Category: Book Review
Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City
2007: University of Illinois Press
Available through Amazon.com
In May 2007, Craig Havighurst addressed the lunchtime crowd at the International Country Music Conference regarding his forthcoming book on radio station WSM. He told the audience he was surprised to discover that no comprehensive history of the legendary radio station had ever been published.
Havighurst has solved that problem, and remarkably. His "biography" on WSM, Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City is a vital and necessary look at the home of the Grand Ole Opry. The histories of WSM, the Grand Ole Opry, and indeed radio, television, and country music's rise to prominence as a major contributor to Nashville's economy are explained in thorough, loving detail.
The story of WSM isn't always rosy, as Havighurst points out by beginning his work with the account of protests in favor of WSM's country format in January, 2002, when new management at Gaylord (WSM's owner) decided to drop the music in favor of an ESPN affiliation. For fans of WSM and the Opry, the epilogue ("Signal Fade") is painful to read, as it chronicles the way impersonal corporate owners destroyed the Opryland theme park (a move that they now admit what people knew all along: it was a bad move) and in the process the livelihood of a number of musicians, and nearly destroyed WSM in the process. There were other internal battles throughout the station's history, most notably a dispute between management and Jim Denny that caused a major rift between the Opry and several members. When any detail about the controversy is subject to debate, Havighurst merely tells all sides and notes which story has most credibility or corroboration.
This rewarding book is a must-read for fans of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. It is also a history lesson in Nashville over the 80-plus years of the radio station's existence. It should also be read by people who have no interest in anything but the most modern of country music, because this book explains just how we arrived to today in country music -- and why so many die-hard traditionalists are the way they are.