One of the early keys to Honest Abe’s success was such an advertising decision. Jim Smith wanted to advertise on “The Ralph Emery Show.” It was not cheap. It was going to cost a significant amount. Many questions were raised and discussed. Were we ready for TV advertising after only a short time in business? Would TV advertising be effective for log homes? Were we throwing advertising to a market that mostly was not looking to build a house of any kind and especially a log home? Did log home prospects even watch Ralph Emery? Was our time slot of 5:30 a.m. too early to reach our prospects?
Emery hosted a weekday morning show on WSM television, at the time a sister property of WSM radio. The program featured an in-studio band of local session musicians and aspiring singers, along with news and weather updates and in-studio live commercials. It became the highest-rated local morning television program in the U.S. for some years in the 1970s and 1980s.
One day a week, Jim got up extra early and traveled from Murfreesboro to the studios of WSM for the 5:30 a.m. live broadcast of “The Ralph Emery Show.” He dressed in an Abraham Lincoln jacket and stovepipe hat. He gathered in the studio with other advertisers such as Roadmap Bob and Albert McCall. The advertisers became as well-known as the singers and other members of the show. Each week Jim had a story about log homes he discussed with Ralph Emery. Sometimes Jim had photos. He always had his trademark stovepipe hat. Many times he and Ralph Emery got sidetracked in their discussions and the commercial went several minutes.
Jim’s advertising on this TV show brought Honest Abe tremendous name recognition across the area of coverage. Our name became associated with this show. People regularly told us that they saw our TV commercial. Jim was often stopped for his autograph. He became a local celebrity, and Honest Abe gained tremendous market presence and name recognition.
Ralph Emery’s hometown of McEwen, Tennessee, had a Ralph Emery Day each year. It was a full day of celebration with a large parade through town at mid-day. All of The Ralph Emery Show advertisers had floats and participated in this parade. Our first year in the parade, I drove our truck and pulled a trailer loaded with a log home. Jim, his wife, Marsha, and their two girls, Gretta and Cora Beth, were sitting on the log home’s porch waving at the crowd. Jim had on his Abraham Lincoln jacket and stovepipe hat. Marsha and the girls were dressed in costumes like Abraham Lincoln’s wife and young women wore in the 1800s.
Ralph Emery had two other events in which his show’s advertisers participated – an annual outhouse race and a paddleboat race. He promoted these two shows on his show weeks before the event and talked about the results weeks after the event, providing each advertiser a lot more TV airtime. There are many stories among Honest Abe’s earlier employees of helping pull Honest Abe’s outhouse while Jim rode in it with his Abraham Lincoln jacket and stovepipe hat cheering them on. Or stories of riding with Jim on the paddleboat helping him paddle, and again with him dressed up in his Honest Abe outfit.
This was arguably Honest Abe’s best choice for spending advertising money in her entire history and one of those key markers resulting in the company’s success.
This article is from a new book being published in autumn 2019 by Rick Denton, Honest Abe’s first president. The book is called Honest Abe Log Homes Memories and Stories. Rick’s daughter, Christy, and Smokey the Bear of Tennessee Division of Forestry are pictured above with Jim Smith at a special event in the 1980s.