ERNIE LEE CD! See bottom of page
Glad To Meet You...
Just give me Dixie...where folks are smilin', and all the while
invitin' you there...where friends will greet you...
say 'I'm glad to meet you'...sunshine is everywhere....
Ernie Lee...WTVT's southern gentleman
For over a generation, Ernie Lee was Channel 13's musical mainstay. When the transmitter was turned on in the morning, Ernie was there to greet viewers and gently get the day going with tunes like "Just Give Me Dixie" and "Hominy Grits." Known as "The Kentucky Balladeer," Ernie's viewers loved his laid-back style, and the station employees loved his southern manners and sense of humor. But Ernie's story really began 800 miles north....
MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME
Born in Berea, Kentucky, on April 12, 1916, Ernest Eli Cornelison starting picking the guitar at age 13. His father was employed as the town's jailer and young Ernie learned the instrument from inmates. "There was always some poor fellow in jail that knew the guitar," explained Ernie. At the age of 24, Ernie joined a country music radio program called the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, which was broadcast from Berea and heard regionally in the Midwest on WLS radio. His debut took place on the night when singer Red Foley was unable to appear on the show. Ernie sang "The Yellow Rose of Texas."
The "Barn Dance's" producer, John Lair, made Ernie a regular and teamed him up with another young performer, steel guitarist Jerry Byrd.
|Ernie followed Jerry Byrd's move to Detroit in 1945.
Another Renfro Valley performer, Bronson 'Barefoot Brownie'
Reynolds, also relocated to the Motor City, joining Lee and Byrd on stage and in clubs.
Ernie moved on to Cincinnati in
1947, and for the next seven years appeared on stage and starred on his own WLW radio program.
Some of Ernie's songs were made available on 78 and 45 rpm records. Tunes such as "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Hominy Grits," written for Ernie by 'Smiley' Burnette, were heard on the RCA Victor and M-G-M Records labels. Strangely enough, Ernie's signature tune "Just Give Me Dixie" was never issued as a recording. Although Ernie didn't have a big enough hit to put him in the leagues with Hank Williams, he was a steady seller and welcome performer in the midwest.
When Ernie's health deteriorated in 1954, his doctor recommended moving to a warmer climate. Ernie placed a long-distance call to his former WLWT 'Hayride' director Bob Gilbert, who made the journey south a year earlier to help put WSUN-TV on the air in St. Petersburg. Although Gilbert could not offer a salary commensurate with what he was getting in Cincinnati, a deal was struck and Ernie, his wife Jean and three sons moved to a house on 37th Avenue North in St. Pete. Ernie was impressed with the facilities of WSUN, saying it 'was like being on the network.'
SONG OF THE SOUTH
Ernie's health improved in the Tampa Bay climate and his career was rejuvenated as well. But the area offered other diversions besides the sunny beaches and warm temperatures...fishing!Ernie became an avid fisherman and would often tell audiences 'You should go fishing because IT'S GOOD FER YA!'
WSUN put Ernie's talents to good use. For the younger audience, Ernie hosted a weekly 30-minute show called "Riddle-Dee-Dee with Ernie Lee." The show's format was built around riddles sent in by viewers to test the wits of a panel of children.
| 'Ernie Lee and the Florida
Ranch Boys,' was first scheduled for 15-minutes on weeknights at 6:45,
then moved to 10 pm, and then evolved into two twice-a-week
half-hours, Tuesdays at 9 pm and Thursdays at 8:30 pm.
Viewers could also see him in other programs such as 'The Beach Club with Reba Fox and Ernie Lee.'
BIG 13 BOUND
Ernie's legendary stint at WTVT began on April 14, 1958.
First, there was the 'Good Day' show starring Ernie and his musical friends from Ohio, Herb and Kay Adams. Herb played bass fiddle while Kay supplied rhythm guitar. Backing up Ernie in this photo are Herb and Kay, Charles "Red" Seal" on bass fiddle and Randy Tate on keyboard. By 1959, Ernie's rotating musical team included Don Stringfeller, Mose Edeker, Merle Abner, Red Herron, Horace Floyd, and Chubby Howard, "Barefoot Brownie" Reynolds, Jerry Bird, with Florida native Dewey Tew coming on board in 1961 and J.D. Renney shortly after. Channel 13 management loved the ratings for the 'Good Day' show, which often beat the competition on WFLA...'The Today Show' with Dave Garroway. Ernie also hosted his own 15-minute show at 12:15 during 'Pulse Midday.'
Ernie and his gang circa 1959.
BIG 13 would appreciate any identification that readers can supply
(we can identify Herb and Kay in the upper row)
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ernie's day began around 5am in his St. Petersburg home on 37th Avenue North. Rocketing across the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridge in his Lincoln Continental, Ernie would arrive at WTVT's Grand Central Avenue (later renamed Kennedy Blvd.) studios about 20 minutes prior to 'Good Day's 7am start. In later years, the daily commute would occur earlier when the show aired at 6am.
Ernie's troupe appeared regionally on stage and to responsive audiences at the Florida State fair.
|Ernie cut his only long-play LP record album in 1965. "Ernie Lee's BIG 13," was a title that saluted Ernie's WTVT home-base (and incidentally, now the name of our web site!). J.D. Renney and Dewey Tew, both playing electric guitar, joined Ernie, Herb and Kay on the "BIG 13" album.
With the departure of popular WTVT kids show host Mary Ellen in 1964, the job of introducing Popeye cartoons was given to Ernie on a program titled "Cartoons With Ernie." In the late 1960's, Ernie's morning program was retitled 'A.M.,' and then 'Breakfast Beat.' Ernie found another fishing buddy in farm reporter Bruce Hutchcraft, whose high-pitched laugh caused many viewers and crew members to break up as well. Ernie often appeared solo on 'Breakfast Beat,' the result of a tighter budget for the morning program. His long-time friend 'Barefoot Brownie' continued to appear twice a week. In the late 70's, Ernie was joined by another veteran of the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, "Dynamite Jim" Eidson, who was one of Tampa Bay's most renowned guitarists.
Ernie in the mid 1970s
'Breakfast Beat's' new anchor in 1973 was a 23 year-old newscaster from Milwaukee, Scott Shuster. Shuster spent his earlier years at WMIL radio and served as emcee at the station's country and western shows, where he learned guitar technique from legendary musician Earl Scruggs. Shuster and Ernie Lee spent many hours jamming and singing together, but always off-camera.
Fans could join the Ernie Lee fan club and receive a photo, membership card, and T-shirt. These images were shared with us by Rick Alter, one of Ernie's fans from Valrico, Florida.
THE SUNSET TRAIL
In 1982, Ernie was feted with a special "Breakfast Beat" on his 25th anniversary at WTVT. Hosted by morning anchorman Alan Wendt, Ernie received visitors from his past, recalled career highlights, and sang some classic songs with his comrades Kay Adams, 'Barefoot Brownie,' and Bobby Lord.
Ernie had served Tampa Bay area viewers for a total of 37 wonderful years when age and ill-health began taking its toll. Ernie's live appearances on "Breakfast Beat" were becoming more rare. When Ernie was able, the crew would tape several songs to be spread out over the following weeks.
The United State's involvement in the 1991 Gulf War knocked "Breakfast Beat" (and most other daytime programming) off the schedule as WTVT carried feeds from CNN (war coverage was of special interest to the area with the military's Central Command based in Tampa). When "Breakfast Beat" returned, Ernie was sadly no longer part of the program. He died several months later on May 23, 1991, and was honored at a memorial service at Mirror Lake Christian Church, which was attended by many of his fans and co-workers.
Even if you weren't a fan of country music, Ernie's smooth voice and gentle charm would turn you into one. It's pretty hard to resist lyrics like this:
Wish I was a teddy bear...
not living or loving or goin' nowhere
and I wish that I hadn't fallen in love with you.
At the end of
each program, Ernie would address his wife on camera and say "Put on the
coffee pot, Jeanie. I'm comin' home."
Ernie and his wife Jeanie
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
PULSE EXTRA: Ernie's bandmember, J.D. Renney, passed away September 25, 2011. Kay Renney passed away in 2010.
ATTENTION Ernie Lee fans!
AN ERNIE LEE ALBUM IS AVAILABLE FOR
FANS OF 'THE KENTUCKY BALLADEER'
"The Best of Ernie Lee" contains 26 classic tracks including "Just Give Me Dixie,"
"Pick Me Up and Set Me Down in Dixie," "Born to Be Wicked," and more.
Why did it take so long to bring out this album...and how did it actually happen? The BIG 13 site, created in 2001, received many Emails over the years asking about Ernie's music, and it seemed like a good idea to explore the idea of creating a new Ernie CD.
Ernie recorded about 30 singles in the 1940's and 50's for the MGM and RCA labels. Ernie's first and
only album, titled "Big 13," was issued in 1965.
A call to Ernie's son, Gordon Cornelison, and several of his musical associates revealed that no one had any usable recordings. By monitoring Ebay and making successful bids, a number of 45 and 78 rpm records were acquired. Copies of Ernie's "Big 13" album and some 45's were loaned by collectors around the country. The tracks were digitally cleaned up by former WTVT production employee Marc Wielage. Big 13 web master, Mike Clark, selected the tracks from the source materials but decided not to issue a CD until a copy of Ernie's signature tune, "Just Give Me Dixie," was included in the package.
The problem was that Ernie had never issued a recording of "Just Give Me Dixie"! Fortunately, a short but clean version of "Dixie" was located on a live performance from "Breakfast Beat," circa 1990. The cover art and liner notes were then created by Mike and the CD was announced at the April, 2005, WTVT employee reunion.
Proceeds from the sale of the Ernie Lee CD are going directly to Ernie's family, the Cornelisons.
"The Best of Ernie Lee" is $19.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling. The CD is available only by mail and must be paid for with a check or money order. Credit card purchases are not possible at this time.
Make your check/money order payable to "The Cornelison Family" and send it along with your name, delivery address, and Email address (if available) to:
the September, 2006, passing of Gordon Cornelison,
Ernie Lee CD
Please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.
Thanks, and enjoy "The Best of Ernie Lee."
The BIG 13 web site honors present and former WTVT employees with an 'Ernie,' named after Ernie Lee.
The 'Ernie' is an expression of appreciation for extraordinary service to the station.
To see a list of 'Ernie' honorees, CLICK HERE
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