The popular TV show American Bandstand, which originated as a Philadelphia-based broadcast, attracted a significant number of television viewers during its four-decade run beginning in the 1950s by rating pop records, featuring teenage dancing couples and hosting an array of chart-climbing recording artists who lip-synched their hits for the cameras. But there are a few tidbits about the show that seem to have fallen through the cracks over the years and are worth noting.
According to an entry by Jordan McClain and Amanda McClain on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia website, “First called Bandstand, the program premiered October 6, 1952, hosted by Philadelphia radio DJ Bob Horn…It was shot live from Studio B at Forty-Sixth and Market Streets, where the two-and-a-half-hour show was broadcast regionally on WFIL-TV Channel 6,” an ABC affiliate.
But if we backpedal for a moment, we discover that Atlantic City native Ed Hurst, who had been enjoying a stint as a Philadelphia disc jockey since 1946, teamed in 1952 with fellow DJ Joe Grady to produce The Grady and Hurst Show, a television program featuring teens dancing in Philadelphia’s WPTZ-TV studios to contemporary songs. According to thesilhouettes.org. website, the show “is recognized as the forerunner of American Bandstand and many other dance shows of the kind.”
With a reported six million viewers in the Delaware Valley at the time, the show became the third largest market in the nation. Horn would host the program for nearly four years before he was replaced by an up-and-coming WFIL radio personality named Dick Clark, who made his first appearance as host, the Pop History Dig website reports, on July 7, 1956.
The McClains note that the following month, “the show was renamed American Bandstand, shortened to 90 minutes, and expanded to a national ABC audience,” airing on weekdays at 3 p.m. According to the Pop History Dig website, “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,” making it, in the words of thesilhouettes.org website, “arguably the most significant television venue in the country” during this era.
In its evaluation, thesilhouettes.org website observes that “the show epitomized many important aspects of ever-evolving American popular culture: mass communication, popular music, youth culture, dance and fashion trends, as well as race and gender relationships,” noting that “arguably, American Bandstand both contributed to racial integration and supported racial segregation.” It points out that “in the early years of American Bandstand, African Americans were rarely seen on television. However, musicians such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Sam Cooke all made national appearances on American Bandstand during the late 1950s.”
Occasionally, Clark took to the road on his own, and online reports indicate that he arrived in Vineland in March 1958 to host a record hop at Palm Gardens on Seventh Street, where a thousand teenagers showed up in the hopes of being admitted to the venue, which was located next to the Times Journal building.
While the reports don’t identify how many teens made it into the event, the surge of the waiting crowd cracked a glass panel on the door. The Vineland event was not unlike the usual attendance at American Bandstand broadcasts where, thesilhouettes.org website explains, on a typical Philadelphia “broadcast day the line of teens hoping to appear on the show snaked around the block…”
In summer 1958, Hurst raised the bar for Clark’s show by premiering Summertime on the Pier, a television program with dancing teens and rock’n’roll beamed directly from Atlantic City’s Marine Ballroom in the Steel Pier. The result was that, as IMDB.com reports, American Bandstand was forced to consider a road itinerary that included Wildwood and Atlantic City, where such acts as Bill Doggett and his band, who played their instrumental hit “Honky Tonk,” could be captured in a rare live performance rather than the commonplace lip-synch.