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Beacon Senior News

Afternoon delight on American Bandstand

Aug 31, 2020 02:01PM ● By Randal C. Hill

On Monday, August 5, 1957, a red camera light winked on in Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV studio.

Amid the background strains of a hopelessly square instrumental theme came the introduction: “Hi, I’m Dick Clark. Welcome to American Bandstand.” Those eight words spoken by the 26-year-old host launched history’s most successful national daytime show.

In 1952, Philadelphia radio DJ Bob Horn started a popular local afternoon dance show called “Bandstand.” Following some DUIs and a charge involving an underage girl, Horn was sacked in 1956. Clark took over, making “Bandstand” an even bigger show. It went nationwide one year later.

GQ-perfect in appearance, Clark proved at ease with the TV camera and presided over his show like a principal overseeing a school dance.

His 90-minute daily “American Bandstand” featured clean-cut teenagers dancing to records and Clark schmoozing with the audience. A strict dress code dictated that the boys wore jackets and ties, and the girls wore skirts and blouses, or dresses. Onscreen hormones abounded in a G-rated sense; kids often flirted, hooked up, broke up and got back together—all before a national audience.

On the Rate-A-Record segment, audience members evaluated the latest singles. A Top 10 Countdown listed the best-selling 45s of the day. Most major rockers of the 1950s longed for a coveted spot on “Bandstand” with two exceptions: Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson, who didn’t need the TV exposure.

“American Bandstand” featured a soundtrack of mainstream pop and rock songs. No “raunch ’n’ roll” was allowed, which helped soften parents’ objections to the “wild” music their offspring embraced.

With his clout, Clark launched the careers of numerous teen idols, who were given new stage names. Francis Avallone emerged as Frankie Avalon. Fabiano Anthony Forte began life anew as Fabian. Robert Ridarelli won fame as Bobby Rydell. Ernie Evans became “American Bandstand’s” first black teen idol as Twist sensation Chubby Checker.

Watched by 20 million teenagers and adults, the show emerged at a time of monumental change in culture and musical tastes, with Clark being a major part of that shift. As one of the most significant forces in early rock ‘n’ roll, “American Bandstand” caught on with warp speed.

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