Nichols first heard the name Elvis Presley on her favorite
radio program, The Louisiana Hayride, in the fall of 1954.
Saturday night after Saturday night, she wrote in her diary
the names of the performers, the songs they played, and
the announcer’s comments.
time, though, she couldn’t even spell the up-and-coming
musician’s name. “I wrote ‘Ellis Prestly,’” Nichols recalls
of that October night nearly a half century ago. She was
Joyce Railsback then, a teenager in Big Spring, Texas, (pop.
25,233) who was dedicated to the weekly radio show that
aired live on KWKH, 470 miles east in Shreveport, La.
first appearance on the popular program led to many more—creating
a legacy for the Louisiana Hayride, KWKH, and everyone associated
with it. And Joyce Nichols basked in that reflected fame
when her diary helped form the backbone of a CD about the
beginning of Presley’s musical career. Like many who heard
his first radio broadcast, though, Joyce wasn’t sure what
to make of the unusual sound.
has a new and different style and might go places with it,”
she wrote in her diary that night. On Jan. 8, 1955, she
noted Presley’s 20th birthday and wrote, “He has on crocodile
skin shoes. He also has a pair of pink shoes.”
Dec. 17, 1955, she wrote, “Man alive! What a feeling he
must have to know the people crave him and his music.” After
three years of weekly entries, she tucked the pages away
for more than 40 years, though she said later she was not
even sure why. Then a few years ago—tuning in KWKH again
in a burst of nostalgia—Nichols heard the familiar voice
of Frank Page, the announcer who had first introduced Presley
to the radio audience.
asked fans of the long-defunct Hayride to share their memories
and memorabilia; plans were in the works for Good Rockin’
Tonight: The Evolution of Elvis Presley, a CD tracing the
singer’s two years as a Hayride regular. Page couldn’t believe
what he heard from Nichols.
would take the time to do that, night after night after
night?” he says, recalling the now-yellowed pages, scrawled
in pencil. “We didn’t have that ourselves. It was great!”
and Joey Kent, writer and producer of the CD, also co-wrote
a book about the Hayride titled Cradle of the Stars. It
traces the Hayride’s history with regulars who included
such music greats as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Kitty
Wells. Kent calls the 47-year-old diary his “Rosetta stone.”
The written record helped him date the few available recordings
of the old shows. But more than that, he says, it brought
the audience to life.
input was refreshing just because she was the target audience
of Elvis,” Kent says. In Kent’s creation of the double CD,
Nichols—through her diary entries—becomes a real-life example
of the typical Elvis fan. Her experiences and comments as
read by Page give another dimension to the story of Presley’s
early years. Page says meeting Nichols and her husband,
who traveled to Shreveport to deliver the diary, was a chance
to see firsthand how his beloved radio show had affected
knew by the number of people that came to the show that
we had many fans in west Texas,” he says. “But her dedication
was something else. It was amazing to us.”
whose father had purchased rights to the Louisiana Hayride
before his death in 1992, says seeing the diary confirmed
what he already knew: The show reached across hundreds of
miles and left its mark on many people. Nichols is still
an avid collector of Elvis memorabilia and says being part
of the CD and book is a thrill, but one that seems almost
just loved Elvis so much,” Nichols says. “Maybe this is
my way to be able to show it.”