The WMNI Country Cavalcade
special thanks to Matt Mnich and Bob O'Brien
special thanks to Matt Mnich and Bob O'Brien
WMNI, a powerful country music station in Columbus, Ohio, during the 1960s and 1970s, hosted a live stage show called the “Country Cavalcade.” Contrary to many other shows of its type, the Cavalcade began its history relatively late at the end of 1974. At that time, many of the old live stage shows had ended.
WMNI turned to a country music programming in late 1965. The station was owned by North American Broadcasting, headed by William R. “Bill” Mnich, who had founded the company in 1958. Both the Southern Theatre and the hotel next to the theatre, known as the Grand Southern Hotel, also belonged to North American Broadcasting. Shortly after WMNI became a country station, live stage shows were organized at the Southern Theatre and the much larger Veterans Memorial Auditorium, beginning in 1966 with great success. These shows, however, were not broadcasted over radio.
The idea of a regular Saturday night stage show came from Bill Mnich. The start for the “Country Cavalcade” finally came late in 1974. Mnich was the driving force behind the show, as he booked the acts, produced and managed the Cavalcade. Emcee of the show was Ron Barlow, DJ and program director of WMNI from 1970 until 1975 or early 1976. Barlow then left due to a disagreement with Mnich and was replaced by Carl Wendelken, who also shared managing /producing credits with Mnich. Rick Minerd, who helped Wendelken at times with the emcee work, recalled: “Our Country Cavalcade was a local version of WSM's Grand Ole Opry Show and like the grand daddy of them all we featured live acts on Saturday nights from a beautiful historic theatre.”
The show was airing live over WMNI and taped for broadcasting over the Mutual Network, which included over 600 stations at that time and exposed the Country Cavalcade to a large audience across the United States. It was also tried to broadcast live over the network, which was stopped again shortly afterwards, however, since it caused too many problems (the show had to be broadcasted simultaneously in four different time zones). A book called “Historic Columbus: A Bicentennial History” devoted some space to WMNI and also the Cavalcade: „In the mid to late 1970s, nationally known entertainers appeared before packed houses at the Southern Theater. The shows were broadcast on WMNI and distributed to hundreds of other radio stations over the Mutual Radio Network.”At some point in 1976, the show was dropped from the network but continued to air over WMNI.
Many of the artists were local acts but some of them enjoyed some success, even nationally. Ott Stephens was an recording artist on Chart Records from Nashville during the 1960s and also partially owner of that label. He appeared regularly on the Country Cavalcade. Although he had sold his interests in Chart by the time the Cavalcade went on the air, a lot of the Chart recording artists nevertheless made regular performances on the show through him. The artists profited from the nationwide exposure of the show and some of them even reached the Billboard country charts.
Regulars of the show included:
• Kenny Slide, fiddler and part of the show’s house band
• Ric Queen, drummer and part of the show’s house band
• Kenny Pugh
• Lionel Cartwright
• Patti Ramsey
• Rick Minerd, DJ at WMNI and at one time emcee of the show
• “Captain” John Gammell, began performing on the show in 1972
• Bill Jolliff
• Kevin Mabry and Liberty Street, local country and rock group – Kevin Mabry guitar/vocals; Bill Purk lead guitar/vocals; Gary Markin bass/vocals; Harold Fogle steel guitar; Victor Mabry drums – won a Country Cavalcade talent contest in 1976 as reported by the Marysville Journal-Tribute on October 8, 1976
• Debbie Fowler
• Mike O’Harra
• Patti Gaines
• Dick Shuey, Award recording artist in 1978
• Kenny Vernon, Chart recording artist
• LaWanda Lindsey, Chart recording artist
• Pat Zill
• Howard Writesel
• Tommy Hawk
• Walt Cochran and the Holly River Boys
• Chuck Howard
On March 6, 1979, the “Circleville Herald” referred to one of the regular Cavalcade Saturday shows as follows: “CAVALCADE PLANS CONCERT – The WMNI Country Cavalcade will present David Houston and the Persuaders live in concert on the Southern Theatre Stage, Columbus 8 p.m. Saturday. Also appearing will be some of the area’s finest entertainers. Newark's Debbie Fowler, Amanda’s Ken Pugh, Patti Gaines from Huntington, W. Va. and Mike O'Harra and syn¬chronizations from Columbus will round out this night of entertainment. The WMNI Country Cavalcade is presented every Saturday night.”
Our friend Bob O’Brien, who put me on the track of the Country Cavalcade, was able to track down Matt Mnich, son of Bill Mnich. Matt was kind enough to give us an insight of the show’s history, for which we are very thankful. I also appreciate Bob’s great help in bringing light to one of the lesser known stage shows. A great portion of the information came from Matt and Bob.
In 1979, the Southern Theatre was closed down as it had fallen into disrepair at that point. The closing of the theatre also meant the end for the Country Cavalcade. WMNI continued to put on live stage shows in Columbus on an infrequent basis, which were not heard over radio, however. Nevertheless, these events proofed to be successful, too, well into the 1980s.
Accompaning this post is a 12 track compilation entitled "The WMNI Country Cavalcade" put together by Bob O'Brien. This compilation includes recordings by some of the Country Cavalcade members.