Dick Clark -- a personal remembrance

For Your Consideration

Peter CavanaughApril 25, 2012 

My first plane ride headed straight for "American Bandstand."

I was working mornings on WNDR in Syracuse in November 1961 when the station ran a wild promotion to transport two busloads of lucky teen listeners 250 miles down I-81 to WFIL-TV in Philadelphia for a live appearance with Dick Clark.

Since my air shift precluded a departure with the buses, the station decided it was worth the staggering sum of $24 to fly me down on a Mohawk Airlines Douglas DC-3 to rendezvous with all at the TV station.

Syracuse connections with young Mr. Clark ran back quite some time even then, including the years he played Country & Western tunes on WOLF's "Buckaroo Sandman Show" while a student at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications.

Dick's family owned and operated WRUN-AM in nearby Utica, where he also paid early dues. Upon graduating from college, Clark obtained his first major market position in Philadelphia when he was hired in 1952 as a weekend weatherman and booth announcer on Channel 6. He was low man on the WFIL totem pole when Bob Horn got picked up for driving drunk.

Since Horn was hosting a show for young people called, "Philadelphia Bandstand" on WFIL -- underage girls accompanying him at the time of arrest and other salacious allegations brought forth a local scandal of epic proportions. The charges instantly cost Horn his job at the station in July of 1956 and created a heart-stopping crisis for "Philadelphia Bandstand" producer, Lew Klein.

The situation required big time damage control for television, where image was everything. This was in the Eisenhower 50's -- when Elvis could only appear on television from the waist up, when you couldn't say, "pregnant" on the radio and when "the boys and girls" at Cathedral Academy during my senior year were separated by an empty row of desks to avoid "unnecessary temptations."

Wait -- Where's that clean-cut kid from the newsroom? The one the sales staff loves 'cause he works his tail off doing great commercials for local clients? That guy who can memorize a five minute pitch and perform it flawlessly with hardly any preparation at all?

Dick Clark was instantly assigned hosting duties on "Philadelphia Bandstand" as a temporary measure. After a few weeks, it became permanent. A year later, in August of 1957, "Philadelphia Bandstand" went national and became "American Bandstand" on the then fledgling ABC Television Network for a full 90 minutes every weekday afternoon from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

That initial trip to WFIL-TV and "Bandstand," to be repeated several times annually until the program moved to Los Angeles in early 1964, was an eye-opener. Most impressive, in addition to Dick Clark's awesomely smooth, pitch perfect, on screen presence, was the absolute control he exercised over every aspect of the telecast.

As I mentioned to Ray Appleton last Thursday on KMJ during Ray's excellent tribute program in Clark's memory, "Dick even watched out for the little things. I remember a large, matronly women with a commanding presence walking through this large crowd of teens moments before broadcast with a large coffee can -- into which she demanded they all deposit their gum since, "Mr. Clark doesn't want any of you chewing away coast to coast." Cooperation was instantaneous.

"The Dick Clark Cavalcade of Stars" visited Syracuse quite often back then. The "Cavalcade" consisted of a dozen or so recording artists who were driven up from Philadelphia to appear with us at the State Fair Coliseum. WNDR DJ's would introduce Dick. He would then bring on the performers, who would "lip-sync" their hit records. This meant having the artists "sing" over recorded music.

We'd have a local group or two on stage just to fill up space and pretend to play along. They were usually unplugged, but looked fabulously engaged. After most shows, a few of us would have dinner with Dick, who was as down to earth and engaging off air as he was on. Although most known by the public as a performer, Dick Clark ultimately was the consummate entrepreneur.

It is staggering to realize how much this one man accomplished in his lifetime. The list seems endless. "$10,000 Pyramid," "The American Music Awards," "TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes," "Where The Action Is," "Dick Clark's World of Talent," "The Dick Clark National Music Survey" and, of course, "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve."

At one point, Dick Clark had successful television programs running simultaneously on all three major TV networks, even as "Dick Clark Productions" staged hundreds of major concert events across the country in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

Dick and I would see each other at dozens of radio conventions through the years and reminisce. However, although most distant in time, "American Bandstand" still seems nearest and dearest of all my Dick Clark memories.

As 70 million "baby boomers" stormed the gates of American culture, forever changing everything -- Dick Clark waved us along -- encouraging us to dance all the way through.

Perhaps that's why I'm so sad he's gone.

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