On This Day: ‘American Bandstand’ Premieres in 1952

by Suzanne Halliburton

Let’s toss it back to an early October day 69 years ago, back when American Bandstand started with an experimental format in Philadelphia.

If you ever learned to dance by watching American Bandstand this day was important in your life, even if you were just a faraway dream in your mamma or daddy’s eye. If you ever snapped along to a song and decided it had a nice beat or wore a cool outfit because you saw something similar on TV, well, this day is important to you, too.

On Oct. 7, 1952, the show premiered as Bandstand on Philadelphia TV station WFIL. Local DJ Bob Horn and his co-host Lee Stewart, a big advertiser with the station, went live from Studio B with a televised dance party for local teenagers.

If you’re a person of a certain age, you probably remember that you watched Dick Clark with American Bandstand. Here’s how he became involved with the show. In the summer of 1956, police arrested Horn for a DWI. There were other allegations, too. So the station fired him.

Enter Clark, who was a fresh-faced 26-year-old who could identify with those who were dancing. He knew music well, considering he was the DJ at the station’s radio affiliate. Clark went live on the show, July 9, 1956. And that’s when Clark got his start as one of the hardest-working men in show business. American Bandstand ran for three hours a day, five days a week. Teenagers flipped on the show as soon as they got home from school. Within a year, the show went national.

(Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images)

Clark Had Strict American Bandstand Rules

Here’s one notable rule Clark had for the show. It featured live music acts, but Clark didn’t want them to sing their songs on camera. Only Jerry Lee Lewis ever sang live. The rest of the musical acts lip-synched their music. Clark wanted the kids at home to hear the recorded version of the song, not what it sounded like in a TV studio. Clark thought that live performances didn’t sound the same.

The host had another American Bandstand rule. He wanted the dancers, who weren’t paid, to be clean cut. According to the book Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years 1956 to 1963, Clark enforced a dress code. Girls could wear only dresses or a blouse and a skirt. Boys needed to dance in a suit and tie. A sport coat also worked. And by the way, you couldn’t smoke or chew gum.

Take a look at this vintage clip:

In 1964, Clark moved the show from Philadelphia to the West Coast. After all, LA made more sense. And the show also switched to an hour run on Saturdays. By 1987, ABC whittled the hour down to 30 minutes. On Sept. 5, 1987, American Bandstand ran for the final time on ABC. Laura Branigan was the final guest. The show then went back to an hour as it syndicated for local markets.

Clark was its host through 1989. And Oct. 7 proved to be another bittersweet day for the ground-breaking music and dance show. By then, Clark was only its executive producer, but was in charge on its final show that ran Oct. 7, 1989.

American Bandstand’s final act — the Cover Girls.