Riders Radio Theater is ON THE AIR!

by Riders In The Sky and Texas Bix Bender, from the book "Riders In The Sky," pub. 1992 by Gibbs-Smith, Publisher.

RIDERS RADIO THEATER was a phrase coined by Tumbleweed Tommy Goldsmith during his brief tenure as a Rider In The Sky. It described a series of skits written by Too Slim and performed by the Riders as part of their stage act in the early days of their career. As the Riders' act matured, they dropped the skits and concentrated on refining their various characters and developing a less-structured, freer-flowing comedic style. But the concept was not forgotten, and several years later, in 1984, at the instigation of Bruce Nemerov, the idea was revived during an extended lunch at a now-defunct Nashville restaurant. Present that fateful day were Woody Paul, Too Slim, Ranger Doug, Bruce, Ned Ramage, and Texas Bix Bender. Bruce had contacted American Public Radio (now Public Radio International) and they had shown a strong interest in a Riders In The Sky program. Everyone at the table that day thought it was a pretty good idea, too, and Too Slim knew exactly where to begin. Reaching into an inner pocket of his jacket, he produced a couple of yellowed, dog-eared pages of an early Riders Radio Theater skit called "Dialing For Dogies!"

Well, who could argue with a title like that? A story conference followed, at which a format, enlarged plotline, and other particulars were worked out. Then Texas Bix took all these elements and hammered them into a thirty-minute script for a pilot show. Shortly after that a small band of extremely faithful fans were lured with the promise of free food and drink to Tom T. Hall's Toybox Recording Studio in Brentwood, Tennessee. There, with Bruce Nemerov at the controls and Riders In The Sky and Texas Bix at the microphones, radio history was made...and almost forgotten.

American Public Radio heard the pilot, liked it, was even enthusiastic about it; but when they took it to their board for financing, it was rejected on the grounds it lacked any classical music content. Well, they had us there (though many who love the poetry, romance and beauty in the music and lyrics of Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Stan Jones, Billy Hill, and Riders In The Sky would righteously argue the point).

Then, in January 1988, the Riders were preparing to do their second MCA album (Riders In The Sky were the first western music group to be on a major record label in over twenty years). Since their first MCA album had primarily been music, it was decided that this one would be mostly comedy. Thus, Riders Radio Theater was reborn on vinyl. Texas Bix Bender was contacted and agreed to participate in the writing and serve as announcer on the record. Most of the material had its genesis with Too Slim driving and Texas Bix riding shotgun as the Riders bus rolled along the back roads of Texas in between show dates.

The album was recorded in Nashville on March 6, 7 and 8 and released to rave notices, including one in People magazine. Shortly after that WPLN, public radio in Nashville, got involved, and in no time the words of Texas Bix Bender were heard from coast to coast proclaiming that "Riders Radio Theater is on the air!"

The first few shows were a little rocky. But with the addition of sound effects wizard Big Zeno Clinker and the show's secret weapon, Joey the Cowpolka King, the show hit its stride.

But after the first year, despite having created a nationwide network of over a hundred public radio stations in America and Australia, WPLN elected not to continue their relationship with the show. Almost immediately Doctor J. C. King and the late Larry Ashcraft at public radio station WVXU in Cincinnati stepped in, and the Queen City of the West (as it was so designated by no less a light than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807-1882, in his ode to "Catawba Wine") became the new home for Riders Radio Theater.

Now, every month or so, The Riders, Joey, Big Zeno and Texas Bix mount up and launch a trail drive north to the historic Emory Theater in downtown Cincinnati, where they play to wonderful, enthusiastic, capacity crowds who saddle up again and again and ride the airwaves with Riders In The Sky!

At the time of this writing the future of "Riders Radio Theater" is up in the air (Pun intended. Sorry, Ranger Doug.). To do a show of this nature is a big drain on any public radio station's resources and also requires a terrific amount of time and work for little financial return on the part of the writers and performers. But several avenues are being explored and it is everybody's desire - including The Riders, Texas Bix, Joey, Big Zeno, WVXU and WPLN, along with a lot of incredibly loyal and dedicated fans all across America and Australia - to keep "Riders Radio Theater" on the air!

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