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Dance programs on radio were nothing new in 1957. They had been around in one form or another since the dance marathons of the Depression years. Swing bands used to do remote national hookups into living rooms across the country and the kids used to dance at their house parties until all hours. This was best illustrated in the movie The Benny Goodman Story where the band is mobbed in California by hordes of teenagers. They had no way of knowing at that time that there was an audience in the west. Frank Sinatra’s time with the Dorsey orchestra was well spent gathering him a multitude of fans that went crazy over him in public. His 1942 dates at the Paramount are legend with bobbysoxers screaming, swooning and dancing in the aisles during the show. Radio dance programs were standard stuff by the late 30’s.

In Philadelphia radio station WPEN had two hosts, Joe Grady and Ed Hurst who used to broadcast from the downtown studio on Walnut Street. There was a dance floor in the studio and they used to invite teen agers from local schools to come and dance during their program. The year was 1946 and they were successful for many years. Of course, the music they played was in transition from swing, through Bebop, into R&B and finally Rock and Roll. It was a slow transition because the popular bands were Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnett, The Dorseys, Goodman, Kay Kyser and Sammy Kaye. The big vocalists were Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole Dinah Shore and two newcomers named Doris Day and Tony Bennett. Things were changing, however and groups like Louis Jordan, Three Cats and a Fiddle and Louis Prima were starting to make names for themselves, with music that wasn’t quite what the public was used to. Still, the kids loved it and loved to dance to it. The big breakthrough came in 1951 when Guitarist Les Paul and his wife, Mary Ford turned the music world upside down with their multi-track overdubbed recording of How High the Moon, a ten year old jazz staple that blew everybody away, and everyone young and old loved it. Les Paul became the high priest of the solid body electric guitar and even in death he still holds the title. The first revolution in pop music was over-the stage was set for the second one.

Grady and Hurst moved to television in 1952 but they didn’t get onto any of the network stations in the area. They were operating out of an independent in Wilmington Delaware, while at the same time WFIL TV, the ABC affiliate was experimenting with some live afternoon programming. Producer Tony Mammarella brought in Bob Horn to host a music program of mainly what today would be music videos. Horn didn’t like the idea and asked Mammarella if he could copy what Grady and Hurst were doing on radio. Mammarella agreed and history was born. Horn hosted the show for four years, and it was an important four years because Bandstand helped WFIL get on its feet and brought in nice revenues. Horn, however was not destined to last. He was involved with a prostitution ring and was brought up on morals charges over those four years. The final straw was when he was arrested for drunk driving. Mammarella hosted the show for a while until he could find a suitable replacement.

During the years between 1950 through 1956 the industry was again changing. Ray Charles was setting the South on fire along with Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. Country artist Patsy Cline was making her mark. In New York the music factories in the Brill Building were starting to crank out hit after hit. Disc Jockey Alan Freed coined the term “Rock and Roll” and started staging singing groups in a series of concerts, playing black music for white kids. Disc Jockeys in major cities on independent stations started playing the records and drew avid audiences. Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk blew the charts away. The tune was so long that they had to split it into two sides. Part two was the one that got air time. In Philadelphia we had local DJ’s Georgie Woods, Hy Litt, Jocko Henderson and Joe Niagara playing the new music and we had jobbed in the “Hound Dog Man” out of Buffalo, N.Y. Local impresario Bob Marcucci was training Frankie Avalon and Fabian for future stardom. Philly also produced James Darren and Bobby Rydell along with great groups like Danny and the Juniors, the Dovells and in my opinion, one of the two best DooWop groups of all time, Lee Andrews and the Hearts. School officials, politicians, angry parents, the church and civic groups all railed against the new music saying that it would be the downfall of society as we know it (we’ve heard these words before), it was the devil’s music and using racial and ethnic epithets that are too horrible to mention here.

“Then Fate's a thing without a head. A puzzle never understood, and man proceeds where he is led, unguaranteed of bad or good.”

Enter Dick Clark. It wasn’t as though Mammarella had to go through a nationwide search or anything. Dick Clark was already at WFIL. Clark was a seasoned radio host from upstate New York who had joined WFIL in 1952. He was young (27), boyishly handsome, soft spoken and charming. Just the sort of young man that Jim and Margaret Anderson would want Betty to date. He was the host on an afternoon pop music show that had not yet embraced R&R, although he was the first mainstream jockey on a commercial station to play Ray Charles (Hallelujah I Just Love Her So). The other network stations hadn’t come around yet. If Benny Goodman made big band swing jazz acceptable, then Dick Clark is the man who civilized Rock and Roll. He was the face of the new generation and we were all part of it. Clark had previously guest hosted American Bandstand on those occasions when Horn was unavailable, so he fit right in. The moment that Clark took over viewership increased exponentially and more kids from more schools were going to the studios every day. After a few months Clark was instrumental in convincing ABC to take the program national, and history was made.

Bandstand went national in August, 1957. We entered 10th grade in September, 1957, and Sputnik was launched in October, 1957. These events are not unconnected. Public education was blamed for the failure of our schools to produce better students. It wasn’t true then just as the conservative attacks on public education is not true now. Many critics pointed to the leisure activities of teenagers as a part of the problem. Dick Clark helped smooth away those contentions, although in doing so he also lowered the artistic bar a few points. Rock and Roll was going to be around for a long time and even some of our parents started singing the novelty stuff like Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, Beep and Please, Mr. Custer. When Philadelphian Chubby Checker covered Hank Ballard’s The Twist the adults and the kids went wild. Ballard’s music at the time was considered to be too raw for air play. Looking back on those years the social revolutions of the mid 50’s, Brown v Board of Ed, school desegregation, HUAC witch hunts, all gave rise to the revolution in teen age style, voice, attitudes and music that set the stage for the protest movement of the 60’s. The seeds and maturity of that revolution came into our living rooms every weekday with Dick Clark at the helm.

Clark took it all in stride. He was savvy enough to capitalize on the success of Bandstand yet he never gave the appearance of being egotistical; he always came across as a gentleman and he was genuinely concerned about the people he was with. I outgrew Bandstand after 1960, but I never outgrew Dick Clark. He is a role model for all of us.

Originally posted to jerrywaxman on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 06:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks - I really enjoyed your diary. (13+ / 0-)

    I remember watching American Bandstand, sitting on the rug in our family room. My Mom would tut tut about those kids spending all that time there and "when do they do their homework?? I heard about the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper on that show. Saw lots of bands, don't remember who now... but I couldn't think about my childhood after-school hours without thinking of American Bandstand. I'm a bit younger than you - this was elementary school - catch 'em young ;)

    "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

    by pixxer on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 08:08:37 PM PDT

  •  Great diary. (12+ / 0-)

    I also believe that rock and roll was a musical act of social revolution.

    I just have one bone to pick and it's not your fault but the phrase "rock and roll" wasn't coined by that DJ. "Rockin and rollin" was black American slang that meant "fucking". When you factor in black southern musical culture in the early part of the 20th century, you can see where a distinct line is drawn between the black church and their outrage at secular music being set to gospel rhythms and the jukejoint people who sang the blues. They felt that blues/rock and roll was blasphemous sex music. It divided the musical community. You couldn't sing "rock and roll" music and serve the Lord with your talent at the same time. You had to make a choice; the devil or the Lord. Rock and roll or gospel.

    Alan Freed may have been the first guy to say it on the radio but he didn't coin it. :-)

    Having said that, I do applaud those that resisted religious bullying and abuse and ostracizing to bring this music to the world. Whether it's Dick Clark or Howlin Wolf whose relious mom disowned him, I applaud them for supporting this great art form and inspiring others for me to get my rock on. lol

    I'm a big fan of dance party shows. I used to watch Bandstand in the 80s as a kid. I loved it. I remember young Madonna performing. Long live rock and roll and rest in peace, Dick Clark, one of the statesmen of dance party shows. Don Cornelius is another one. Soul Train was wonderful but better in the 70s, I have to admit.

    "It's not enough to acknowledge privilege. You have to resist." -soothsayer

    by GenXangster on Sat Apr 21, 2012 at 11:11:21 PM PDT

    •  I'm a forty-ish white dude and I agree: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, GenXangster, kaliope, linkage

      I am not a huge fan of popular music but I used to love Soul Train when I was a kid.

      Younger folks are always surprised to learn that the idea of the TV dance party in its "new" incarnation (music videos) is much older than they are.

      There is something about the music of one's generation though: even though I am not a huge fan, I am certainly familiar with certain "anthems" of my generation. When a bunch of people who grew up in the 80's get together and someone puts on one of the old songs, you can be pretty sure that even those of us who don't do it well will get up and dance.

      Santorum: Man on Dog; Romney: Dog on Car. Ren and Stimpy: Dog on Cat

      by commonmass on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 04:56:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bandstand (9+ / 0-)

    I grew up on watching Bandstand every day after school.  I really enjoyed this diary. Thanks for a great trip down memory lane and for reminding us that the more things change, the more those opposed to change, never change.

    "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

    by gulfgal98 on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 04:40:48 AM PDT

  •  Don Kirshner's Rock Concert (7+ / 0-)

    I was a pre teen when that started and thus began my love of concerts. Those were the days when you could sleep out at coliseum's and civic centers to get front row seats, and many a front row seat we got. CSN, Yes, Zappa, Little Feat, Jethro Tull.....  Now corporations and the rich get my old seats.

    My big band parents just couldn't get what all the fuss was about. Thanks for the memories. I remember my mom asking me "How was Mr. Tull last night dear?"


    "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11

    by parsonsbeach on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:12:18 AM PDT

    •  As a concert hobbyist...... (8+ / 0-)

      ......I too can appreciate your reflections on the concert biz. It used to be about the hardcore fans, no matter what your income, as everyone could afford a seat. Now it's all about corporate insiders, brokers, TicketMaster and LiveNation, where if you own an iPhone AND have a LiveNation account and app you can get an inside track where you MIGHT actually get a seat within viewing distance. But it's not guaranteed.

      I am all about the festival circuit now, which seems to offer the best "spirit" of music these days. 40-100 bands in a lineup, across 4 days on multiple stages and onsite camping/accomodations -  seems to be the best way to take in live music these days. What I find over the last decade in particular is how much music I do see without ever needing the services of the TM/LN goons anymore. There is great music out there, one just has to look in different places than we did in the days of The Who and Jethro Tull.

      •  Agreed! I've got some concert stubs right here: (5+ / 0-)

        Back in the 70's  A few examples of cost:
        Frank Zappa    
        Aerosmith (opening act: Styx)
        Black Sabbath (Van Halen)
        Little Feat (Pure Prairie League)

        Grateful Dead
        Eric Clapton (Muddy Waters)
        Moody Blues

        We went to concerts all of the time because they were accessible & affordable. It was camping out at The Dead shows & Bluegrass Fesivals that not only gave you that "Woodstock" feeling, but were fun and affordable as ticket prices rose in the civic center venues.

        Festival circuits large and small imho are the best way to go these days to get a bang for your buck and it was a great way for us to raise our family.

        "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11

        by parsonsbeach on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 06:21:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  KFWB had an 'Oldies but Goodies' w/e - in 1960 (7+ / 0-)

    I remember hanging out listening to all those old old hits, some going back to 1955!

    "Hey, I remember that one! Danny and the somethings, right?"

    "Geez, that was just before he went in the Army, wasn't it?"

    "There'll never be anyone better than Bill Halley. What ever happened to him?"

    "Not again! I never liked Rockin Robin! It's fuckin stupid!"

    Brook Benton. Dorsey Burnett. Paul Anka. Fats Domino. Dinah Washington (she was married to Night-Train Lane, you know.) And, of course, the Big Bopper, Richie Valens, and Buddy Holly: RIP.

    Long time ago.

    Am I right, or am I right? - The Singing Detective

    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 05:53:15 AM PDT

  •  Hail, Hail Rock & Roll (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the history and memories, mine begin with some British kids on the Ed Sullivan Show.

    "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

    by US Blues on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 08:50:52 AM PDT

    •  I was going to rec you any way but now (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, US Blues, kaliope

      I'm breaking out my old records. Can I rec your sig? Thanks!

      "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I'

      "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11

      by parsonsbeach on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 01:12:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank You! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        parsonsbeach, kaliope

        Your post above reminded me about sleeping out on the front lawn of the Glens Falls Civic Center one cold March night to get first row Dead tickets. Now I get my Furthur tickets on the internet pre-sale, more cozy for sure but less interactive.

        "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

        by US Blues on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 06:21:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There was a camaraderie amongst strangers..... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          But you're right, I prefer cozy over concrete these days  ;o)
          Saw Rat Dog about 5 or so years ago, hope to see Furthur if they get up my way.

          I have vague 30 year old memories of Glen Falls. I used to live just over the border in VT. Oh to be young again.....

          "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Matthew 5:11

          by parsonsbeach on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 07:03:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Television was the revolution! (0+ / 0-)

    Television was the revolution and lefties were too naive to realize it …
    Its ‘new man’ is autistic
    Dick Clark? I think he was even more superficial than TV…

    Does Watching TV Cause Autism?
    About 60 percent of the teens with autism spectrum disorders spent most of their time watching TV or videos, the investigators found

    Nudniks need not apply.

    by killermiller on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 02:42:31 PM PDT

  •  the Dovells (4+ / 0-)

    When we moved from Woodbury NJ to Cherry Hill in 1960, that put us right across the street from Jerry Gross (aka Jerry Summers) and his family.  I never saw much to tell you that a rock-and-roll star lived there -- no flashy cars, no crowd of groupies.

    The Avallone family (cousins to Frankie Avalon) lived in the house next to the Grosses.  Cousin Frankie lived a few blocks away, in the same housing development.  As did Al Martino.

    Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. -- K.Marx A.Lincoln

    by N in Seattle on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 03:01:39 PM PDT

  •  I was a year behind you growing up in lily white (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, kaliope

    southern Ontario.  It never occurred to me until recently to give any thought to Dick Clark breaking any colour barriers with the talent on American Bandstand.

    I just took it for granted that he had black performers on and treated them the same as the white performers.  Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, The Platters and so many, many more.  Thank you, Mr. Clark, for making them a part of my life.  

    You know, some people might want to suggest that Dick Clark white-washed black music.  Maybe he did but in doing so he brought black performers into the mainstream where people like me would have a chance to encounter them.

    We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. B. Franklin

    by Observerinvancouver on Sun Apr 22, 2012 at 03:57:13 PM PDT

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