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RIP Judy Perkins, Last Of The 'Midwestern Hayride' Stars

Mike Martini

Judy Perkins was best known for WLWT-TV's "Midwestern Hayride" country music show, but she also enjoyed the national country music spotlight.

Perkins, who died Sept. 9 at 92, was a cast member of Eddy Arnold's national "Checkerboard Jamboree" morning radio show from Nashville's Andrew Jackson Hotel in 1947, and appeared on legacy radio stations WLS in Chicago, KMOX in St. Louis, WLAC in Nashville and WIBC in Indianapolis.

She performed with Cowboy Copas, Minnie Pearl, Bradley Kinkaid, Little Jimmy Dickens, Fiddlin' Red Herron, Ralph Ballard and other major country stars in the 1940s and '50s. And she accompanied The Hometowners group from "Midwestern Hayride" to New York and introduced them on Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts" TV show in 1957.

On "Midwestern Hayride" she met Bonnie Lou, and the two country singers were lifetime friends who could finish each other's sentences. In fact, when I interviewed Bonnie Lou for a front page Enquirer story in 2007, Bonnie Lou insisted that Judy to be present to fill in details.

"I’m sure Judy and her pal Bonnie Lou are having a great time swapping stories and laughing again in heaven," says Mike Martini, Cincinnati broadcasting historian and proprietor of the Media Heritage archives and Greater Cincinnati and Ohio Museum of Broadcasting at the Voice of America in West Chester Township.

Perkins was my go-to person for stories and questions "Midwestern Hayride," which debuted two months after the birth of commercial television here in 1948 on WLWT-TV. It was one of Cincinnati's first national TV series, airing weekly on NBC or ABC in the 1950s as a "summer replacement" for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and other programs before videotape made reruns possible.

"We felt really special. We got cards and letters from all over the country," she told in 2011, for the 60th anniversary of the "Hayride" national TV debut.

Perkins had great memories, a delightful sense of humor, and a wonderful collection of scrapbooks documenting her career.  The Michigan native appeared on Chicago's WLS-AM talent show at age 16, and later left Michigan State University to work in radio in Findlay, Ohio, according to herHillbilly Music website bio.  She accompanied herself on guitar and sang hymns, ballads, spirituals and hillbilly music, the site says. 

In 1945-46, she worked for Cincinnati's WKRC-AM, then went to St. Louis and Nashville.  She returned here in 1948, as WLWT-TV was starting TV here, because television was at least two years away in Nashville. "I just thought it was the smart thing to do," she told me in 2011.

Credit Mike Martini / Media Heritage
Media Heritage
"Midwestern Hayride" cast photo with Judy Perkins (striped dress) just left of center.

On the Saturday night "Hayride," she starred with Ernie Lee, the Girls of the Golden West (sisters Millie and Dolly Good), Red Turner, Willie Thall, the Pleasant Valley Boys, the Prairie Ramblers and Kenny "the Jumping Cowboy" Roberts. Like most WLW stars, she appeared on WLW radio and TV shows during the week, and at night played county and state fairs.

The versatile Perkins in 1957 hosted "Family Digest" weekdays on WLW radio and "Gold Cup Matinee" movies with Bob Braun on WLWT-TV. Later she hosted an interview show on Hamilton's WMOH-AM, where she was Women's Director of Community Service.

Perkins was the last of the stars from "Midwestern Hayride" (1948-72).  Her passing ends an era in Cincinnati broadcasting history.

She donated her body to the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, says her niece, Susan Schroeder.  The family plans a memorial service here in mid-October, she says. 

Thanks for the memories, Judy.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.