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Let me tell you about...
Star of "T-Bar-V Ranch " and "Hayloft Hoedown
By Jean Mctcalfe
Randy Atcher was looking tanned and fit when I spoke with him on a beautiful sunny day in mid-January. He had just returned from his morning session of reading at the American Printing House for the Blind, where he has been a narrator for 25 years or more. He would be going back later that afternoon.
Except for the snowy white hair – it's very becoming to him – Atcher didn't seem to have aged much over the years since I had remembered seeing him on television. With a guitar and cowboy hat, the star of WHAS TV's old "T-Bar-V Ranch" and "Hayloft Hoedown" could almost step on stage and pick up where he left off over 20 years ago. Too bad that local television entertainment shows have all but disappeared from the scene.
Atcher has not been idle since his more than 20 years in the entertainment business. He still makes a couple of appearances a month – he's scheduled to perform as part of a three-day reunion in Pine Knobs, Ky. in June – and he enjoys playing golf. Perhaps that's what keeps the gentleman looking so well.
"It's been a great pleasure to me that people remember 'TBar-V Ranch' program so well," he said, responding to my inquiry as to what had been some of the highlights of his musical career. "It's been off the air now for getting close to 20 years. And every day someone will mention the program – either having been on it, or they wish that it was on so their children could be on it. And most anywhere I go I'm amazed that most of the people in the proper age group know all the words to the old 'T-Bar-V' songs and sing 'em along."
Atcher became involved in the entertainment business at the age of twelve when he started singing with his older brother Bob. Bob Atcher was a student at the University of Kentucky at the time and for about six months did a 15-minute program from a WHAS "extension studio" in Lexington. He continued to do radio programs at WHAS when he returned to Louisville, inviting younger brother Randy to sing on the shows. Except for the years of World War II, Randy Atcher has been in the music business just about constantly since that time.
At one point he quit the business and entered western Kentucky State Teachers' College to prepare for a career in education. When the 1937 flood washed his family's home down the river, he quit college and returned home to help his father rebuild. He went back into the entertainment business instead of going back to school.
(At this point in the interview we mused about how different things might have been had the nefarious '37 flood not intervened. Imagine, no "T-Bar-V" and no "Hayloft Hoedown" and no "Brush your teeth each morning, get lots of sleep at night, mind your mom and daddy, 'cause they know what is right... " I suspect that Atcher has had a positive influence on the lives of more children with his "T-Bar-V" program than he could have had as a classroom teacher.) "We all played at home... Dad played the fiddle... at one time the Atcher family was on the air. There were four of us... we played music all the time... so I started working with Bob as his little brother. That was in 1932 and '33 and '34 and we worked together all through high school. I was fortunate in that we played personal appearances to make our living and maybe we'd come in and do a radio program in the morning at 8:15. Bob would drive me back to West Point, Ky. to high school. I'd be there maybe until noon and he'd pick me up to drive to London, Ky. or someplace for a show.
And the principal of the high school allowed me – as long as I could pass my examinations – to do it that way. And I graduated as salutatorian of my senior class. I liked school and got along well in school. It was fairly easy for me. I'd study in the car on the way to and from those personal appearances... I doubt it could be done today."
The early radio shows were not paid performances. It wasn't until sometime in the late Thirties that the station began to get sponsors who particularly wanted country music and paid the musicians for their work on radio. To make a living they made personal appearances at high schools and theaters and perhaps a church or a court house. (They were allowed to plug the appearances on the radio shows.) Children paid fifteen cents and their parents a quarter admission. "And, you might drive 90 miles down in the state to make a personal appearance and earn five dollars apiece and thought you were rich," Atcher said. We both chuckled.
WHAS TV went on the air on March 27, 1950 and Atcher was on the first program, showing what "T-Bar-V" was going to be like. The next week, on a Monday, they started the popular kids' program and it was on for about 20 and a quarter years, five days a week. "At the time it went off the air it was the longest-running show with the same talent in the country," Atcher said. Since then there have been others that have surpassed that record, he added.
Atcher related that when "T-Bar-V" was first on the air, they sang the traditional "Happy Birthday" song to the children. But since ASCAP was paid for each singing of it, Atcher wrote his own birthday song for the program and the station did not have to pay for each performance of the new song.
In answer to my question, Atcher said that he had written some 400-500 songs. He also did some recording for MGM Records. The records were sent to Portland, Oregon for a test market, but they didn't do too well. "Nobody had heard of Randy Atcher in Portland," he laughingly admitted.
Atcher also wrote the theme song for "T-Bar-V." When the show first went on the air its theme song was "I Love the Prairie Country," a Sons of the Pioneers tune. It was replaced by an Atcher original after a couple of years. Here's the Atcher tune that opened the show:
Howdy, howdy, boys and girls It's T-Bar-V Ranch Time.
We're glad to see you all today And hope you're feeling fine.
We'll sing and dance and have a show And birthday parties, too!
It's T-Bar-V Ranch Time.
The closing song was full of good advice:
Brush your teeth each morning, Get lots of sleep at night.
Mind your Mom and Daddy 'Cause they know what is right.
Lots of exercise each day And eat up all your food.
Always wear a great big smile It makes you look so good.
Be sure to look both left and right
Before you cross the street
And be with us tomorrow at 9
When it's T-Bar-V Ranch Time.
They used that song from then on, "And that's what everybody remembers," Atcher said with a laugh.
Many of Atcher's songs were used on the programs. "Hayloft Hoedown" was always closed with a gospel hymn and Atcher's "The Golden Key" was just about the most requested of those hymns.
"Hayloft Hoedown" also had a goodnight song at the end of the program. "The parents used to tell me that their children would begin to cry when that song started because it meant they had to go to bed," Atcher said. I asked him to refresh my memory on the words to the song and I got a real kick out of having him sing them for me. I couldn't resist joining in:
The time has come to say goodnight,
But we'll be here next Saturday,.
Until then, goodnight.
Atcher was at WHAS for quite a few years before leaving to serve his country for ahnost five years during World War II. When the war was over, he spent about six months in Savannah, Ga., opening a radio station, then returned to WHAS. He was at WHAS almost constantly, except for about a one-year period, until "T-Bar-V" and "Hayloft Hoedown" went off the air. The Hoedown signed off for the last time in December of 1969 and "T-Bar-V" continued until June of 1970.
Atcher says he didn't experience to any extent some of the hardships of musicians who are constantly looking for gigs. The steadiness of the job at WHAS – Atcher spent 20 and one-half years there – paid enough that he made a good living from it.
When he left WHAS in the early Seventies, it was prior to the days of the high rates of pay that performers receive nowadays. Atcher didn't feel that he could continue to make a complete living in the music business, so he went into a very successful career in real estate. He still played music some, however.
Atcher acknowledged that the music business is one of ups and downs. "Only a small percentage get a regular job that will pay them a good living wage, he volunteered. "It makes it very difficult for young people. There is so much talent there and yet it's difficult to present it because they just have to do it in a hit-and-miss kind of way. I'm sorry we don't have programs today like the old 'Hi Varieties' program which used to allow young entertaining people to show what they could do, but anymore everything is electronic so they just don't have those opportunities."
"WHAS used to have a staff orchestra and staff musicians, you know, that were there all the time and would be background, or have programs that they did themselves, or background for many different artists that would be on the station. Of course that changed, really, I guess in the Fifties more than any other time and then the radio stations just hired the musicians that they wanted for programs. But we did have a lot of live programs. At one time on WHAS, counting radio and television, we were doing 22 programs a week. I did three radio programs daily and on Friday night the 'Old Kentucky Barn Dance' program on radio and then we did 'T-Bar-V' five days a week and 'Hayloft Hoedown,' so we kept busy."
Atcher readily admits that his experience in the entertainment business was not fraught with instances of non-payment or on-the-spot cancellations such as some struggling performers experience today. He does recall a few instances when a promoter would book them into some kind of big show and then abscond with the funds, "but it didn't seriously hurt anyone. Usually they were things that were done right here locally. You didn't go to Chicago to do it, so it didn't cost you that much.
"No, that was one thing about being on television and radio – you didn't have to wony about getting through the time and making a living and having a job. WHAS at that time, from 1950 till '70 when we were there the latter time it was like a big family. Mr. Barry Bingham Sr. (owner of WHAS) was a wonderful man and the whole organization was just great to be associated with then."
Responding to my question about high points of his career, Atcher said, "One of the good times was when I took the band and we appeared on the 'Garry Moore Show' on CBS out of New York. I appeared on a program with Red Foley and the group called The Ozark Jubilee down in Missouri two or three times.
"I guess probably the highlight of everything for me in the entertainment business is the way that people of this area remember the programs that we did for that long a time and they are very complimentary about the programs and about what it meant to the community – the 'T-Bar-V' program – to the children.
"And then in my early years I guess the highlight was an appearance my brother and his wife and I made as a western trio at Soldier's field in Chicago when 75,000 people (were in the audience) and included on the bill were Joan Crawford and many of the Hollywood stars – it was called "The Night Of Stars" – and Randolph Scott had always been one of my favorites and we sat down and chatted before the program and that was back in about l940."
They also appeared on Arthur Godfrey's show on CBS.
"One of the things that I will always remember is in 1966 the State Department asked me to take some of our entertainers and entertain the troops in Santo Domingo and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So Tiny Thomale and Bobby Lewis and Judy Marshall and Joann Hale and I went to those places to entertain the troops. And I'll never forget, in Santo Domingo, we were in this, I think, a soccer stadium – it was a huge stadium – and we had arranged the program so that I would go out by myself to start and then bring each one of them out after I had sung a few songs. I walked out on the stage and a voice from way back in the crowd said, 'Well, I'll be damned, T-Bar-V Ranch time.' That was a real highlight to have that happen that far away."
There were something like 15,000 troops there, so Atcher wasn't able to learn the identity of the person. "It certainly was a highlight when that happened. We enjoyed that tour and entertained a lot of troops and did like three or four shows a day in different locations and it was fun.
"We were with Ben Bernie's old orchestra on a tour at the time of Pearl Harbor. My birthday is December 7, so it's easy to remember. (Atcher was born in 1918 in Tip Top, Ky.) And I quit the troupe that night and came home and enlisted in the Air Force. When I went in the Air Force... I decided that I probably wouldn't go back into music when I got out of the service. But after four and a half years (Atcher was a captain and eligible to be a major when he got out of the service) it was just so natural to go back to the entertaining that that's what I did."
Atcher spent three and a half years overseas in the war in Australia and in the South Pacific. "I sent the occupation troops into Japan. I was administrative officer with the air transport command in Okinawa and we had a big DC4 going off the ground every three minutes, loaded with infantry and equipment going up to occupy Japan. I lost 28 pounds in 30 days. Couldn't get any sleep." He was the only administrative officer there and had to handle all the paper work, etc.
I asked Atcher about his former TV sidekick "Cactus" Tom Brooks: "Since we left television, he hasn't done a lot of entertaining. Among other things, he was of an age where he could have his pension when he left up there and there was some provision in it that he couldn't be that character ("Cactus") on another one of the local stations. But he and I have appeared together on a few sort of reunion kind of things and have been in a few parades and so on. 'Cac' is now 80 years old and has not been well for some time. His most recent thing was a stroke and, though he is back from it to a certain extent, he still isn't really able to do his little dance anymore or a lot of the things we used to do. But he's one of the greatest people. He and I have been friends and, I think, true friends, from the time we started 'T[Bar-V' in 1950 right on to the present.
"He used to love golf and we used to play, but in the last two years or so he hasn't really been able to get out on the course. We're having an annual 'T-Bar-V' golf tournament for muscular dystrophy these days – we had our second one in '89 – and he has been able to come out and ride in the cart a little bit and see everyone, but not really play. He misses that very much because he always loved it."
Tiny Thomale, an important part of "T-Bar-V Ranch" and the WHAS "family," is retired and lives in Somerset, Ky. It was his plan to keep a low profile when he moved there to be near his son. It didn't take long for the local folk to discover him, however and in no time at all he found himself in demand as an entertainer in his new community. Thomale also loves to play golf.
The Louisville Federation of Musicians named Randy Atcher their "Musician of the Year" for 1989. "It was a complete surprise," he said. "As a matter of fact, my son Mark called me and told me that he was going to be given his 25-year pin and would sure like to have me be there for it. I may not have even been going to that meeting because I had some other things that I was doing, but I decided that if he felt like it was important enough he'd like to have me there, I would go. And then they pulled this on me. And it's certainly an honor that I appreciate. And the people who were responsible for voting it, I am very grateful to them."
Atcher lives in a lovely condo in the Hikes Point area with his wife Betty. He has two sons, Mark and Christopher and Mrs. Atcher has three daughters and a son. Christopher is not involved in music, but Mark is in a band called "Grand Slam." The group works a great deal, but it is not Mark's primary occupation. (Many of our readers may recall that Mark made quite a few appearances with his father as an entertainer.)
I suggested to Atcher that it must bring him a great deal of satisfaction to be able to look back and realize that he has touched people's lives and made them smile and feel happy. Atcher said, "I always remember my grandfather – he was a wonderful man – and I had been in radio for some time and, as I said, you didn't make very much money in those early days, so I was talking to him one time about maybe not staying in music at all.
And he said 'Well, do you enjoy the music business,' and I said, 'Oh, yes, I sure do – I like to play and sing.' And he said, 'The people that you sing for seem to get some pleastue out of it, don't they?' and I said, 'Yes, they seem to' and he said, 'Well, if you're doing what you want to do and at the same time doing something good for other people, I don't see how you'd want to do anything different' And I suppose that had a lot to do with my staying in the music business."
How would Atcher like to be remembered? "I guess, that as an entertainer would probably be what I would be more interested in," he said, then added that he'd also like to be remembered as a narrator for the American Printing House for the Blind.
It was a pleasure to meet and talk with Randy Atcher.
I feel that my life has been enriched by our visit just as countless other lives have been enriched over the years by the man and his music. His work as a narrator for the blind will continue to enrich lives for years to come.
That's a wonderful legacy.