Louisiana Hayride was one of three major live-audience country music radio shows during the 1940s. (The others were the National Barn Dance out of Chicago and Grand Ole Opry from Nashville.) All three showcased major country performers and were huge successes in their parts of the nation. The Louisiana show was particularly important in Texas.
Louisiana Hayride was aired on KWKH, a radio station featuring hillbilly music. The station, founded in 1925, already had experience broadcasting regionally successful country music programs. But once it secured the authorization to broadcast with 50,000 watts, KWKH could reach a much larger audience than before. This was the opportunity that station announcer Horace "Hoss" Logan saw when he pitched the idea of another Saturday-night country music show to the station managers.
The Hayride was a larger venture than the station had previously attempted. The show aired for three hours on Saturday nights and was based on KWKH shows from the 1930s, including the station's variety shows and its regionally popular Saturday Night Roundup. The Louisiana Hayride went on the air on April 3, 1948, and was immediately popular. It was well-attended locally, in part because of its huge success and its ability to draw major performers week after week, and also in part because of the low admission cost to attend the performances; admission at that 1948 premiere started at sixty cents for adults and half that for children, a rate that stayed the same for eleven years.
The show was popular also because it was broadcast to a huge area. Because of the wattage of KWKH, Hayride could be heard deep in Arkansas and as far west as New Mexico. Within a year, the show's popularity led various stations to work together to broadcast the program over even greater distances. By 1953, KWKH's parent company, the CBS Radio Network, had made a weekly Saturday-night radio slot for country music shows. CBS selected six programs, of which Hayride was one, and alternated them on this national Saturday-night show. The following year, as the Louisiana show's legendary performances continued, the program was picked up by the Far East Network of the Armed Forces Radio Service. The Louisiana program was now heard around the world.
The most obvious reason for its success was that it served as a stage for a phenomenal number of talented and popular performers. Careers were made on Hayride as early as the program's first year. Within its fourth month of broadcasting, the show served as the site of Hank Williams's debut. Williams performed regularly on Hayride, as well as on other KWKH radio programs, and within months was the most recognizable and commercially successful country artist of the time. Williams left Shreveport to join the Opry in Nashville, thus starting a trend. Aspiring performers wanted to emulate the success Williams enjoyed and viewed the Hayride as their springboard to the Opry. This was the path taken by many country artists over the years, including Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, Jim Reeves, George Jones, and Johnny Cash. This movement was not the result of one radio program's being viewed as more prominent than the other. Rather, the surrounding towns provided different environments for career musicians. And while Shreveport was a hotspot of musical activity for aspiring musicians, it did not have the artist network, record companies, or publishing houses that Nashville did.
Hayride was not alone in featuring famous musicians, but no other radio program had the image it developed: this was the program that discovered country talent, the show where careers were made. So many future performers were started on Hayride that the program was known as the "Cradle of the Stars." Among these luminaries were many Texans, both seasoned performers and relative beginners, who began or enlarged their audiences on the show. They included, for instance, Charline Arthur, Johnny Carroll, Bob Luman, Johnny Horton, Howard Crockett, Jimmy Day, and Joey Long. Another Texan, Hubert Long, was manager of the Hayride in the 1950s.
Another prominent musician making his debut on the Louisiana Hayride was Elvis Presley, who appeared on the show in October of 1954, at the age of nineteen. He had been invited to the stage because of the success of his first single, "That's All Right Mama." Presley was the first musician on Hayride to sing rock-and-roll. He had tried to get on the Grand Ole Opry first, but had been rejected because the music he performed didn't match the show's image. When Hayride expanded its domain to include rock, it also widened its audience to include a younger, more rockabilly crowd. The Hayride was also the setting for announcer “Hoss” Logan’s famous words, “Elvis has left the building.” His statement was intended to calm the excited crowd after a performance. When Presley moved on to Hollywood, and the course of popular music favored rock over country, this new, younger fan base for Hayride also left.
The show didn't survive the change in cultural taste that it had helped create. The post-Elvis Hayride started to plunge in popularity as country music audiences aged and teenagers continued to favor rock-and-roll. Hayride aired its final live show in 1960. The radio program was subsequently revived in various incarnations over the years, but never attained the success of its heyday. In the 2000s the show's venue, Shreveport's Municipal Memorial Auditorium continued to host musical acts, and its Stage of Stars Museum displayed memorabilia from the Hayride. The program was honored in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009.