The Wheeling Jamboree celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.
written by ELIZABETH HOWARD
A WEST VIRGINIA MUSIC AND RADIO INSTITUTION marked a major milestone when The Wheeling Jamboree celebrated 90 years in the spring. The beloved country music radio broadcast is the second-oldest of its kind, the first being the Grand Ole Opry.
Starting in 1933, George W. Smith, director of radio station WWVA in Wheeling, used local talent to bring his idea for a country music program to life. The Saturday night Jamboree was such a hit that, three months later, the show moved out of the studio to include a live audience. At the April 1, 1933, premiere of The World’s Original WWVA Jamboree at Wheeling’s Capitol Theatre, a full house of more than 3,000 enthusiastic people enjoyed the show.
Later nationally syndicated, the Jamboree brought pioneering country music talent to a wide stage and hosted national performers like Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. It called various venues home, including the Virginia Theatre, the Rex, and the Wheeling Island Exhibition Hall, and returned to the Capitol in 1969. When the Capitol closed temporarily in 2006, hometown country star Brad Paisley and others quickly formed the nonprofit Wheeling Jamboree, Inc., to preserve the legacy. The organization established the low-power radio station 101.1 WWOV in 2014 and, after a transient period, found a new home for the Jamboree in 2015 near the Capitol Theatre. Today, Wheeling Jamboree owns the intellectual property of the Jamboree and keeps the dream alive.
“Ninety years is an incredible milestone for any entertainment organization,” says Dave Heath, president of Wheeling Jamboree since 2012, “but especially the Jamboree, being second to the Grand Ole Opry in terms of longevity.”
Celebrated at the Capitol Theatre on April 22, 2023, the Jamboree’s 90th anniversary bash brought fans back to enjoy the long-running program’s timeless entertainment. Musical guests included Oak Hill native and Country Music and West Virginia Music Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy, Wheeling native and West Virginia Music Hall of Famer Tim O’Brien, and others.
WWOV rebroadcasts the Jamboree’s catalog of audio show archives, with the Jamboree show airing every Saturday at 7 p.m.—visit wwovfm.com to listen.