NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After an outcry from country fans and music stars, the owners of WSM-AM announced Monday the historic station will continue to broadcast country music and the Grand Ole Opry rather than switch to an all-talk, all-sports format.
The announcement by Colin Reed, president and chief executive of Gaylord Entertainment Co., ended two weeks of heated speculation after word leaked that the company was considering changes at the station where the Grand Ole Opry was born in 1925.
Opry members Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and Billy Walker joined Reed for the announcement. The stars, along with thousands of country music fans worldwide, were against the change, and Reed said he had been inundated with telephone calls and e-mails about the prospective changes.
A protest held last week outside the WSM-AM offices drew about 100 people, including country stars George Jones and Walker.
"There has been an outpouring of support from country music fans and performers," Reed said.
"They were telling us what we knew all along, that the audience is there for country music; that the listeners of the Grand Ole Opry and WSM-AM are loyal and feel strongly," he said.
Stuart said protests don't always work at changing corporate minds. "Thank God that it did this time," he said.
Gaylord bought WSM-AM in 1983, and Reed said the company was exploring ways to expand the Opry brand and listenership. He said the company discussed using the AM station for sports talk and franchising the Opry show to FM stations.
He said while discussions continue about syndication, "We do not plan to convert WSM-AM into an all-talk, all-sports station. The theme will stay country."
The station has had various formats since it was founded 76 years ago as one of the nation's original clear-channel stations -- radio stations that have exclusive nationwide rights to a given frequency.
But the station is most famous for broadcasting the Opry every Saturday night for three-quarters of a century. The Opry is the longest continuously running radio show in the country. Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline were once part of the Opry cast, and Garth Brooks and Gill are part of the show today.
"I think it's great to expand the Opry in every way we can, but not at the expense of this tradition, this station," Gill said.
Music on major AM stations is now rare, and the fortunes of WSM have sagged. Gaylord said the station lost about $1.5 million last year.
The 50,000-watt station is one of the only prominent stations left that plays older country music, mixed with newer Nashville songs. Its signal can be heard in more than 30 states at night.