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August 30, 2016

1887 Holden Missouri - Radio Star Uncle EZRA Born in Holden, Missouri as Patrick Barrett

Uncle Ezra P. Watters -  real name "Patrick J. Barrett" born in Holden, Missouri 1887
National Barn Dance
One of the first country music programs on radio and a direct inspiration to the Grand Ole Opry, National Barn Dance debuted over WLS/Chicago on April 19, 1924. The Saturday night show blended folk and country music with rural humor and was an instant hit among farm families seeking to relax on a Saturday night, and with city listeners who had emigrated from rural communities. By 1931, the show had moved to Chicago's 1,200-seat Eighth Street Theater, where it remained until 1957. From 1933-1950, the show was heard nationally over the NBC Blue Network (later ABC), with genial Joe Kelly as master of ceremonies. Among the performers who rose to prominence on the National Barn Dance were musical legends Gene Autry, Lulu Belle and Scotty (who actually met at NBC in Chicago and eventually married), Patsy Montana, Henry Burr, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and a young George Gobel. Comedy was provided by the likes of Pat Buttram and Pat "Uncle Ezra" Barrett. Square dancing was also a fixture of each show, with calls from Luther Ossiebrink, a.k.a. Arkie, the Arkansas Woodchopper.National Barn Dance continued on WLS until 1960 before moving to WGN/Chicago, where it lasted until 1970.National Barn Dance was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2011.
In 1925, prior to network radio or syndication, the Barn Dance concept was brought to Nashville, Tennessee. The result was a show called the WSM Barn Dance. It became so popular that on December 10, 1927, it was renamed the Grand Ole Opry.

Youtube Uncle Ezra 19 seconds 
born in Holden, Missouri
Johnson County

Uncle Ezra P. Watters didn't really have a radio station. There was no E-Z-R-A in any FCC record. But Ezra did have a radio show, more than one actually. He began as a character on the WLS National Barn Dance. On his own program he had a fictional radio station. It was described as a powerful 5-watt stick down in Rosedale, the friendly little city. The character was played by Patrick Barrett and former vaudeville man born back in 1887.  (in Holden, Missouri)

That made him 41 when the barn dance debuted.
Uncle Ezra, From Holden, Missouri
The WLS National Barn Dance first started in 1928 broadcasting on Saturday nights from the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. It was a small program in the beginning but it's popularity grew until it was a nightly 5-hour country music jamboree. Ezra closed out each episode with a folksy routine. The show was picked up by NBC in 1933 for national distribution. In 1946 they moved to ABC. Distribution was killed in 1957, and the live portion of the program ended. the decline began sharply. It moved to WGN-AM when WLS flipped to Top -40. It was finally canceled in 1968.

Uncle Ezra had a strange fame beyond the WLS National Barn Dance program. He was on the cover of Radio Guide. He published a book of hick poetry titled "Howdy Ev'Vybuddy". In 1936, the Lincoln Theater in Lincoln, IL celebrated its 13th anniversary with a stage show featuring Uncle Ezra and his Hoosier Hot-Shots from WLS and the National Barn Dance. In 1940 Life Magazine wrote up the hayseed humor of WLS and singled out Uncle Ezra:
"A phenomenon in the brief perspective of radio history is the ever popular, ever-corny, National Barn Dance... With it's cracker-Barrel Characters, Uncle Ezra, the Arkansas Woodchopper, the Hoosier Hotshots-and it's slapstick rural hijinks's. The Barn Dance typifies the success story of WLS..."In the 1940 the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company sponsored a program called Uncle Ezra's Radio Station. It ran out of WMAQ and was carried by the NBC Red network. The program ran three days a week Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 7:15 PM. It was only a 15 minute slot, but it ran for over 4 years. You can read a sample script here.
He died in died in 1959, before the barn dance was canceled, but after it was cut from the big networks. He was 72.

Uncle Ezra
Uncle Ezra
Dear Friend:
Here is the way "Uncle Ezra" looks in real life, and the answers to some of the questions so often asked him.  His real name is Patrick J. Barrett. Born in Holden, Missouri, Sept. 27, 1887.  His parents were theatrical people, traveling most of the time, so he was brought up by his grandparents in Holden, which accounts for his love and understanding of older folks.  His wife's name is Nora. She plays the part of "Cecelia". They have been married 21 years. Outside of running his stations "E-Z-R-A" and the time spent with his family.  Pat gets the greatest enjoyment out of hunting, fishing and taking long walks with his dogs.  We thank you for writing and hope you will enjoy "Uncle Ezra's" programs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.  Dr. Miles Laboratories, Inc.  Makers of Alka-Seltzer Tablets
The WLS National Barn Dance did not invent hillbilly music, but the show did bring the idea of "down-home fun" to a nationwide audience. Although the program showcased what would later be referred to as "Country Music", Barn Dance's target audience was city-folk. Which only made sense, by the mid-1920's, more and more people were leaving the farm-life to find their fortune in the cities because that is where the money was.

Barn Dance fans certainly enjoyed the lively, very recognizable music, but they also enjoyed hearing the corn-pone characters who filled the air in between the songs. One of the most popular was a philosophical old gent named Uncle Ezra. The character was created by Patrick Barrett, and worked with his real-life bride, Miss Cecile.
Uncle Ezra, "the Jumpin' Jenny Wren", supposedly broadcast from a "powerful five watter" in Rosedale, Illinois. Part of Uncle Ezra's bit was to rush in and breathlessly ask "Hain't missed nuthin' – have I?" Very few of the players who appeared on Barn Dance over the years made a lot of money from the show, they were usually paid five to ten dollars a night. However, the show was an important stepping stone to bigger and better things.
In 1944, NBC's transcription service began offering Uncle Ezra spots for independent stations. The friendly advice and wisdom on the short pieces (about five minutes, including the sponsor's message) could be tied into a variety of local sponsors. The show came from the fictional station (call letters E-Z-R-A) and filled with "local news", not unlike Garrison Keillor's material on The Prairie Home Companion, decades later.

On Saturday, September 30, 1933, listeners who tuned into the network radio debut of NBC (Blue’s) ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE heard some good things about the program’s sponsor, an unusual and strange product called Alka-Seltzer. The listeners who used it found out this product wasn’t your everyday pain reliever. Instead of taking 1or 2 tablets and washing them down with a glass of water, 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets were plopped directly INTO the glass of water. Once the tablets were dissolved, a typical human who was suffering from minor aches and pains could drink it. Although it took some getting used to, the people took announcer Jack Holden’s advice and tried Alka-Seltzer for any minor ailment they may have. To make a long story short, the network debut of both program and sponsor were both successful--- and the era of Alka-Seltzer advertising began. 

Unlike other radio sponsors, Alka-Seltzer provided its own sound effects. Instead of using fancy gadgets to make noise, all the sound effects man had to do was to hold a glass of water next to the microphone; drop 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets into that glass of water; and the listeners heard a refreshing fizzing sound. The announcer said that fizzing sound meant Alka-Seltzer was ready to go to work. 
Since its introduction to network radio, Alka-Seltzer sales increased dramatically, and the product became a leading brand of pain reliever. It was also a sought after radio sponsor. With the popularity of the ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE, a spin off program was created featuring one of the program’s regular characters. The program, UNCLE EZRA’S RADIO STATION, starred Pat Barrett as Uncle Ezra, the operator of E-Z-R-A, a“powerful 5 watter” radio station in the town of Rosedale. The program was originally heard on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings at 7:15 PM on NBC’s Red Network. Of course, since it was an ALKA-SELTZER NATIONAL BARN DANCE spin off, Alka-Seltzer was the sponsor. The program, in this format, enjoyed a 4+ year run on the air. 

Uncle Ezra and the Hoosier Hot Shots
Hoosier Hot Shots,  Youtube Video, click on the picture to listen
"She Broke My Heart in Three Places"
Seattle, Chicago, and New York......

Radio Schedule
Feb. 8, 1936 Saturday Eve.,
8:30- National Barn Dance NBC Hour with Uncle Ezra; Maple City Four; Verne, Lee and Mary; Hoosier Hot Shots; Lucille Long; Sally Foster; Skyland Scotty, and other Hayloft favorites, with Joe Kelly as master of ceremonies. (Alka- Seltzer)

The Hoosier Hot Shots - And My Friend Gabe

By Dick Stodghill
Uncle Ezra

Uncle Ezra

Uncle Ezra, his Rosedale was Holden, Missouri All Over Again

Uncle Ezra - Pat Barrett 
 Born: September 27, 1887 Holden, MO
Died: March 25, 1959 Harvard, IL

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