Television, rock and roll and teenagers. In the late 1950s, when television and rock and roll were new and when the biggest generation in American history was just about to enter its teens, it took a bit of originality to see the potential power in this now-obvious combination. The man who saw that potential more clearly than any other was a 26-year-old native of upstate New York named Dick Clark, who transformed himself and a local Philadelphia television program into two of the most culturally significant forces of the early rock-and-roll era. His iconic show, American Bandstand, began broadcasting nationally on this day in 1957, beaming images of clean-cut, average teenagers dancing to the not-so-clean-cut Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” to 67 ABC affiliates across the nation.
The show that evolved into American Bandstand began on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV in 1952, a few years before the popular ascension of rock and roll. Hosted by local radio personality Bob Horn, the original Bandstand nevertheless established much of the basic format of its later incarnation. In the first year after Dick Clark took over as host in the summer of 1956, Bandstand remained a popular local hit, but it took Clark’s ambition to help it break out. When the ABC television network polled its affiliates in 1957 for suggestions to fill its 3:30 p.m. time slot, Clark pushed hard for Bandstand, which network executives picked up and scheduled for an August 5, 1957 premiere.
Renamed American Bandstand, the newly national program featured a number of new elements that became part of its trademark, including the high school gym-like bleachers and the famous segment in which teenage studio guests rated the newest records on a scale from 25 to 98 and offered such criticisms as “It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.” But the heart of American Bandstand always remained the sound of the day’s most popular music combined with the sight of the show’s unpolished teen “regulars” dancing and showing off the latest fashions in clothing and hairstyles.
American Bandstand aired five days a week in live national broadcast until 1963, when the show moved west to Los Angeles and began a 24-year run as a taped weekly program with Dick Clark as host.