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Annual event lures stars to the Valley
Good folks of Lennox Valley
Lennox art-full

In 1937, Albert E. Brumley wrote a catchy gospel tune titled "Turn Your Radio On," which was eventually recorded by dozens of artists and groups, including Skeeter Davis in the 1960s and Ray Stevens a decade later.

Like many hit songs, "Turn Your Radio On" reappears from time to time, possibly because radio stations love playing the self-celebrating tune so much. There was a time when radio stations didn’t begin each day until sunrise, and many of those stations in small towns across America began their days with that favorite gospel melody.

While it was recorded numerous times by well-known artists, no one had a bigger hit with the song than Tangi Blevins and the Heavenly Hosts. When Tangi sang the chorus, you knew she meant every word:

Turn your radio on

And listen to the music in the air.

Turn your radio on, heaven’s glory share.

Turn the lights down low

And listen to the Master’s radio.

Get in touch with God, turn your radio on.

While a lot of folks in the Valley were fixated on the upcoming mayoral election, there were others who had their thoughts focused on another major August event: the Spring County Fair.

For teenagers like Mary Ann Tinkersley and myself, the fair meant getting our sheep ready for the annual FFA judging, a big milestone for small-town youth. Most of the excitement, especially among the female population, was reserved for the lineup of pseudo-celebrities who made their way through the county fair circuit each year.

Some fair headliners were bigger than others. No one will ever forget Tim Jones, the Tom Jones impersonator, who caused more than one fainting spell as he sang "She’s a Lady" in 1977.

If I tried to name the biggest star to grace the stage at the Spring County Fairground before 1998, it most likely would have been a toss-up between 1985’s Boxcar Willie, who catapulted to fame as an overalls-wearing hobo selling records during afternoon "Brady Bunch" reruns, and "Mr. Sound Effects" Wes Harrison in 1983.

But on Tuesday, July 21, 1998, the primary focus of attention shifted from the weekend news of the spiritual rededication of Elbert Lee Jones and Marvin Walsh during the Sunday contemporary service at the Lutheran church to the posters being hung in store windows along the town square.

Who would believe it? In just four weeks, Tangi Blevins, along with all four Heavenly Hosts, would be appearing live on stage at the county fair. This could just be the biggest star to appear at the county fair since Boxcar Willie. This surely made the 11-mile journey to the county fairgrounds worth the effort.

Raymond Cooper, thankful for anything that would temporarily divert the community’s attention away from the recent egg-price scandal, found an old 45 in the record vault left from the previous station owner. Earl Goodman, delivering mail to homes on Third Street, noticed the tune playing as he walked past each screen door on this warm summer day:

Turn your radio on

And listen to the music in the air.

He thought it was odd, since Raymond Cooper generally gave his daily Federal Reserve report at 2:45. Whatever the reason, Earl couldn’t get the song out of his head the rest of the day.

And to think, all this happened as Iris Long pasted the headline as she made the final touches to the next morning’s edition of The Lennox Valley Hometown News.

Just like most big events in the summer of ’98, chatter about Tangi Blevins would wind down in favor of something much bigger.

Iris Long inhaled, then exhaled, as she made the final touches to the front page.

Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.

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