We had our own little part of Philadelphia
—by Bill Haglund
Teenagers in Philadelphia more than half-a-century ago were pretty well known to most Iowa teens.
Some Iowa high schoolers even knew the names of those young folks who lived a thousand miles away.
That was all because of Dick Clark. Iowa teens weren’t alone, though – countless thousands of young folks from all over America raced home from school and turned on the television set to watch “American Bandstand.”
The younger generation today would probably scoff at the idea that a televised “dance” would become a phenomenon for young Americans. But, it did, and I’m not really sure why. I suspect there were several reasons. Television was relatively new and American Bandstand was one of very few shows aimed at teens, and we didn’t have cell phones and video games and cars.
Dick Clark’s American Bandstand originated in the early 1950s, and it became a nationally-televised show a few years later. Each show featured a cast of Philadelphia teens that didn’t change much. We didn’t learn until later, though, that there were no regular dancers – those teens had to be in line first to be admitted on a first-come, first-in basis.
American Bandstand was definitely the “craze” as the 1950s wound to an end.
While American Bandstand was aired from Philadelphia, local television stations soon sought to capitalize on the show’s popularity.
We had our own dance shows that were, if memory serves me, all on Saturdays and all of them in one of the three major Central Iowa television markets. I’d guess that WOI-TV, then located in Ames, was the first local station to have a dance show for kids. It was called “Seventeen” and actually began airing in the mid-1950s. I’m sure the two Des Moines stations – KCCI-TV (then it was KRNT) and WHO-TV also had teen dance shows. If memory serves, WHO had the “Harris Hop” and even, for a time, aired the “Junior Harris Hop” for pre-teens.
Time has erased from memory the name of the show on KRNT, but I remember dancing there one Saturday. Or was it on WHO?
We didn’t have to stand in line to get on those shows. It was all pre-arranged. Classmates (almost always girls, of course) would contact the shows and ask to be put on the show’s list. I know when the kids from North Polk were on one of the Des Moines station’s dance shows, it was all North Polk.
None of us could dance like the kids in Philadelphia, and I’m sure our attempts drew scorn from kids our age who attended different schools. That’s assuming, of course, there were people watching the show other than our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles.
I don’t think the local shows lasted all that long, really. American Bandstand went on for decades and even spawned other national dance shows – most notably, perhaps, was “Soul Train” which, I think, even outlasted the original.
Dick Clark, the man who brought teenage dancing to the television screen, became so well known that he became host of the New Year’s Eve countdown show from New York’s Times Square. Some of the original Bandstand dancers gained enough notoriety that their deaths earned at least passing mention in some newspapers around the country.
As for the hosts, and dancers, from those long-ago Iowa teen dance programs … well, I’m sure most of them ended up like me – a person who thinks he can dance better than he can, and one who believes the only reason he was never on American Bandstand was because he lived in Alleman, Iowa and not Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Bill Haglund is a retired staff writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at email@example.com)