Historical Markers
American Bandstand [Show Business] Historical Marker
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American Bandstand [Show Business]

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
4601 Market Street, Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
August 5, 1997

Behind the Marker

A young Dick Clark is seated in the front row of an audience of young people, next to a smiling Bobby Rydell.
American Bandstand host Dick Clark speaking with singer Bobby Rydell in front...
Every weekday afternoon for close to six years, millions of Americans turned on their television sets to see Philadelphia high schoolers show off the latest dance craze and to watch rock and roll stars and wannabes lip-synch their hit songs. Bandstand had a simple format, but its appeal resonated on many levels. There was the music, rooted in rhythm and blues tunes sung by African-American artists. There was the "live" performance, a chance to see the face behind the voice on the radio or record. There was the host, the iconic Dick Clark, whose bland, smooth manner lent an air of stability to a show that featured a new kind of music. And there was the audience, the Philadelphia teenagers who lined up every day to get into the studio and who gave Bandstand its status as a trendsetter.

Image of the band members on stage.
Bill Haley and His Comets rehearsing at London's Dominion Theater, February...
Bandstand capitalized on the burgeoning teen demand for rock and roll spawned by the transformation of radio in the late 1940s and the emerging youth culture of the 1950s. As major advertising sponsors defected to the more attractive television market, radio stations cut their costs by replacing expensive studio orchestras with a "disc jockey," or "deejay" who played recorded music. Many deejays stuck to "easy listening" music typified by performers like Pennsylvanian Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney. But others were drawn to rhythm and blues, upbeat urban African-American popular music that white youths were listening to on jukeboxes and AM radio stations. When white-owned Philadelphia radio stations WHAT and WDAS started to play records by black artists in the early 1950s, white kids from all over Philadelphia began to tune in.

In 1945, Philadelphia radio station WPEN had begun broadcast of the 950 Club, a daily show that featured a live studio audience dancing to records played on the air. On Saturday nights, local ABC television affiliate WFIL showed TV-Teen Club, a dance and talent program. To boost its non-existent afternoon ratings, WFIL hit on the idea of adapting the 950 Club format to television. On October 7, 1952, Bandstand, hosted by WFIL radio personality Bob Horn, debuted in the 3:30 time slot. WFIL managers and local television critics were skeptical about the prospects of a show that showcased dancing teens, but Bandstand proved them wrong. Local students, many of them from Philadelphia's ethnic neighborhoods, appeared in droves each day to get on the show; and they brought their taste for rhythm and blues with them.

A black and white photograph of a group of people dancing in a room decorated with banners and balloons. Visible in the background is the host at a podium.
Bob Horn hosting American Bandstand, Philadelphia, PA., 1955.
In 1952, Philadelphia was already considered a "break-out" market for new records because of its demographics and location, but Bandstand made the city a center of the American popular music industry. Record companies clamored to have their songs played, and artists yearned to appear on the show's daily performance segment. Local record labels and promoters flourished. And all of the players eagerly paid or offered "promotional" fees, sometimes called payola, to Philadelphia's most influential deejays and to Bandstand's hosts and producers to promote their product during crucial air time.

Payola eventually caught up with Horn, who was removed as Bandstand's host in 1956. Searching for a replacement who would burnish the show's tainted image, WFIL executives turned to marker Dick Clark, a smooth TV announcer and WFIL deejay, whose delivery radiated wholesomeness and respectability. It turned out to be an inspired choice. ABC began to air American Bandstand nationwide in 1957. Under Clark's low keyed direction, the program became a national hit, and major force in a popular music industry increasingly focused on the fast-growing youth market.

Taking its cue from the white-dominated record business, Bandstand frequently endorsed "cover" versions of rhythm and blues songs performed by new rock and roll acts pushed by national labels, including Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It also helped launch the career of local "teen idols" Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian, and of Philadelphia-based Chubby Checker, whose cover of "The Twist" set off an international dance craze. Bandstand also promoted local and national Do Wop acts, an urban a cappella music extremely popular on Philadelphia street corners, and featured Johnny Mathis, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and other African-American artists the record companies believed would have wide appeal to a national mainstream audience.

Chubby Checker, Conway Twitty, and Dick Clark Do the Twist.
Chubby Checker leads Conway Twitty and American Bandstand host Dick Clark...
Bandstand was a national trendsetter during its Philadelphia era, thanks largely to the studio regulars. Their opinions of new songs in the "Rate-A-Record" segment affected a record's success, particularly after the program went national in 1957. The audience introduced the groundbreaking solo dances of the period - including the Bop, the Twist, the Stroll, and the Mashed Potato. They became celebrities in their own right and the instigators of fashion trends in the emerging national teen consumer market, a group eagerly sought by advertisers in the 1950s.

By the early 1960s, however, Bandstand's heyday was coming to an end. ABC cut the show to thirty minutes in 1962. Soon after, the coming week's shows were taped on the preceding Saturday, and the show became less spontaneous. In 1963, ABC consigned it to Saturdays. Bandstand's Philadelphia sojourn officially ended later that year when Clark acquired rights to lease the show from WFIL and moved it to California. Clark would revitalize the program and remain affiliated with it until its demise in 1989.
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