Before Kinect, there was American Bandstand
4/19/2012 by: Darleen Hartley
Each generation has its own style of entertainment, physical fitness, technology, and interacting with others. American Bandstand embodied all four modes, with Dick Clark at its helm.
When the phenomena called American Bandstand encapsulated what being a teenager meant, early television was nothing like today's high def sets. It didn’t respond to the viewer’s movements unless you left your seat, walked over to it, and turned a knob.
Nascent television struggled through several decades in fits and starts, with conflicting technologies. In the US, the FCC adopted NTSC (National Television System Committee) television engineering standards on May 2, 1941. That was 525 lines of vertical resolution, 30 frames per second with interlaced scanning, 60 fields per second, and sound carried by frequency modulation.
Development was interrupted during WWII, but began to take hold as a viable consumer product following the end of the war. In 1948, there were only 48 commercial TV stations operating in 23 cities. By 1960, when American Bandstand and Dick Clark were in full swing, there were 440 commercial VHF stations, 75 UHF stations and 85 percent of the homes in the US had a TV set in their living room according to the FCC.
American Bandstand and Dick Clark became firmly entrenched in American Culture. The daily dance fest was first broadcast in 1957 where there was a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On in Pennsylvania that swept across the US. Back then, Frankie Avalon was our version of Justin Bieber. Before Madonna, Fabian was a one-name singing star. The Pony Tails and the Crew Cuts weren’t just hair styles, they were singing groups. And we watched them in black and white. Color television for the masses was a thing of the future.
We listened to our favorites on 45’s, then the modern music media, when American Bandstand was swinging
Napster wasn’t even a twinkle in Sean Parker’s dad's eye. MP3’s had not been invented. We listened to something called a record, a disk that spun around on a turntable translated into sound by a needle that nestled in its grooves. They were small vinyl 45’s, not the old heavy shellac resin 78’s of our parents’ generation, nor the clunky gramophone of our grandparents. Technology was at its best. And we called it Cool; we called it Groovy.
We didn’t Zumba with Xbox 360. After school let out, Monday through Friday for an hour and a half instead of doing homework, we were dancing on the living room rug, mimicking the gyrations of the Philly kids on the TV screen. Dances had names, paralleling the action: the hop, the swim, the twist, the stroll.
Bandstand and Dick Clark coalesced a generation, teaching us civility, a dress code, and ethnic diversity. Yes, Bandstand broke ground headlining entertainers of all colors and everyone danced together under one unifying banner - Rock and Roll. All under the direction of the personable, well-mannered band leader, Dick Clark.
A combination music critic, promoter, talk show host, Clark’s brief interviews with his guests touched on topics of the day, such as fears that Rock and Roll performers would lure teenagers away from the values of their parents. Check out in this clip with Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane.
Dick Clark was an influence, a favorite uncle of my generation. His fame persisted beyond teeny boppers, morphing into a New Year’s Eve ritual. He founded Dick Clark Productions, an independent producer of television programming which is behind many of our uplifting programs: the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and recently returning to a dancing-based show, So You Think You Can Dance.
Thanks, Dick, for the happiness and good times
Like Jackie Wilson in a 1958 Bandstand performance seen in this video, many of us will be crying Lonely Teardrops as we grieve the loss of this music icon as another era passes into history. He was a man who encouraged us to sing and dance. We all experienced a more joyful life because of Dick Clark.
Dick Clark, American Bandstand, vinyl, Philadelphia, Zumba, Xbox 360, Kinect, MP3, Napster, Sean Parker, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Justin Bieber, American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, So You Think You Can Dance, Rock and Roll, Jackie Wilson
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