Down-Home Opry's Diamond Jubilee

CBS/The Early Show
For 75 years, the legends of country music have graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, the world's longest running live radio program, heard from Alaska to Florida.

Says Garth Brooks, "It is the World Series of country music. Every time you come here, you better be ready to play."

For millions of the Americans over the years, listening to the Grand Ole Opry over the years on Saturday nights was a family ritual.

"As far back as I can remember, I listened to the Grand Ole Opry," says Jeannie Seely, a country star who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. "The show would come in better on the radio in the car, so my dad always made sure on Saturday night that the battery was charged up, and Mother would pop corn, and we'd often sit out there and listen to the car radio."

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To country vet Porter Wagoner, over in the mountains of Missouri, "It seemed like they were a million miles away back then. I remember that very well, as a small boy, just thinking, 'Wow!'"

Back then, listeners would hear performers like Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff, and Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn.

"I don't remember singing," recalls Lynn. "I remember pattin' my foot, and after it was all over, I remember running outside and huggin' my husband and hollerin', 'Oh, honey! I been on the Grand Ole Opry! What else is better?'"

If the Opry had a diva, for decades it was the late Minnie Pearl, who once said, "The Opry means Saturday night and takin' a bath for Sunday school, and it means being at home where everything's warm and secure."

Charles Wolfe analyzed the Opry's success in his book, A Good Natured Riot. Says he, "Minnie Pearl realized she was probably going to be stereotyped anyway, so let's roll with it and play with it."

The notion of celebrating the rural roots of the music and audience started with the Opry's creator, George Hay.

As it celebrates its 75-year history, the Opry is at a crossroads, looking back with pride, but keeping an eye on the future. Recently, the Opry streamed itfirst show on the Internet, and it conducts weekly chat rooms with young stars.

But the most delicate balance of all is to respect the majority of the Opry's stars, who have been around for decades, while adding new, youthful stars to the cast, to carry on the Opry tradition.

Says singer Travis Tritt, "When you walk out on that stage, it just makes my knees knock. It makes your heart speed up. It's the only place I get nervous performing. I guess you immediately think that you're carrying on part of a tremendous tradition here, and you better not screw it up."