American Bandstand was the most popular of the live music shows. It started as a local program in Philadelphia where it was formerly called Bob Horn’s Bandstand from 1952 until July 1956. Bob Horn was the host until he was fired after a drunk driving conviction and Dick Clark took over.
The ABC network picked up the show in August 1957, changed the name to American Bandstand, and broadcast it nationally. At first, it was broadcast daily. Then, starting in 1963, it was aired weekly until 1989. During its 32-year run, American Bandstand was Rock music’s showcase of good behavior. The dancers were always clean and well dressed, there was no profanity, and performers were on their best behavior.
Shows typically featured the latest hit music, a performance by a popular musician or group, and ratings of songs from the audience. The biggest attraction was usually the dancers. Each program featured a studio full of teens doing the latest dances. These were all local kids and were unpaid, but they knew all of the latest dances and may have even invented a few on their own. American Bandstand is also noted as being probably the first of it’s kind to show blacks and whites on the same stage, and have mixed seating in the audience.
American Bandstand Introduces New Dances
Dance style was changing quickly during the early days of Bandstand. Chubby Checker’s hit “The Twist” introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat”, which led to scores of new dances. American Bandstand is where the teen world learned how to do the new steps.
Depending on time zone, the show aired late afternoon and before the prime time news and family shows began. The audience was mostly teen girls. Some watched for the fashions, gossip, or hairstyles, but it was the dances that made the next day’s gossip. Of course, it wasn’t all girls watching. Despite the semi-formal clothing, the program was as sexy as TV allowed at the time.
American Bandstand made Dick Clark a national star, but his ties to the music publishing business almost got him in trouble with the US Senate subcommittee investigating payola. A play on American Bandstand could give a new song an immediate boost, and it was noticed that songs from local companies which Clark had investments in were played more often than others. In the end, the Senate didn’t find any illegal activity from Dick Clark, but ABC forced him to sell his outside investments in music publishing.