(circa) 1927-1982

Location: Corner Of 10th and Pleasant Street

Des Moines, Iowa

When the Shrine Temple Auditorium at the southeast corner of 10th and Pleasant streets was built by Za-Ga-Zig in 1927, it was the largest theater in the Midwest and one of the largest in the world, with a seating capacity of  4,139. Its domed ceiling contained tiny lights designed by an astronomer to duplicate a summer night’s sky. The copper domes on the outside of the building were reminiscent of the eastern influence of the Shrine.


With the Depression came financial difficulties for the owners, which resulted in the building being leased to the Moose Lodge for several years. In the fall of 1935 WHO Radio “The 50,000 watt Radio Voice of the Middle West) moved its “Live” radio broadcast show “The Iowa Barn Dance Frolic”  to this auditorium, venue,  where the 4200 seats were filled every Saturday night and the SRO sign hung out on more than one occasion, to take care of the crowds that wanted to come and see the “Live” radio broadcast of their favorite entertainers, performers, musicians and announcers.


In 1946 Cowles Broadcasting Company bought the building and renamed it the KRNT Radio Theater. The “Radio” later was dropped, but the auditorium enjoyed Some of its best years following World War II as national and international entertainers came to the city to appear on its large stage.

Known earlier as “Death Moines” by vaudevillians who appeared to sparse audiences, the place later flourished in the days when KRNT Radio and the Des Moines Register and Tribune newspapers –all owned by the same company – were able to promote programs at the theater such as, “The King and I” featuring Yul Brynner, and “Hello Dolly” with Carol Channing were featured, as were the big bands of Fred Waring, Tommy Dorsey and Xavier Gugat. Singer Eddie Fisher appeared before a crowd so “Small” that tickets had to be given away, but the Beach Boys played to a full house in the mid-1960’s, as did Simon and Garfunkel.


Little did Smokey Smith (of Des Moines, Iowa) realize upon walking into KRNT radio in 1950 that it would be such a long stay. Besides various radio jobs that followed, he branched out into television, formed another popular band and booked Grand Ole Opry shows into the KRNT Theater until it closed in 1972.

“Smith established a reputation that was rock solid, or as singer Del Reeves puts it “There are promoters then there’s Smokey Smith.” “He’s  one of the true ones who believed in three shows a day, that he could fill the auditorium,” says Reeves. “He did it when others could not.”


 Advertising Ad Copy Smith Used To Promote His Grand Ole Opry Shows, (Notice Ticket Prices) Compared To Today.


Learn more about Smokey Smith-Click here to visit his Hall Of Fame Page.



Every Saturday night, according to careful estimates, more than a MILLION people were radio guests of Radio Station WHO at the Barn Dance Frolic. In 1935 The Frolic was broadcast direct from the stage of the SHRINE AUDITORIUM in Des Moines, Iowa one of America’s largest theaters. A typical Saturday night audience is pictured on this page! For everyone in the crowd that filled this auditorium each week during the winter, there were thousands of guests on the other side of the microphone, sitting beside radios from coast to coast listening. We respectfully dedicate this  “Virtual” Country Music Heritage Museum, Library, Hall Of Fame to those that may still be around, in the hope that our effort may help you reminisce a little bit about the WHO Barn Dance Frolic and how much enjoyment you got out of each Saturday night broadcast.


Could Des Moines, Iowa have become Nashville Tn.?,.. If a little more fore-sight was given by everyone involved in

the shrine auditorium, the radio station, the city of Des Moines  and the barn dance frolic….in my humble opinion  (Harold L. Luick, Historian/Curator)CMSI Museum/Hall Of Fame….it was feasible and could have happened…but it didn’t?


Des Moines, Iowa had one of America largest auditorium, a 50,00 watt clear channel WHO radio Station, the greatest radio show on earth, over a million radio listeners every Saturday nigh, this lack of fore-sight by everyone involved…. became Nashville, Tennessee…Gain.

As Paul Harvey would say: “And now you know the rest of the story.” 


Credits and Acknowledgements


For writing, editing, researching, documentation of history:

Harold L. Luick, CMSI, Historian, Museum, Hall Of Fame

Smokey Smith,  “A legendary country music pioneer” for sharing his stories with us.

Excerpt Credits: Terry Manley, Register Staff Writer, “Smokey hails from Iowa and Nashville Story”

Excerpt Credits: Linda Banger, “Meet Me On The Corner” Neighbors Section DSM Register & Tribune

© 2004 CMSI- Iowa/Midwest Country Music Heritage Museum, Library, Hall Of Fame, Harold L. Luick , Author/Publisher.

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