"Teen-agers let loose."  That's how the May 8, 1953 issue of TV Guide listed Bandstand on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia.  Having just started 7 months earlier, host Bob Horn had his grasp on the most popular TV show for teens in the Philadelphia area. 

Horn, a popular DJ with a successful run of his show Bandstand on Philadelphia radio stations WPEN, WIP and WFIL, took over WFIL-TV's Parade of Stars, a show featuring unedited shorts of popular singers like Peggy Lee, The Ink Spots, The Four Aces, The Four Freshmen and others performing their musicLocal teens were invited to be in studio during the broadcast from WFIL-TV's Studio C.  Some danced on impulse.  Most sat and watched.  Film was dropped, spinning records was added, the show moved to Studio B, dancing was encouraged, and Bandstand's record hop was born.

   

At the end of the school day, teens from the nearby high schools in West Philadelphia ran to the tan brick building at the corner of 46th and Market Streets in Philadelphia, home of WFIL-TV.  It was there that hundreds patiently stood in line outside the WFIL studios in the heat, cold and rain, waiting for the doors to open to let them inside Studio B, where Bob Horn and co-host Lee Stewart were getting the 78rpm records in order.

 

It was the perfect location: the 46th and Market Street stop of the Market-Frankfort "El" and bus lines of the PTC in West Philadelphia.  Nearby high schools were packed with teenagers anxious for the school day to end.  Inside the young broadcast facility of Triangle Publications' WFIL AM-FM-TV, technicians, prop crews and on-air personalities were getting ready for another broadcast of Bandstand. 

 

Designed for normal television broadcast operations such as newscasts, Studio B was the largest of WFIL-TV's three studios, but small for the crowd it accommodated each weekday.  The cameras and lights were big and bulky making it difficult to move equipment around to get good shots.  The set was simple, mainly a painted backdrop of a record shop.  The floor was hard and cluttered with cables.  But, that didn't stop the teens from lining up each day to get the chance to be seen on the fastest-growing television program in Philadelphia.

They sat on hard bleachers waiting for the host to introduce the next hit, spin the record, and bring the dance floor to life.  Bulky TV cameras ruled the studio floor while teenaged dancers crammed into a small area marked off by white lines to be seen on live TV.  The inconveniences of hot lights, hard floor and crowded conditions didn't stop the strong desire of Philadelphia's teens from wanting to be seen live on Philadelphia's first and most popular TV show for their generation.

To the viewer, it all looked big.  WFIL's broadcast technicians had a way maneuver 3 cameras around the studio to bring classic shots of dancers and performers to the television screen, in classis black and white.

While teenagers crammed TV Studio B waiting for the show to air at 2:45, down the hall in the 12'x20' AM radio studio, WFIL announcer Dick Clark was hosting Bob Horn's old radio show, renamed The Caravan of Music.  Clark had been hired in May, 1952 as a summer replacement announcer on WFIL-FM.  The opportunity to take over Horn's radio show on WFIL-AM was a big and welcomed move.  After all, Clark selected WFIL as it had a TV station in the fourth largest market, a much-needed step in his hopes to move up to the number 1 market: New York.  The move to hosting his own show on WFIL-AM was one step closer to television, either in Philadelphia or New York.

Dick Clark's radio shift was later moved to the 11:00 to 1:00 slot so he could do commercials on the Paul Whitman Teen Club, a show originating at WFIL-TV and fed over the ABC television Network.  Teen Club was cancelled, and Clark co-hosted the short-lived TV show Lewis and Clark with Nancy Lewis followed by Movie Quick Quiz, a local show broadcast weekdays from 2:00 to 2:15.

 

Rock 'n Roll was growing in Philadelphia.  Record hops were big.  Local radio station WIBG switched to spinning rock 'n roll records complemented with popular on-air personalities like Hy Lit, Joe Niagara and Frank X. Feller.  It was fast becoming the number one radio station in Philadelphia, a position it would hold for many years.

At WFIL radio, Dick Clark was spinning records while the more popular Bob Horn hosted Bandstand on WFIL's sister television station.  Most of WFIL's programming was a "Middle of the Road" (MOR) format.  An attempt in 1956 to switch to a "rock 'n roll" format failed due to listener complaints.  In just a few years Clark would find he was in the right place at the right time. 

 

In 1956 The City of Philadelphia, with the support of The Philadelphia Inquirer, conducted an anti drinking and driving campaign.  Triangle Publications, owned by media mogul Walter Annenberg, owned The Philadelphia Inquirer as well as WFIL AM-FM-TV.  Bandstand was one of Triangle's programs;  Bob Horn was an employee.  During the campaign, Bandstand host Bob Horn was convicted of driving while intoxicated.  This was compounded by earlier, but unfounded accusations that he was involved with some of the teens appearing on Bandstand.  That ended his career with WFIL and Bandstand.

WFIL TV host and Bandstand producer Tony Mammarella briefly took over the podium until station management could find a new host.

 

Before Bob Horn, Triangle originally wanted local teen show hosts Ed Hurst and Joe Grady to move their show from Philadelphia's WPEN radio to WFIL where it would be heard on WFIL-AM and simulcast on WFIL-TV.  The owner of WPEN, Sun Ray Drugs, threatened to pull their million-dollar advertising contract with Triangle's Philadelphia Inquirer if Hurst and Grady moved from their station to Triangle's WFIL.  Roger Clipp, WFIL's general manager, stopped all talks and selected Horn for the job.  Now, with Horn gone and Hurst and Grady out of the picture, WFIL management needed to find fresh new talent to host Bandstand

 

In-house announcer and popular deejay Dick Clark inherited the position, the podium, and all the fame that would come hosting Bandstand.  Clark used the opportunity to take the show to the next level: national.  Local popularity of the show grew and now included appearances by such greats as Bobby Rydell, Fabian and Frankie Avalon.  Bandstand teens invented new dances, like the Stroll and Bunny Hop, to go with the beat of new songs.  The "regulars" became local idols.  And, when Clark negotiated with the American Broadcasting Company to take the show national in 1957, they became national celebrities. 

 

Locally, it remained known as Bandstand while broadcast to the Philadelphia area.  Nationally, on ABC, it was called American Bandstand and fed from WFIL to 67 ABC affiliated stations  Within one year after going national the show was being watched in 4 million homes.  Teenagers turned on their sets each afternoon waiting to hear Philadelphia's Bill "Wee Willie" Webber start another Bandstand broadcast.   TV stations nationwide were fighting to get rights to show it in their markets.  Record companies were pushing to get their artists and songs presented on the show.  Local West Philadelphia teens continued to line up by the hundreds outside the WFIL studios hoping to get a chance to get into Studio B.  Teens, nationwide, flooded WFIL's mailroom with bags of mail each day containing ballots as teens voted for their favorite songs, dances and couples.  On average, 45,000 letters were received each week.  Contest weeks generated upwards to 150,000 ballots and letters.  Teens lucky enough to make it into Studio B were required to wear a jacket and tie, or dress hemmed below the knee.  This immediately eliminated the kids from the public West Philadelphia High School and benefited teens from West Philadelphia Catholic for Boys and West Philadelphia Catholic for Girls as required school dress already met that code.

 

Bandstand was successful in capturing and broadcasting nationwide the passion Philadelphia teens had for record hops.  Weekend dances at school gymnasiums, VFW and church halls brought thousands.  The weekday afternoon record hop in WFIL Studio B was just one of many, but the most recognized both locally and nationwide.

 

By 1963, Triangle Publications was making plans to move the WFIL stations to a new and larger broadcast facility in the upscale Main Line section of Philadelphia.  When WFIL moved from West Philadelphia in January, 1964, Dick Clark moved American Bandstand to the West Coast.  WFIL Studio B at 4548 Market Street went dark.

 
 
 
REFERENCES:
Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia:  www.broadcastpioneers.com
The History of Rock 'n' Roll: www.history-of-rock.com
TV Guide, Triangle Publications, Inc., Philadelphia, May 8, 1953
Fifties Web :  www.fiftiesweb.com/bandstand.htm
University City Historical Society:  www.uchs.net/HistoricDistricts/wfil.html
Philadelphia Free Library:  lib.www.library.phila.gov