Final Curtain Call at Ocean Opry

Attracting country stars to Bay County is nothing new for the Rader family. They've been performing and bringing big names to the Ocean Opry for nearly 30 years, but this weekend is the end of an era. The Raders have sold the property and plan to perform their last show Saturday night.

In the Panhandle the name Rader is synonymous with great music. More than 30 years ago Wayne Rader visited the Ozark Opry in Arkansas. That was the beginning of a dream that became the Ocean Opry, a staple on Panama City Beach.

Wayne Rader said, "Whether it was the family or just bringing talent in, we were going to open."

That was August 5, 1978. With the help of his two sons and their families, Ocean Opry became the hot place to hear great country and gospel music.

Billy Rader said, "It's all I've ever really wanted to do. I can remember being 12 years old standing in front of my mirror, strumming my guitar and pretending that I was on stage at a place such as this."

In the early days when they were trying to get the word out about their show, the Raders had a unique form of advertising.

"When we started we had an old blue van, speakers on top like old politician, 'come to the Ocean Opry tonight.' We drove that van eight hours a day," said Dennis Rader.

Through the years the Raders have shared the stage with many gospel and country music greats: Johnny Cash, Ronnie Milsap, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Pride, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Roy Clark among many others.

The family made some solid decisions when they first opened, decisions they've never backed down from.

"It was our conviction that we not sell alcohol and so we never did."

"A lot of people said when we started we'll give you six months. If you're not gonna sell alcohol or have dancing you'll never make it on the beach. Well I guess they were right. We're going out of business now, 27 years later."

"Nothing's ever gonna top being able to play with your family and my wife and my children and my parents and my brother and his wife."

But don't think this is the last you've heard of the Raders.

"We've got to have our fix; music is our life. We'll have to get together and do concerts."

But they won't have to do shows 200 nights a year. They do have a special message for the people of Northwest Florida who have supported them these 27 years.

"We love you. We thank you."

The last show is Saturday August 6. Eighteen Rader's will be on the stage performing that night along with others who've been with the family through out the years. Folks are flying in from all across the country as far away as California for the final show.


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