Stan Hitchcock passed away earlier this week, and though his name may not immediately jar your memory as one among the class of country music performers, if you were a fan of country music in the 60s through the 90s, the face very well might. Stan Hitchcock was one of the founders of Country Music Television, or CMT. He also headed the Nashville operations for the cable channel for nine years until it was sold to Gaylord Entertainment. But that’s just the beginning of Hitchcock’s contributions and enterprises in country music.
One of the many shows Stan Hitchcock was known for was called Heart to Heart, where he would have intimate, back porch-style conversations with some of the genre’s top personalities at the time: Keith Whitley, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and the like. Stan Hitchcock could get artists to open up like few others, because he was one himself. With a full career as a singer, guitar player, and touring performer, Hitchcock could speak their language. It also made him uniquely qualified to program and present the greatness of country and roots music through the television medium.
Stanley Edward Hitchcock was born on March 21st, 1936 in Pleasant Hope, Missouri, near Kansas City. Four years later his family would relocate to a farm in Springfield, Missouri, and four years after that he would make his first appearance on a talent show. By his teenage years, Hitchcock was regularly performing on local radio stations KWTO and WTTS, and refining his chops to become a full-time musician.
But it was on a warship while enlisted in the US Navy where Hitchcock officially formed his first country band, which entertained fellow seamen while steaming to various ports of call, including Japan. After being discharged four years later, he signed to Columbia Records, but failed to find much traction as a recording artist. He fared slightly better after signing with Epic in 1967, including his biggest hit, “Honey I’m Home” that notched #17 on the country charts in 1969.
Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Hitchcock hopscotched to various minor labels, releasing singles and albums, but failing to receive major national attention as a recording musician. But the entire time, he was excelling on television as a country music personality. Shortly after he moved to Nashville in 1962, Hitchcock started hosting the morning show on local station WLAC-TV. Between 1964 and 1970, he hosted the syndicated The Stan Hitchcock Show. Then between 1979 and 1983, he hosted Stan Hitchcock from the Ozarks, returning to his native region. It was also during this time that he commenced the Heart To Heart show.
But 1982 is when Hitchcock saw his big opportunity to help give country music its own cable television station. MTV was exploding, but virtually ignoring the country music space. So CMT was formed, and by the time it was sold to Gaylord Entertainment in 1991, it was a major country music enterprise.
After the sale, Hitchcock moved back to the Ozarks, and to Branson, Missouri which was burgeoning as its own country music hub, becoming the founder, president and chairman of the cable television channel Americana Television Network, which featured folk, country, gospel, bluegrass and blues. It later became known as BlueHighways TV, and was the host of popular programs such as Woodsongs.
It was the knowledge, know how, and passion Stan Hictchcock brought to his presentations on country music that was communicable with the audience, earning him dedicated fans no different than the performers he showcased. Some of the programs Stan Hitchcock hosted and helped produce still air on Country Road TV, like Heart To Heart. Strangely, few if any of the media outlets that Hitchcock helped establish, including CMT, have acknowledged his passing at the moment. But many of the performers and co-workers who knew Hitchcock have been sharing their heartfelt memories and condolences upon his passing via social media.
“Yes he was truly a pioneer in our industry, a great artist, journalist and friend. I’m glad we shared the times we did,” Jennie Seely said.
Michael Jonathan of Woodsongs saying, “I’m going to miss you, Stan. You are a legend for all time.”
Stan Hitchcock authored a book in 2009 called At The Corner of Music Row an Memory Lane about his life and country music. Hitchcock passed away on January 4th. He was 86 years old.