The life of Country DJ Hall of Fame member Hairl Hensley will be celebrated on Friday – he died on New Year’s Eve, his birthday, at age 81.
Best known as a host of The Grand Ole Opry for 35 years, Hensley also hosted satellite-radio programs, presented bluegrass showcases, worked as a TV announcer and was a regular on Knoxville’s Tennessee Barn Dance.
A native of Madisonville in East Tennessee, Hairl Hensley initially aspired to be a musical performer. Born Dec. 31, 1936, he learned to play guitar as a teenager. He joined a country band that was regularly featured on WDEH in Sweetwater, TN. When the station’s morning DJ was promoted, Hensley took that job.
He worked his way up through the country ranks to become an announcer on WNOX in Knoxville. His duties included co-hosting the station’s Tennessee Barn Dance show. Its cast included such future Nashville stars as Jim & Jesse, Don Gibson and Archie Campbell.
Hensley’s first big job in Nashville was as the voice-over announcer on Porter Wagoner’s widely syndicated TV series. During the late 1950s, he also became the overnight DJ on WKDA in Nashville. He served a stint at WMAK in Music City before being named the program director at WLAC.
In 1972, he joined the staff of WSM, the host station of The Grand Ole Opry. He worked at the station and/or the Opry for the next 35 years. Hensley became known as “the dean of Grand Ole Opry announcers” and was one of the most familiar voices in the annals of country radio.
He was named Country Disc Jockey of the Year by the CMA in 1975. In the early 1980s, he became WSM’s program director.
Hairl Hensley was inducted into the Country Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1995. The following year, Hensley was named Bluegrass DJ of the Year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music. His daily WSM radio series included “The Early Bird Gets the Bluegrass” and “Orange Possum Special.”
He won the Radio Personality Award at the 2000 Golden Voice Awards. Hensley left WSM in 2004, but continued to announce Opry broadcasts. In later years, he also hosted a daily show on the Sirius “Roadhouse” satellite radio channel.
Ill health forced his retirement in 2007.
Hairl Hensley was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2014.
He suffered a heart attack and underwent triple-bypass surgery on September 17, 2017. He died on December 31 in Mt. Juliet, TN.
Visitation with the family is scheduled for Friday, January 5 from noon to 2:00 p.m. at the Spring Hill Funeral Home in Nashville. A Celebration of Life service will follow at 2:00 p.m.
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