Nashville is the home of country music, but what if that industry was based in Roanoke?

The idea may sound farfetched, but some believe it almost happened!

You may ask, what’s the connection between Roanoke and country music?

It all goes back to WDBJ radio, the predecessor to this TV station.

Country acts from all over the United States came to play on WDBJ.

They put Roanoke on the map and came very close to making us the country music capital.

Roanoke is called "The Star City," mainly because of the giant structure on Mill Mountain.

Once upon a time, Roanoke was known for a different type of star.

The kind you'd normally find in places like the Grand Ole Opry.

Nearly every major artist in the world of country music is based in Nashville, Tennessee.
In the early days of the industry, those acts were scattered across the country.
They traveled from town to town.

"It was not a glamorous life. It was a lot of hard work driving two lane highways, sometimes all night long to make it to the next show," music historian Sandy Reese said.

In that era the best way to promote your show was by performing on a radio station.

"It was unbelievable the mass audiences that these people could reach through radio. It was a beautiful thing,” Reese said.

In Roanoke, the station with the largest audience was WDBJ.

"WDBJ AM was the go-to place for a lot of country bands,” country music historian Ralph Berrier, Jr. said.

Ralph Berrier, Jr. is a reporter for The Roanoke Times, who's done extensive research on country music and its roots in southwest Virginia.

The genre was born in 1927 with a series of recording sessions in Bristol, about 140 miles from Roanoke.

"The Magic City," a popular name for Roanoke at that time, served as a beacon for country musicians who lived in the nearby mountains.

"It was easy to get to Roanoke, thanks to the railroad. A lot of country bands were able to get here. By the 1940's they were driving here,” Berrier said.

And they came in large numbers.

Names like Roy Rogers, Sons of the Pioneers, and The Texas Troubadors all performed live on Roanoke airwaves

Artists like Don Reno and Red Smiley were on WDBJ so often, they were featured in the station's promotional materials.

"They would offer songs books with pictures, as little fan club kits,” Reese said.

Despite its popularity among country artists, WDBJ management didn't believe in playing country songs exclusively.

"They didn't want to be known as a country station, but that's what they ended up being in lots of ways,” retired broadcaster Curtis Downey said.