. It was a class A clear channel station, and could be heard, particularly at night, over most of the eastern United States. WMAQ was owned in its later years by CBS radio but for much of its life it was owned by National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and later Westinghouse Broadcasting. The station’s original owner was the Chicago Daily News newspaper, but its longest running ownership was as an NBC Radio owned-and-operated station. Its transmitter was located in Bloomingdale, Illinois just off of Army Trail Road, with a 780 foot tower where it remains today. The AM 670 transmitter is now in use by WMAQ’s successor, All Sports Radio WSCR and remains under Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio ownership.


Charles Correll was an American radio comedian, best known for his work on the Amos ‘n’ Andy show with Freeman S. Gosden. Correll voiced the central character of Andy Brown, along with various supporting characters. Before teaming up with Gosden, Correll worked as a stenographer and a bricklayer. The two men met in Durham, North Carolina while working for the Joe Bren Producing Company. Both Correll and Freeman vacationed at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the 1930s and would broadcast Amos ‘n’ Andy from there. From 1928 to 1934, the team never took a vacation away from their radio show. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Amos ‘n’ Andy on the air, the broadcast of March 19, 1958 was done by Correll and Gosden using their real voices and calling each other by their real names; this had never been done on the show before.

Freeman Gosden was an American radio comedian, and pioneer in the development of the situation comedy form. He is best known for his work in the Amos ‘n’ Andy series.


The Amos and Andy Radio Show 1929…  (7:48)




Charles Correll

charles_correllCharles James Correll (February 2, 1890 – September 26, 1972) was an American radio comedian, best known for his work on the Amos ‘n’ Andy show with Freeman S. Gosden. Correll voiced the central character of Andy Brown, along with various supporting characters. Before teaming up with Gosden, Correll worked as a stenographer and a bricklayer. The two men met in Durham, North Carolina while working for the Joe Bren Producing Company. Both Correll and Freeman vacationed at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the 1930s and would broadcast Amos ‘n’ Andy from there. From 1928 to 1934, the team never took a vacation away from their radio show. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Amos ‘n’ Andy on the air, the broadcast of March 19, 1958 was done by Correll and Gosden using their real voices and calling each other by their real names; this had never been done on the show before.

Correll’s first marriage to Marie Janes headed for divorce court on May 26, 1937; the couple had been married for ten years and had no children. On September 11, 1937 in Glendale, California, he married Alyce McLaughlin, a former dancer; they had six children, Dorothy, Charles, Barbara, John, and Richard. On July 5, 1954, John Correll, his seven year old son, died of what appeared to be an accidental poisoning. An autopsy determined the young boy died of an acute kidney infection. A baby girl born to the couple in 1939 died when she was less than a day old.

Correll died in a Chicago hospital following a heart attack; at the time of his death he was retired and living in Beverly Hills, California, just a few blocks away from his radio partner, Freeman Gosden.

The comedy team was named to the Radio Hall of Fame in 1962; Correll received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his radio work in 1969. In 1977, Correll was inducted in the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame along with Gosden.

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Freeman Gosden

freeman-gosden-sizedFreeman Fisher "Gozzie" Gosden (May 5, 1899 – December 10, 1982) was an American radio comedian, and pioneer in the development of the situation comedy form. He is best known for his work in the Amos ‘n’ Andy series.

Freeman Gosden was born in Richmond, Virginia. During World War I he served in the United States Navy as a wireless operator, which prompted his great interest in the young medium of radio. While attending school in Richmond, Gozzie worked part time in Tarrant’s Drug Store at 1 West Broad Street.

In 1921, Gosden first teamed up with Charles Correll to do radio work, presenting comedy acts, sketches, and hosting variety shows. They met in Durham, North Carolina, both working for the Joe Bren Producing Company. Their first regular show came in 1925 with their WEBH Chicago show Correll and Gosden, the Life of the Party. On this show the two told jokes, sang, and played music (Correll played piano and Gosden banjo).

In 1926, Gosden and Correll had a hit with their radio show Sam & Henry on Chicago radio station WGN. Sam & Henry is considered by some historians to have been the first situation comedy.

From 1928 to 1960, Gosden and Correll broadcast their Amos ‘n’ Andy show, which was one of the most famous and popular shows on radio in the 1930s. Gosden voiced the characters "Amos", "George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens", "Lightning", "Brother Crawford", and some dozen other characters.

In 1969, Gosden was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio. Freeman Gosden was the best man for Frank Sinatra’s 1976 wedding to Barbara Marx. In 1977, Correll was inducted in the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame along with Gosden.

Freeman Gosden died from congestive heart failure in Los Angeles, California in 1982 at the age of 83. Gosden was the father of four children-Virginia, Craig, Freeman, Jr., and Linda.

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Origins of Amos ‘n’ Andy


Amos ‘n’ Andy creators Gosden and Correll were white actors familiar with minstrel traditions. They met in Durham, North Carolina, in 1920. Both men had some scattered experience in radio, but it was not until 1925 that the two appeared on Chicago’s WQJ. Their appearances soon led to a regular schedule on another Chicago radio station, WEBH, where their only compensation was a free meal. The pair’s hopes were that the radio exposure would lead to stage work; they were able to sell some of their works to local bandleader Paul Ash which brought them enough name recognition to be offered jobs at the Chicago Tribune’s station WGN in 1925. The offer was steady and lucrative enough to allow them to now become full-time broadcasters. Victor Talking Machine Company was also interested enough to offer them a recording contract.

Since the Tribune syndicated Sidney Smith’s popular comic strip The Gumps, which had successfully introduced the concept of daily continuity, WGN executive Ben McCanna thought a serialized version would work on radio. He suggested that Gosden and Correll adapt The Gumps for radio. The idea seemed to involve more risk than either Gosden or Correll was willing to take; neither was adept at imitating female voices, which would have been necessary for The Gumps. They were also conscious of having made names for themselves with their previous act. By playing the roles of characters doing dialect, they would be able to conceal their identities enough to be able to return to their old pattern of entertaining if the radio show was a failure.

Instead, they proposed a series about "a couple of colored characters" but borrowing certain elements of The Gumps. Their new show, called Sam ‘n’ Henry, began on January 12, 1926, and fascinated radio listeners throughout the Midwest. It became so popular that in 1927 Gosden and Correll requested it be distributed to other stations on phonograph records in a "chainless chain" concept that would have been the first radio syndication. When WGN rejected the proposal, Gosden and Correll quit the show and the station (their last musical program for WGN was announced in the Chicago Daily Tribune of January 29, 1928). Episodes of Sam ‘n’ Henry continued to be aired until July 14, 1928. Contractually, Correll and Gosden’s characters belonged to WGN, so when they left WGN, they performed in personal appearances but could not use the character names from the radio show.

WMAQ, the Chicago Daily News station, hired Gosden and Correll and their former WGN announcer, Bill Hay, to create a series similar to Sam ‘n’ Henry. They offered higher salaries than WGN and the right to pursue the "chainless chain" syndication idea. The creators later said they named the characters Amos and Andy after hearing two elderly African-Americans greet each other by those names in a Chicago elevator. Amos ‘n’ Andy began March 19, 1928 on WMAQ, and prior to airing each program they recorded their show on 78 rpm disks at Marsh Laboratories, operated by electrical recording pioneer Orlando R. Marsh.

For the program’s entire run as a nightly serial, Gosden and Correll portrayed all the male roles, performing over 170 distinct voice characterizations in the show’s first decade. With the episodic drama and suspense heightened by cliffhanger endings, Amos ‘n’ Andy reached an ever-expanding radio audience. It was the first radio program to be distributed by syndication in the United States, and by the end of the syndicated run in August 1929, at least 70 stations besides WMAQ carried the program by means of recordings.

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Early Storylines and Characters


Amos Jones and Andy Brown worked on a farm near Atlanta, Georgia, and during the episodes of the first week, they made plans to find a better life in Chicago, despite warnings from a friend. With four ham-and-cheese sandwiches and $24, they bought train tickets and headed for Chicago, where they lived in a State Street rooming house and experienced some rough times before launching their own business, the Fresh Air Taxi Company. (The first car they acquired had no roof; the pair turned it into a selling point.) By 1930, the noted toy maker Louis Marx and Company offered a tin wind-up version of the auto, with Amos and Andy inside. The toy company produced a special autographed version of the toy as gifts for American leaders, including Herbert Hoover. There was also a book, All About Amos ‘n’ Andy and Their Creators, in 1929 by Correll and Gosden (reprinted in 2007 and 2008), and a comic strip in the Chicago Daily News.

Amos was naïve but honest, hard-working and (after his 1935 marriage to Ruby Taylor) a dedicated family man. Andy was more blustering, with overinflated self-confidence. Andy, being a dreamer, tended to let Amos do most of the work. Their Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge leader, George "the Kingfish" Stevens, was always either trying to lure the two into get-rich-quick schemes, especially the gullible Andy, or else tricking Andy into some kind of trouble. Other characters included John Augustus "Brother" Crawford, an industrious but long-suffering family man; Henry Van Porter, a social-climbing real estate and insurance salesman; Frederick Montgomery Gwindell, a hard-charging newspaperman; Algonquin J. Calhoun, a somewhat crooked lawyer added to the series in 1949, six years after its conversion to a half-hour situation comedy; William Lewis Taylor, the well-spoken, college-educated father of Amos’s fiancée; and "Lightning" (Willie Jefferson), a slow-moving Stepin Fetchit-type character. The Kingfish’s catchphrase "Holy mackerel!" soon entered the American lexicon.

Of the three central characters, Correll voiced Andy Brown while Gosden voiced both Amos and the Kingfish. The majority of the scenes were dialogues between either Andy and Amos or Andy and Kingfish. Amos and Kingfish, both voiced by Gosden, only rarely appeared together. Since Correll and Gosden voiced virtually all of the parts, the female characters, such as Ruby Taylor, Kingfish’s wife Sapphire, and Andy’s various girlfriends, did not initially appear as voiced characters, but entered the plots only as discussed by the male characters. Prior to 1931, when Madame Queen (then voiced by Gosden) took the witness stand in her breach-of-promise lawsuit against Andy, a female-sounding voice was heard only once. Beginning in 1935, actresses began voicing the female characters and after the program’s conversion to a weekly situation-comedy format in 1943 other actors were recruited for some of the male supporting parts. However, Correll and Gosden continued to voice the three central characters on radio until the series ended in 1960.

With the listening audience increasing in the spring and summer of 1928, the show’s success prompted the Pepsodent Company to bring it to the NBC Blue Network on August 19, 1929. At this time the Blue Network was not heard on stations in the West. Western listeners complained to NBC that they wanted to hear the show. Under special arrangements Amos ‘n’ Andy debuted coast-to-coast November 28, 1929, on NBC’s Pacific Orange Network and continued on the Blue. WMAQ was then an affiliate of CBS and its general manager tried to interest that network in picking up the show to no avail. At the same time, the serial’s central characters—Amos, Andy and George "The Kingfish" Stevens—relocated from Chicago to New York City’s Harlem. The program was so popular by 1930, that NBC’s orders were to interrupt the broadcast of it only for matters of national importance and SOS calls. Correll and Gosden were making a total of $100,000 a year as the stars of the show, which they split three ways, including their announcer, Bill Hay, as he was with them when they started doing radio.

The story arc of Andy’s romance (and subsequent problems) with the Harlem beautician Madame Queen entranced some 40 million listeners during 1930 and 1931, becoming a national phenomenon. Many of the program’s plotlines in this period leaned far more to straight drama than comedy, including the near-death of Amos’s fiancée Ruby from pneumonia in the spring of 1931, and Amos’s brutal interrogation by police following the murder of the cheap hoodlum Jack Dixon that December. Following official protests by the National Association of Chiefs of Police, Correll and Gosden were forced to abandon that storyline – turning the entire sequence into a bad dream, from which Amos gratefully awoke on Christmas Eve.

The innovations introduced by Gosden and Correll made their creation a turning point for radio drama, as noted by broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod:

As a result of its extraordinary popularity, Amos ‘n’ Andy profoundly influenced the development of dramatic radio. Working alone in a small studio, Correll and Gosden created an intimate, understated acting style that differed sharply from the broad manner of stage actors – a technique requiring careful modulation of the voice, especially in the portrayal of multiple characters. The performers pioneered the technique of varying both the distance and the angle of their approach to the microphone to create the illusion of a group of characters. Listeners could easily imagine that that they were actually in the taxicab office, listening in on the conversation of close friends. The result was a uniquely absorbing experience for listeners who in radio’s short history had never heard anything quite like Amos ‘n’ Andy.
While minstrel-style wordplay humor was common in the formative years of the program, it was used less often as the series developed, giving way to a more sophisticated approach to characterization. Correll and Gosden were fascinated by human nature, and their approach to both comedy and drama drew from their observations of the traits and motivations that drive the actions of all people: While often overlapping popular stereotypes of African-Americans, there was at the same time a universality to their characters which transcended race…. Beneath the dialect and racial imagery, the series celebrated the virtues of friendship, persistence, hard work, and common sense, and as the years passed and the characterizations were refined, Amos ‘n’ Andy achieved an emotional depth rivaled by few other radio programs of the 1930s.
Above all, Correll and Gosden were gifted dramatists. Their plots flowed gradually from one into the next, with minor subplots building in importance until they took over the narrative, before receding to give way to the next major sequence, and seeds for future storylines were often planted months in advance. It was this complex method of story construction that kept the program fresh, and enabled Correll and Gosden to keep their audience in a constant state of suspense. The technique they developed for radio from that of the narrative comic strip endures to the present day as the standard method of storytelling in serial drama.

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Controversy and the Pittsburgh Courier Protest


The first sustained protest against the program found its inspiration in the December 1930 issue of Abbott’s Monthly, when Bishop W.J. Walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church wrote an article sharply denouncing Amos ‘n’ Andy, singling out the lower-class characterizations and the "crude, repetitious, and moronic" dialogue. The Pittsburgh Courier was the nation’s second largest African-American newspaper at the time, and publisher Robert Vann expanded Walls’ criticism into a full-fledged crusade during a six-month period in 1931.

The paper, among other publicly stated efforts, published a petition to get the program pulled from the air, with a stated goal of one million signatures. While many prominent African-American newspapers refused to back the drive, the Courier found support from Bishop Walls, the National Association of Colored Waiters and Hotel Employees and several African-American fraternal orders. The NAACP national office declined to endorse the protest, although some of their local chapters stood behind the effort. Before the campaign was dropped, the paper claimed to have 675,000 names on their petition, although the figure was never independently verified. Gosden and Correll never commented on the Courier’s efforts.

Broadcast historian Elizabeth McLeod argues that the characterizations on the daily serial version were actually much more sympathetic and rounded than that of other shows of the period, which perpetuated 19th century minstrel show stereotypes and did not equal the immense success of Amos ‘n’ Andy. Examples include the blackface act by the Two Black Crows, who did two-man comedy routines in vaudeville, short subjects and comedy records and minstrel headliner Emmett Miller, who recorded a series of popular songs for Okeh Records in the late 1920s.

It can also be noted that Andy and Kingfish’s use of malapropisms (i.e. misuse of vocabulary) had been a comedic staple for centuries and was employed by a number of white comedians of the day, including Chico Marx, Lou Costello, and Leo Gorcey.

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Amos & Andy Show-The Kingfish Gets Drafted-Part 1…  (8:26)



Please take time to further explore more about BBC’s First Daily Radio News Broadcast, Orson Welles, War of the Worlds, Guglielmo Marconi, The Invention of Radio, Wireless Telegraphy, The Grand Ole Opry, Debuts on Radio WSM, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Freeman Gosden (“Amos"), Charles Correll (“Andy"), WMAQ (AM), Situation Comedy, Minstrel Show, Vaudeville, American Burlesque, and Radio by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…





Other Events on this Day:

  • In 1737…
    John Hancock is born in Braintree, Massachusetts.

  • In 1773…
    The first public museum in America is established in Charleston, South Carolina.

  • In 1906…
    The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above 100 for the first time.

  • In 1915…
    Congress establishes Rocky Mountain National Park. When Congress passed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act in 1915, the legislators focused on Rocky’s scenic and natural wonders.

  • In 1926…
    Under the original name Sam ‘n’ Henry, the radio program that will be transformed into the long-running situation comedy Amos ‘n’ Andy debuts on Chicago radio station WGN, starring vaudeville performers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll as African Americans from the Deep South looking for a better life in the Windy City.

  • In 1932…
    Hattie W. Caraway wins a special election to serve out the remainder of her late husband’s term in the U.S. Senate, becoming the first elected female senator. Representing the state of Arkansas, Caraway will win a full term in November 1932 and serve in the Senate until January 1945.

  • In 1959…
    With $800 borrowed from his family, Berry Gordy Jr. starts his first label, Tamla Records, in Detroit. It is the predecessor of the influential rhythm and blues icon Motown Record Corporation.

  • In 1969…
    Quarterback Joe Namath leads the New York Jets to a 16-7 upset over the Baltimore Colts, giving the AFL a win in the first championship game to be officially called the Super Bowl, played at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

  • In 1971…
    The highly influential sitcom All in the Family, which would address issues such as homophobia, racism and abortion through the eccentric Bunker family, premieres on CBS.

  • In 1991…
    Congress narrowly votes to allow President George H.W. Bush to use military force in expelling Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The United Nations-sanctioned Operation Desert Storm will begin five days later.


Dates and events based on:

William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)


Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Amos ‘n’ Andy…

Wikipedia: Situation Comedy…

Wikipedia: WMAQ (AM)…

Wikipedia: Minstrel Show…

Wikipedia: Vaudeville…

Wikipedia: American Burlesque…

Wikipedia: Freeman Gosden (“Amos”)…

Wikipedia: Charles Correll (“Andy”)…

Brainy Quote: Radio Quotes…


Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Communications: BBC’s First Daily Radio News Broadcast…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Orson Welles — War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Guglielmo Marconi — The Invention of Radio (Wireless Telegraphy)…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Grand Ole Opry — Debuts on Radio WSM in Nashville…