Jump to content


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Broadcast areaMiddle Tennessee
Frequency650 kHz
Branding650 AM WSM
FormatCountry music; Americana; bluegrass music
First air date
October 5, 1925; 98 years ago (1925-10-05)[1]
Former frequencies
  • 1060 kHz (1925–1927)
  • 880 kHz (1927)
  • 890 kHz (1927–1928)[2]
Call sign meaning
"We Shield Millions" (slogan of former owner, National Life & Accident Insurance Company)
Technical information[3]
Licensing authority
Facility ID74066
Power50,000 watts unlimited
Transmitter coordinates
35°59′50″N 86°47′32″W / 35.99722°N 86.79222°W / 35.99722; -86.79222
Public license information

WSM (650 kHz) is a commercial AM radio station, located in Nashville, Tennessee. It broadcasts a country music format (with classic country and Americana leanings, the latter of which is branded as "Route 650") and is known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the world's longest running radio program.[4] The station is owned Ryman Hospitality Properties, Inc.[5] After nearly 40 years broadcasting from a studio within the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, WSM currently operates out of a temporary studio at its parent company's offices. A new, permanent studio inside the former home of Roy Acuff, just outside the Grand Ole Opry House, is set to open in July 2024.

Nicknamed "The Air Castle of the South", the station broadcasts with 50,000 watts around the clock from a facility in Brentwood, Tennessee. It has one of the largest daytime coverage areas in the country, providing at least grade B coverage as far southeast as Chattanooga, as far northwest as Evansville, Indiana, as far west as Jackson, Tennessee and as far south as Huntsville, Alabama. At night, WSM's clear channel signal reaches much of North America and nearby countries.

WSM reaches a worldwide audience via its Internet simulcast. It is the National Primary Entry Point (PEP) for the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in Middle Tennessee and the southwestern portion of Indiana.



WSM is one of two clear-channel stations in North America, along with CFZM in Toronto, that still primarily broadcast secular music. (CKDO, in Ontario, is authorized as a clear channel but operates at a fifth of the broadcast power of WSM and CFZM, and operates directionally such that it is inaudible in the United States.)[citation needed]

Bill Cody has been the host of the morning show, Coffee, Country and Cody since 1998 and has been in radio since 1975.[6] Since its establishment on January 1, 2020, the country music oriented TV network Circle simulcast Coffee, Country, and Cody, following a period of several years where the Heartland network.[7] Cody's Pure American Country syndicated show is flagshipped at WSM. Larry Gatlin, lead singer of the Gatlin Brothers, hosts an hourlong gospel program on the weekends as of 2016. Tracy Lawrence's syndicated program Honky Tonkin' has been flagshipped at WSM since 2015.[8] Dailey & Vincent host a monthly radio show on the station. Chris Scruggs, grandson of Earl Scruggs, hosts a weekly show Friends and Neighbors with his house band, the Stone Fox Five, after most Friday Night Opry episodes. Mandy Barnett hosts a Nashville Songbook series for one hour each Monday evening. Charlie Worsham hosts the Air Castle Community Hour, mainly featuring artists in the Nashville music scene. Jason Coleman hosts a Sunday night piano music show in honor of his grandfather, longtime Nashville keyboardist Floyd Cramer.[9]

The Grand Ole Opry fills several nights of the station's evening schedule. Following the Opry on most Saturday nights is the Midnite Jamboree, an aftershow that was originally founded by Ernest Tubb in 1947 and continues to be sponsored by Tubb's eponymous record shop.[10] Following the Jamboree is the regionally syndicated Sutton Ole Time Music Hour.[11]

Syndicated programming on WSM as of 2021 includes reruns of Bob Kingsley-era American Country Countdown, Into the Blue, The Crook & Chase Countdown.

In 2017, WSM launched Route 650, a full-time Americana music streaming station available via its website, mobile app and services like TuneIn.[12]

In 2018, WSM launched Opry Nashville Radio, a full-time streaming station billed as being "based on the Grand Ole Opry and Nashville lifestyle" and focusing mainly on contemporary country music. During December, this channel flips to all Christmas music.

As recently as 2020, the station was live and locally operated during the overnight hours, but the overnight host position was eliminated in February 2020.[13]


1946 advertisement for the station's long-running "Grand Ole Opry" broadcasts[14]

Founded by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company[15] as a platform to sell the company's insurance products, WSM first signed on October 5, 1925.[1][16] The call letters were derived from the company's motto, "We Shield Millions".[17] Studios were first located in the company's building on Seventh Avenue and Union Street in downtown Nashville; this was the original home of the Opry, until 1934.

WSM is associated with the popularization of country music through its weekly Saturday night program, the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-running radio program in history. The Opry began as the WSM Barn Dance on November 28, 1925, with Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first performer.[18] George D. Hay, a newspaper reporter from Memphis, was WSM's first program director.[19] On December 10, 1927, Hay is quoted as saying "For the past hour we have been listening to music largely from Grand Opera, but from now on we will present 'The Grand Ole Opry'",[19] contrasting the preceding program on the NBC Red Network with WSM's local broadcast.[20]

Previous WSM logo, retired in 2021

The station traditionally played country music in the nighttime hours, when listeners from around the United States would tune in.[16] During daytime hours, the station broadcast long-form radio, including both local and NBC network programs, in addition to music.[16] WSM is credited with helping shape Nashville into a recording industry capital. Because of WSM's wide reach, musical acts from all across the eastern United States came to Nashville in the early decades of the station's existence, in hopes of getting to perform on WSM.[citation needed] Over time, as more acts and recording companies came to Nashville, the city became known as the center of the country music industry. Disc jockey David Cobb is credited with first referring to Nashville as "Music City USA", a designation that has since been adopted as the city's official nickname by the local tourism board.

On November 11, 1928, the Federal Radio Commission implemented General Order 40, which assigned WSM to a frequency of 650 kHz, as Tennessee's sole "clear channel" allocation.[16][21] In 1932, the station boosted its power to 50,000 watts.[2] On September 30, 1950, WSM added a television sister station on channel 4, operating as a primary NBC affiliate; WSM-TV was Nashville's first TV station.[22]

Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys performing at WSM in 1951

The studios remained in its original location until the mid-1960s, when the company built a new headquarters building downtown and new studios for WSM-TV on Knob Road in west Nashville (the TV station had been located near Belmont College). Upon completion of the new headquarters, National Life and Accident Insurance Company chose to relocate WSM radio to their new TV studios, and WSM radio, joined in 1968 by its new FM sister, broadcast from that location from 1966 to 1983. For most of its history, WSM, along with WSM-TV and the Grand Ole Opry, was owned by the Nashville-based National Life and Accident Insurance Company. In 1974, National Life and Accident Insurance Company reorganized itself as a holding company, NLT Corporation, with the WSM stations as one of the major subsidiaries.

After television became popular (thus largely eliminating the audience for full-length radio programs), WSM adopted a middle of the road (MOR) music format during the daytime hours, and continued to play country music at night. It was not until 1980 that WSM adopted the 24-hour country music format of today.[16]

Country and bluegrass legend John Hartford parodied the distinctive style of WSM DJs on the 1971 album Aereo-Plain, humorously changing the station's call letters to the phrase "Dorothy S. Ma'am".

In 1981, the American General Corporation (now part of the American International Group) bought NLT. At one time, American General was the parent company of the Life and Casualty Insurance Company based in Nashville, former owner of WSM-TV rival WLAC-TV (now WTVF), and WLAC-AM-FM, but divested the broadcast properties in 1975, long before the NLT merger. American General was not interested in NLT's non-insurance operations, and sold WSM, Inc. (which included Opryland Hotel, Opryland USA, Ryman Auditorium, The Grand Ole Opry, the fledgling The Nashville Network cable television outlet, WSM-FM, and WSM) to Gaylord Broadcasting Company. WSM-TV, due to FCC ownership limits at the time, was sold instead to Gillett Broadcasting and changed its callsign to WSMV-TV. However, there was still considerable overlap between the stations' on-air personnel for some years after the ownership change. Gaylord would also move the WSM radio stations to new facilities at the Opryland Hotel, departing their shared building on Knob Road, which still houses WSMV today.

WSM broadcast in the C-QUAM format of AM stereo, which could be heard over several states at night, from 1982 until 2000.

In 1996, the station was named Radio Station of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards.[23]

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's classic country format.

In 2003, WSM-FM and WWTN, sister stations to WSM, were sold to Cumulus Media. Cumulus intended to purchase WSM as well, but Gaylord decided to maintain ownership at the eleventh hour. Through a five-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. In 2012, Gaylord Entertainment Company was renamed Ryman Hospitality Properties. Ryman sold minority stakes in the Opry businesses to NBCUniversal and Atairos in April 2022, but spun WSM's license off into a subsidiary that remained separate from that transaction and wholly-owned by Ryman.[5]

WSM's "fishbowl" studio inside the Gaylord Opryland hotel, from which the station operated between 1990 and 2024.

From 2002 until 2006, the station was a choice on Sirius Satellite Radio, which carried a full-time simulcast of WSM's signal, except during NASCAR races. Briefly in 2006, the channel converted to "WSM Entertainment", a separate satellite radio feed that carried the same classic country music format as the AM signal. About a year after the channel was eliminated, then-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. After the merger between Sirius and XM, the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts were moved to the service's The Roadhouse channel, which is heard on both Sirius and XM.

Following the devastating 2010 Tennessee flood that inundated Gaylord Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry House, the station broadcast from a makeshift studio at its transmitter site for six months, while the Grand Ole Opry rotated between several performance sites, until the buildings at the Opryland complex were repaired.[24] WSM's administrative offices next door to the Grand Ole Opry House were completely destroyed by the flood, resulting in the loss of several priceless documents from the station's history, and later demolished.

In 2024, WSM vacated its longstanding studio inside the Magnolia Lobby of Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, and began a transition to a new showcase studio inside the home originally built for Roy Acuff on the grounds of the Grand Ole Opry House.

Transmitter tower

WSM's transmitter facility and Blaw-Knox tower, located just south of Nashville along Interstate 65 in Brentwood, Tennessee

WSM's unusual diamond-shaped transmitting antenna (manufactured by Blaw-Knox) is visible from Interstate 65 just south of Nashville (in Brentwood) and is one of the area's landmarks. It is located near the I-65 exit 71 interchange with Concord Road (State Highway 253). When the tower was built in 1932, it was 878 feet (267.6m) tall and was the tallest antenna in North America. Its height was reduced to 808 feet (246 m) in 1939 when it was discovered that the taller tower was causing self-cancellation in the "fringe" areas of reception of the station (it is now known that 195 electrical degrees, about 810 feet, is the optimum height for a Class A station on that frequency). For a period during World War II it was designated to provide transmissions to submarines in the event that ship-to-shore communications were lost. It is now one of the oldest operating broadcast towers in the United States.[25]

As a tribute to the station's centrality in country music history, the diamond antenna design was incorporated into the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's design in 2001.[26] The tower is listed as a National Engineering Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 15, 2011.[25][27]


  • Teddy Bart, a Nashville broadcaster of long tenure, began as a singer on shows like Waking Crew and parlayed his skills into hosting that show, an afternoon drive-time program with Larry Munson in the early 1960s and Nashville's first-ever call-in talk show, which ran from 1969 to 1981. 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.
  • Keith Bilbrey moved to Nashville in 1974 to begin working for WSM, first as a substitute announcer for WSM-FM and then as a full-time disc jockey on WSM's AM and FM stations. Throughout his career, Bilbrey worked every single time slot at WSM and became an iconic voice in the modern history of the station and was truly a fan favorite. In 1982, Bilbrey began announcing on The Grand Ole Opry. When The Nashville Network (TNN) began televising a 30-minute portion of the show in 1985, the young announcer became the first host of Grand Ole Opry Live. Bilbrey hosted Opry Live, along with the Opry warm-up show, Backstage Live, until TNN stopped airing the show in 2000. He also hosted the Opry warm-up show on WSM. His 35-year career at the station ended in 2009.
  • 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.
  • Sondra Locke joined the WSM staff in late 1963 or early 1964 as secretary to operations manager Tom Griscom Tom Griscom. She left in 1965 to work for WSM-TV.
  • 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 was later renowned for his long tenure as the legendary voice of Georgia Bulldogs football.
Ad for Pat Sajak, the station's then-afternoon host, c. 1970s
  • Pat Sajak (host of Wheel of Fortune) served as the afternoon DJ on WSM during the mid-1970s.[28] During that time, he also worked as a weekend weathercaster and substitute talk show host on WSM-TV.[28]
  • Eddie Stubbs was the station's evening host and hosted of the Grand Ole Opry from 1995 until his retirement in 2020.[29]
  • Ernest Tubb hosted a Midnite Jamboree from his record shop following each episode of the Opry from 1947 until his death. The Midnite Jamboree continued from the record shop after his death, with other hosts, until the record shop closed in 2022.
  • 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.

Former sister stations


In 1939, WSM began operating an experimental high-frequency, high-fidelity AM "Apex" station, W4XA, on 26.15 MHz.[30] This was replaced in 1941 by a commercial FM station, initially with the call sign W47NV and operating on 44.7 MHz. This was reported to be first commercial FM to be fully licensed; although a few FM stations had begun broadcasting earlier, they were operating under experimental or "Special Temporary Authorizations" and had not yet been granted operating licenses.[31][32] In 1943 the call sign was changed to WSM-FM, however the station was shut down in 1951, although its antenna is still mounted atop the Blaw Knox tower at Brentwood.

Seventeen years later the current incarnation of WSM-FM was established after a National Life subsidiary purchased WLWM and renamed it WSM-FM in 1968. This WSM-FM (95.5 MHz) was WSM's sister until 2008, when Cumulus Media, the full owner of WSM-FM since 2003, ended its joint sales agreement with the AM station. Despite having the same base call sign, the two stations are no longer related; incidentally, both the current WSM-FM on 95.5 MHz and the current occupant of the 103.3 frequency vacated by the original WSM-FM, WKDF, are now sister stations, with each separately broadcasting a country music format.

Television channel 4 (originally WSM-TV, and now WSMV-TV), was started by WSM, Inc. in 1950 and sold to George N. Gillett Jr. in 1981.

See also



  • Hemphill, Paul (1970). The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-20493-9.
  1. ^ a b "Getting on the Opry", PBS. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "History Cards for WSM". Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  3. ^ "Facility Technical Data for WSM". Licensing and Management System. Federal Communications Commission.
  4. ^ Gevinson, Alan. Broadcasting Longevity (Teachinghistory.org). Retrieved October 8, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Littleton, Cynthia (April 4, 2022). "'Grand Ole Opry' Owner Sells Minority Stake to Atairos and NBCUniversal for Nearly $300 Million". Variety. Retrieved April 6, 2022.
  6. ^ Bill Cody (biography)
  7. ^ "Coffee, Country & Cody".
  8. ^ "Tracy Lawrence Radio Show Scores Syndication". August 10, 2015.
  9. ^ "Show Schedule".
  10. ^ Littman, Margaret (April 1, 2015). "Ernest Tubb's 'Midnite Jamboree' Hits Pause". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 19, 2022.
  11. ^ "Ole Time Music Hour". Granville, TN.
  12. ^ "650 AM WSM Launches 24/7 Americana Streaming Station". MusicRow - Nashville's Music Industry Publication - News, Songs From Music City. September 13, 2017. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  13. ^ Venta, Lance (February 9, 2020). "WSM cuts Nashville Today and All-Nighter as GM departs". RadioInsight.com. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
  14. ^ WSM (advertisement), Broadcasting, October 7, 1946, page 43
  15. ^ "New Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, November 2, 1925, page 3.
  16. ^ a b c d e "WSM – Since 1925", WSM. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Williams, Bill (September 6, 1975). "WSM's Grand Ole Opry Projects Nashville Role" (PDF). Billboard. Vol. 87, no. 36. p. 32. Retrieved September 24, 2022 – via World Radio History.
  18. ^ History of the Opry, Grand Ole Opry. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  19. ^ a b Hemphill 1970, p. 153.
  20. ^ Phillips, Stephen W. (2016). Opryland USA. Arcadia Publishing. p. 13. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  21. ^ "Revised list of broadcasting stations, by frequencies, effective 3 a. m., November 11, 1928, eastern standard time", Second Annual Report of the Federal Radio Commission for the Year Ended June 30, 1928, Together With Supplemental Report for the Period From July 1, 1928, to September 30, 1928, pages 200-214.
  22. ^ "About Us". wsmv.com. WSMV. Retrieved January 17, 2024.
  23. ^ "Bluegrass Rumblings and Awards". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. February 17, 1996. pp. 34–. ISSN 0006-2510. {{cite book}}: Unknown parameter |agency= ignored (help)
  24. ^ "Nashville Hit By 100-Year Flood". allaccess.com. May 3, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
  25. ^ a b WSM tower gets 'historic' status, The Tennessean, April 14, 2011
  26. ^ "Topping Off The New Country Music Hall of Fame". martystuart.com. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
  27. ^ "Weekly list of actions taken on properties: 3/14/11 through 3/18/11". National Park Service. March 25, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  28. ^ a b Dorman, Lee (2009). Nashville Broadcasting. Arcadia Publishing. p. 125. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  29. ^ "Eddie Stubbs Retires From WSM & The Grand Ole Opry". RadioInsight. July 22, 2020.
  30. ^ "Formal Opening" (advertisement), Nashville Tennessean, April 9, 1939, page A-5. The "4" in W4XA's call sign indicated that it was located in the 4th radio district, while the "X" reflected its operation as an experimental station.
  31. ^ "FCC Authorization For 53 Commercial FM Outlets Given", Broadcasting, August 18, 1941, page 54. The initial policy for commercial FM station call signs included an initial "W" for stations located east of the Mississippi River, followed by the last two digits of a station's frequency assignment, "47" in this case, and closing with a one or two character city identifier, which for Nashville stations was "NV".
  32. ^ "Really the First", Broadcasting, March 24, 1941, page 39.