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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, May 26, 2012

From Swainsboro to the Opry

SWAINSBORO – Growing up in Wrightsville my first memory of Swainsboro, 26 miles away, was a bus trip over to the Pine Tree Festival in the mid-1950s.

It was nice to experience a parade with an opportunity to observe displays and booths of all types. Not really anything to write home about, however.

Then I discovered the Record Hop. Now that was something to write home about except if I had told the truth, I might have been in deep trouble. Admitting to dancing up close and personal with girls and sipping a beer on the way home would have been confirmation to the folks in the rural church I attended that I was the devil’s surrogate.

Rock ‘N Roll music was in full swing in the late 1950s, but there was still plenty of country music. We listened to WJAT constantly. Can’t remember its signal strength, but it was where we got the news, weather and Eddy Arnold.

WJAT’s signal also introduced me to Hank Williams, and I fell in love with his music like almost everybody else. “Kalija,” “Lovesick Blues,” “Hey Good Lookin’ Whatcha Got Cookin’” and “Your Cheating Heart,” among many others. We listened to those songs on radio and also on jukeboxes as long as our change lasted.

In January when I quail hunted with Hank’s daughter, Jett, in Albany, I was vicariously linked to my country music hero. Told Jett about the record hop and WJAT. When I visited Jett and her husband Keith Adkinson at their farm in Hartsville, Tenn., and interviewed her, I kept reflecting back on those days on the farm and listening to her daddy sing on the Grand Ole Opry.

Everybody has something deep within their soul and in mine there is country music. When I visit Nashville, I usually get invited backstage at the Grand Ole Opry by my longtime friend and country artist, “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson.

I’ve been going backstage at the Opry since the 1970s and remember watching the World Series with Roy Acuff, Boots Randolph and Archie Campbell when the Cincinnati Reds—“The Big Red Machine”—were the class of baseball. Every time I visit the Opry, I think of my growing up days on the farm and the radio. Never thought I’d have a radio presence in my life and could never have imagined I would work with Larry Munson whose voice I first heard over WSM, the station of the Opry.

Those days on the farm make me realize how fortunate I have been and how important it is to grow up with radio, an imagination and a curiosity. Are you born with a curiosity or can you develop it? Not sure, but I worry that technology and the easy life keeps kids from developing or acquiring a curiosity. Kids should listen to radio and read books. Reading a book under a shade tree and listening to the radio were the best times of my youth. Front porch swings, watermelon, going barefoot in the spring. I treasure the memories.

The Record Hop! What a refreshing memory of the good times from the old Quonset hut where they held the Peach State Jamboree. We danced and danced. I remember the girls from Portal were particularly refreshing and pretty. In fact, I tried to find a job in Portal I was so smitten with a blonde named Nikki. Her name probably had something to do with it. It sounded so charming and bewitching. All the girls I knew had names like Mary, Barbara, Betty and Jane.

As time marched on, I settled down far from Swainsboro, but will always maintain the fondest memories of the town because of the influence of WJAT and the Record Hop. Now Dennis Jones runs my radio show on WXRS, and the editor has been considerate enough to include my musings in the Swainsboro Forest-Blade.

I’d consider moving to Swainsboro if somebody would regenerate the Record Hop. Especially if there were confirmation that Nikki and her friends from Portal would return and dance with me with The Platters singing, “The Great Pretender,” as my heart raced and my palms became laden with perspiration.

If I had ever gotten up the courage to ask one of those Portal girls for a date, the real challenge would have been uncomfortably embarrassing. You see, I dated in a pickup truck long before it became fashionable.

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