Jane Dowden Gramsa major figure in transforming Nashville into a center for television production, passed away on March 24 in Arizona at age 90.
She made her mark at WSM-TV, Noble-Drury & Associates, Show Biz Inc., WCTV in Chattanooga, Opryland USA and the Gaylord Syndicom Entertainment Group. Dowden was particularly noted for her production of nationally syndicated country-music TV series in the 1960s and 1970s. She was given a Source Foundation Award in 2006, “honoring the women who have been a vital source in the success of Music Row and the Nashville entertainment industry.”
Born Jane Elizabeth Clabough and raised in East Tennessee, she began her career at WGAP radio in Maryville, Tennessee. After marrying Robert Dowden in 1951, she moved with him to Nashville. She joined WSM-TV, which was later rebranded as WSMV. Dowden initially worked in advertising and sales.
During the mid-1950s, she became one of the South’s most influential women in advertising as Vice President – Media Director at Noble-Drury & Associates in Nashville. She started working in television production in 1959.
In 1965, she became President of Show Biz, Inc., and guided it to become the largest producer and syndicator of country television in the world. TV Guide magazine once dubbed Show Biz, “the General Motors of country music television.” Dowden oversaw the production of more than 1,200 country shows.
Two of the most successful Show Biz series were The Porter Wagoner Show (1960-79) and The Wilburn Brothers Show (1963-74). The former introduced the world to Dolly Parton and the latter showcased newcomer Loretta Lynn.
Other Show Biz productions included The Country Place with Jim Ed Brown (1970-72), Billy Walker’s Country Carnival (1968), Del Reeves’ Country Carnival (1969-73) and the company’s leading program, doll! Goes the Country, hosted by Ralph Emery, followed by Tom T. Hall. This series ran from 1974 to 1983 and at its peak was carried in 140 markets nationwide.
Jim Ed Brown, Jerry Clower and Jim Stafford variously hosted Nashville on the Road (1975-83). Show Biz also syndicated The Bobby Goldsboro Show (1973-76), Marty Robbins Spotlight (1977), Dolly (1976-77), Flatt & Scruggs Grand Ole Opry (1961-65), National Life Grand Ole Opry (1965-69) and That Good Ole Nashville Music (1969-77).
Dowden produced the 1966 feature film Nashville Rebel, starring Waylon Jennings. She was also behind “Nashville in the Garden,” two live, multi-artist concerts at Madison Square Garden in the early 1970s.
In 1981, Multimedia Inc. purchased the Show Biz empire for $4.4 million. Dowden had departed by then. In 1975, she was named President and General Manager of WTVC in Chattanooga, becoming the first woman general manager of a network-affiliated television station. She served for four years on the ABC Affiliates Board of Directors, another first for a woman.
She married Harold Grams in Chattanooga in 1977. Her volunteer work included the Chattanooga Symphony, The University of Tennessee and Chattanooga Public Television.
In 1984, she returned to Nashville to join Opryland USA. As Vice President of its new division Gaylord Syndicom, she was charged with developing new syndicated television programming. While at Gaylord, she became the recipient of the Silver Circle Award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS).
Jane Dowden Grams retired in 2006, the year she was honored by the Source Foundation in Music City, alongside such key figures as Anita Kerr, Mae Boren Axton, Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess and Brenda Lee.
In retirement, Jane Dowden Grams became a Master Gardener in Sedona, Arizona. She passed away in Scottsdale, Arizona and is survived by daughters Janie Dail Dowden of Scottsdale and Jennifer Dowden Burritt of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, as well as by a sister and two nephews.