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Where Dick Clark brought Rock-and-Roll to America
The American radio show host, television personality, and game show host televised the early years of American Bandstand, a major force in the development and dispersal of rock and roll music and television’s longest running musical variety program, from the WFIL Studio in Philadelphia. The WFIL Studio, constructed in 1947-48 with a major addition in 1952, is notable as one of the first buildings in the United States designed specifically for television broadcasting.
Dick Clark was not the first host of the popular television show. On October 13, 1952, the same year that WFIL consolidated its operations at 4548 Market Street., Bob Horn, a popular local disc jockey, began broadcasting a program from studio B called Bandstand, recognized as the first record and dance party program on television. The program combined recorded music, dancing teenagers, viewer contests, celebrity guests and a simple set of bleachers and a podium. Dick Clark became the program’s host in 1956 and, due to the show’s immense popularity, convinced ABC network executives to give it a trial nationally. On August 5, 1957 Bandstand became American Bandstand when it was broadcast live nationwide for the first time. The show was an immediate success with an initial viewing audience of 20 million and weekly fan mail in excess of 15,000 letters. Within one year the figures had doubled and Dick Clark had a Saturday night rock and roll show in addition to the weekday American Bandstand.
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From 1957 until 1963, when WFIL moved to its new location and moved the show to a once-a-week Saturday time slot, the program was seen each weekday afternoon by millions of viewers. In early 1964 the show moved to California. Bandstand was televised continuously for over a third of a century (1952-1989) and has been recognized as the most enduring, the most copied, and, especially during its years in Philadelphia, as the most popular and influential musical variety program in the history of American television.
American Bandstand was a cultural institution of exceptional importance in the development of rock and roll music which was just beginning when the show began to be televised in Philadelphia. The show was equally important in popularizing new dances, and in determining the fads and fashions of the baby boom generation. American Bandstand first brought rock and roll into millions of American homes and made the new music genre acceptable. Rock and Roll was routinely denounced in the 1950s for the negative impact it was felt to have on the nation’s youth. American Bandstand countered that image and made rock and roll acceptable; and it did so by cutting across regional, social and economic boundaries to affect the entire nation’s appreciation and acceptance of the emerging musical form.
Virtually all of the major rock recording artists have appeared on the show with the exceptions of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Many artists made their network debuts on American Bandstand including rock legends ranging from Buddy Holly and the Supremes to Cyndi Lauper and Stevie Wonder. Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, Billboard, Variety and TV Guide all chronicled the efforts of the show in promoting rock and roll music. In the early years, the regular Philadelphia teenagers featured on the show became national media idols.
American Bandstand also made Dick Clark a nationally known celebrity. Born on November 30, 1929, Clark passed away on April 18, 2012.
The WFIL Studio was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1986, for national significance in in the 20th century history of the United States. Part of the historic significance comes from being an intact example of the earliest type of new construction for television station use. In addition to its importance in the early history of television, the building, as the site of American Bandstand from 1957-1963, played a major national role in the history of rock music and had an enormous impact on the baby-boom generation.
The WFIL Studio, located in West Philadelphia, is a two-story brick and cinderblock, steel-frame structure constructed in two building phases. The original structure, with an art deco inspired streamlined façade, was begun in 1947 and completed in 1948: the western portion of the building was added in 1952. Recognized nationally at the time it was completed in 1948 as one of the first buildings constructed specifically for television, WFIL became a model for television station design in the early years of the medium, with special attention given the interior arrangement of technical, production and administrative facilities.
Most of this article was exerted from Susan Shearer, WFIL Studio, National Register of Historic Places, Pa SHPO, February 1986.
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