George D. Hay

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An important figure in the history of country music, he was the businessman that started the Grand Ole Opry.
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Known as "the Solemn Old Judge," that's exactly what Grand Ole Opry announcer George Hay represented to the country music community. Originally a print journalist, Hay switched to radio when the newspaper that employed him, the Memphis-based Commercial Appeal, bought a station and hired him as a late-night announcer. Over time, Hay developed his "Judge" persona, blowing a steamboat whistle during every on-air appearance as a trademark. He left the South in 1924 and moved to Chicago, where he took a job hosting the popular National Barn Dance radio program. It wasn't until he relocated to Nashville's WSM in 1925, however, that Hay's legend in country & western circles was cemented.

After WSM aired an opera before his Barn Dance show, Hay joked that his show was a "Grand Ole Opry." The name stuck, and Hay was invited to act as the announcer and booking agent for the nascent variety show. Though a beloved figure, Hay's nickname was all too truthful, and he proved unable to change with the times, complaining when the Western swing stars of the '30s and '40s used electric instruments. He eventually left his MC duties at The Grand Old Opry in 1947. Hay became editor of Pickin’ and Singin’ News in 1953 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame one decade later.