On July 7, 1956, a young radio disc jockey named Dick Clark made his first appearance hosting an afternoon TV show called Bandstand. Broad- cast from Philadelphia, the show had originally begun in 1952. Bandstand played the new rock ‘n roll music and featured kids from local high schools dancing to the music. When it first began, the dancing was almost accidental, but local TV viewers called in saying they liked watching “those young people dancing.” As the show’s new host, Clark made the most of that novelty, and took Bandstand to the national level. The son of a radio-station owner in Utica, N.Y., Dick Clark had been a radio disc jockey as a student at Syracuse University. By 1951, when he landed a job at ABC’s WFIL station in Philadelphia, he worked in radio, regarded as too youthful looking to be a credible TV newscaster. Clark’s big break came when the station decided to replace former Bandstand host Bob Horn. A youngish-looking 26 when he took over, Clark quickly made the show his own. He featured musical guests lip-synching their songs and used his teenage audience to “rate” new records. Local audiences loved the show.
Bandstand, out of Philadelphia, soon became the highest rated local daytime TV show in the nation. That got the attention of network executives in New York. By August 1957, now called American Bandstand, ABC began broadcasting the show nationwide at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of going national, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Twenty million viewers were now tuning in, half of whom were adult. The show was also receiving 20,000 to 45,000 fan letters a week. Teenagers came to Philadelphia from wide and far for a chance to dance on the show. Bandstand also became known as a place where new talent could be seen; a place where aspiring artists could get their start. On the November 22, 1957 show, for example, two young singers using the name “Tom & Jerry” appeared. The duo would later become known as Simon & Garfunkel. New dances were often introduced on the show. It was on Bandstand that Chubby Checker brought “the Twist” to the nation in the summer of 1960. Bandstand’s “regular” dance couples approached daytime soap-opera fame, and in the 1950s and 1960s they were written about regularly in teen magazines, as was Clark and the show. It didn’t hurt, of course, that Bandstand‘s WFIL-TV station was owned by the Walter Annenberg empire, which also included, among other media outlets, TV Guide and Seventeen magazine for girls. Seventeen had a regular column on Bandstand, “written” by one of the show’s regulars. And TV Guide put Clark’s telegenic face on its cover several times during the 1950s (see sample covers below).
Brokering Rock ‘n Roll
American Bandstand also played another critical role — especially for mainstream culture and the music business. It helped make America more receptive to rock ‘n roll, a music genre not then accepted as it is today. “From the time it hit the national airwaves in 1957,” observes rock historian Hank Bordowitz, “Bandstand changed the perception and dissemination of popular music.” The show helped make rock ‘n roll more acceptable to many adults by bringing the music and the dancing kids into their homes every afternoon, with Clark providing the responsible, clean-cut adult supervision. Clark’s income was soon approaching $500,000 a year.
“We built a horizontal and vertical music situation… We published the songs…, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records… .” – Dick Clark
American Banstand also helped to open the doors to a new kind of music business. And along the way, Dick Clark became a wealthy man, buying into music publishing companies, record labels, and promoting “Philly sound” recording artiststs on those labels — stars such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian. Clark also became involved in managing the artists, formed a radio offshoot, and conducted live productions. He also made personal appearances as a DJ hosting live dance events called “sock hops” — as many as 14 a week. And he also packaged concert tours, taking the music on the road. He soon had a nice little musical empire in the making. “We built a horizontal and vertical music situation,” explained Clark of his various businesses. “. . . We published the songs domestically and abroad, managed the acts, pressed the records, distributed the records, promoted the records. . . .”
Dick Clark Covers
Annenberg-Owned TV Guide
“Payola” & Congress
In 1960, however, the “payola” scandal broke, a controversy involving prominent radio disc jockeys then implicated in playing records for payment to make them popular. Clark was investigated by Congress during the scandal, along with other prominent DJs like Alan Freed. But Clark, in his appearence before a Congresional committee, was cool and thorough in his testimony, and denied taking “payola.” He emerged from the hearings without lasting harm. However, it was later revealed that Clark had been “given” royalty rights to more than 140 songs. ABC did require him to divest his outside ventures, more than 30 by one count, including a number of record labels. Still, Clark and American Bandstand held their popularity.
American Bandstand was broadcast every weekday through the summer of 1963. But in the fall of that year, it became a once-a-week show run on Saturday afternoons. By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35 years old, was making about $1 million a year. By February 1964, American Bandstand moved to Los Angeles, in part to facilitate Clark’s expansion into other TV ventures and film production. It was also easier in L.A. to tap into the recording industry. By 1965, Dick Clark, then 35, was making about $1 million a year. Musically, the sound on Bandstand changed with the times, featuring the California surf sound in the 1960s, and a decade later, the ‘70s disco beat. Through it all, dating from the 1950s when Clark took over, Bandstand was one of the few places on television where ethnically-mixed programming could be seen.
In fact, Clark later claimed that he had integrated the show in the 1950s – a claim disputed by some. Clark did feature black recording artists as guests on the show in its early years. When American Bandstand first went national with ABC in August 1957, Lee Andrews and the Hearts appeared among the first guests performing their song, “Long Lonely Nights.” In that year as well, other black artists also appeared, including Jackie Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Berry, Mickey & Sylvia, and others. Integration of the studio audience, however, appears to have been slow and controlled according to research by John Jackson in his 1997 book, American Bandstand, and also Matthew F. Delmont in his 2012 book, The Nicest Kids in Town. However, there are also reports that when Clark took black and white artists on the road to perform concerts in his “Caravan of Stars” shows of the 1960s – sometimes in towns where segregation was still practiced – he insisted on equal treatment of his performers at those venues, otherwise threatening to pull his show.
In the 1970s, with the rise of disco, Bandstand began to become something of an artifact rather than a trend-setter, although still netting its share of popular guests. By the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Banstand’s format became dated. In September 1987 Bandstand moved to syndication, and in April 1989 it ran briefly on cable’s USA Network with a new host and Clark as executive producer. The show ended for good on October 7, 1989. Yet over its three decades, American Bandstand played a key role in the music business. Not only did it become the place where major record labels sought to showcase their songs and artists, it also generated millions in record sales each year, plus millions in advertising revenue for ABC. As for recording artists — with the notable exceptions of Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones — most of the major rock ‘n roll acts from the 1950s through mid-1980s appeared on the show.
Sonny and Cher made their first TV appearance on American Bandstand, June 12, 1965. The Jackson 5 made their TV debut on the show February 21, 1970, as did Aerosmith in December 1973. In January, 1980, Prince made his TV debut on Bandstand. By the mid-1980s, with the rise of MTV and other music video channels, American Bandstand’s format became dated.Among others appearing during the show’s 33-year run were: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Beach Boys, the Doors, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Temptations, the Carpenters, Van Morrison, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Neil Diamond, Ike & Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Creedance Clearwater Revival, George Michael, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, and last but not least, Madonna, who appeared January 14, 1984 singing the tune “Holiday.” But even after the show’s on-air demise, American Bandstand did not die. In early 1996, MTV’s sister network, VH-1 began broadcasting old Bandstand episodes, mostly from the 1975-1985 period. Within three months, these reruns — called the Best of American Bandstand, with taped introductions by Dick Clark himself — became one of VH1’s top-rated programs.
Dick Clark’s Empire
In addition to American Bandstand, Clark amassed a portfolio of other TV and movie productions, among them, numerous TV specials and awards shows. In the late 1960s he did various television series, talent shows, and also hosted TV game shows, culminating in the late 1970s with The $25,000 Pyramid. In the 1980s and 1990s, his Dick Clark Productions, Inc. turned out more than a dozen made-for-television movies, at least 60 TV specials, several Hollywood films, and radio shows. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. By 1986, Clark had made the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. In recent years he continued his TV productions, landing a prime time TV series, American Dreams. That show was set in 1950s-1960s Philadelphia and used American Bandstand footage in its storyline. It ran for three seasons on NBC during 2002-2005. Clark also parlayed the American Bandstand name into other businesses, using it as a brand and capitalizing on its nostalgia cache. He opened a chain of music-themed restaurants using the name Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill. Several of these have opened at airports — Indianapolis, Indiana; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Two others are located in Overland Park, Kansas and Cranbury, New Jersey. In June 2006, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater — which uses some now-senior performers from the 1960s era in its acts — was opened in Branson, Missouri. An American Bandstand Grill opened there as well. In 2007, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Music Complex, with restaurant, opened in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Throughout his career, Clark kept one foot in the world of radio, and would later focus some of his business interests there, also using it as a platform for rock ‘n roll nostalgia. In 1981, he created The Dick Clark National Music Survey for the Mutual Broadcasting System, which counted down the Top 30 contemporary hits of the week. Beginning in 1982, Clark also hosted a weekly weekend radio program distributed by his own syndicator, United Stations Radio Networks. That program focused on oldies, called Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll, and Remember — also the name of a 1976 autobiographical book he wrote with another author. This radio program would also sell recordings of its shows, some of which involved Clark interviews with, and/or features on, current and former music stars. By 1986, he left Mutual Broadcasting to host another show, Countdown America. In the 1990s, Clark hosted U.S. Music Survey, which he continued hosting up until 2004, when he suffered a stroke. Although he recovered partially from his stroke, his public appearances since that time have been limited.
In June 2007, Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins professional football team and Six Flags amusement parks, and also a partner with Tom Cruise in a film venture, announced the purchase of Dick Clark Productions for $175 million. In the deal, Snyder became the owner of American Bandstand‘s entire library of televised dance shows stretching over 30-plus years. In addition, Snyder is also acquiring other Dick Clark assets, including the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast from Times Square, the Golden Globe Awards show, the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Family Television Awards. In 2007, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, acquired Dick Clark Productions for $175 million including Band- stand‘s 30-year library of TV shows. The Dick Clark properties also include the Bloopers television shows and Fox’s popular reality TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. Snyder, who will take over as chairman of Dick Clark Productions, said in a press release, “This was a rare opportunity to acquire a powerhouse portfolio and grow it in new directions.” It was not entirely clear at the time of the deal’s announcement, exactly what Snyder would do with the American Bandstand material, other than mention of possibly using it visually on television screens throughout Six Flags amusement parks while patrons were standing on line.
Other Bandstand stories at this website include, “Bandstand Performers, 1957;” “Bandstand Performers, 1963;” and “At The Hop, 1957-1958.” Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. - Jack Doyle.
Date Posted: 25 March 2008
Last Update: 8 September 2014
Comments to: email@example.com
Jack Doyle, “American Bandstand, 1956-2007,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 25, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
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“Tall, That’s All,” Time, Monday, April 14, 1958.
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“Newest Music for a New Generation: Rock ‘n’ Roll Rolls On ‘n’ On,” Life, December 22, 1958, pp. 37-43.
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Arnold Shaw, The Rockin’ ’50s: The Decade That Transformed the Pop Music Scene, New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.
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Alex Alvarez, “DJ ‘Cousin Brucie’ Recalls Dick Clark’s Commitment To Racial Integration: ‘If We Don’t Go All Together, We Go Out’,” Mediaite.com, April 19th, 2012.
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A documentary film entitled The Wages of Spin, focuses on the history of American Bandstand, the 1950s payola scandal, and Dick Clark. A preview clip from that documentary is available at YouTube and additional information is found at Character Driven Films.