We’re so excited for live music to come back and are ready to go see some local bands play and today just happens to be National Radio Day, so in the spirit of that, let’s take a closer look at WBT Radio and the house band they hired known as The Briarhoppers.
A hundred years ago in 1920, WBT Radio started operating here in Charlotte. In a little over a decade the wattage used by WBT Radio increased to a staggering 50,000 watts. This impressive enhancement made WBT Radio one of the most powerful radio stations in the United States. During this time, however, radio stations were not allowed to play records on the air. Instead, they hired bands to perform live on the air. WBT’s announcer, Charles Crutchfield, put together a house band in order to keep up with the trend. The name of this group was the Briarhoppers. By late 1934, the Briarhoppers started performing for WBT and they quickly became a hit with local listeners.
The early Briarhoppers. Credit: Collection of Tom Warlick.
In the summer of 1945, WBT began broadcasting the Carolina Hayride show. The Saturday afternoon show featured the popular Briarhoppers, along with Charlotteans Arthur Smith, Fred Kirby and other special guests. Following the show’s popularity, Crutchfield was confident that Charlotte could be as big a home for country music as Nashville, Tennessee. While Charlotte never reached those heights, the Briarhoppers at their height received around 10,000 fan mail letters a week and brought a lot of attention to the city.
WBT Radio show lineup, circa 1942. Credit: Collection of Tom Warlick.
In the 1950s, members of the band took their chances pursuing new opportunities when WBT took the Briarhoppers off the radio as the times - and music tastes - had changed. But this wasn’t the end of the band. The Briarhoppers began receiving requests to perform from around the state. As time passed, new members came and went but the band continued. The band received the NC Folklife Society award in 2002, and the prestigious Brown-Hudson Award in 2003. The past several years have seen the passing of members Grant, Hogan, White, Deese and Moody, but the band recently celebrated its 80th anniversary. Tom Warlick now leads the band, with some help from the Flowers Family Band. Just like in the 1940s, when Tom Warlick asks the crowd “Do you know what time hit is?” they reply, “Hit’s Briarhopper Time!”
Until next week,
UNCC Graduate Student
Summer Intern, The Charlotte Museum of History
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
This post is based on an essay by Daniel Coston for the Charlotte 240 project, a collection of essays written by Charlotteans that explore regional history and highlight the people, places, and spaces that tell our story. You can find the original article here.
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass