Not just on TV, but radio, too.
Another celebrity death sent shock waves throughout the country last week, not because of how he died – no drugs, alcohol or violence involved, just natural causes – or his age – 82. People were undoubtedly shocked because this was Dick Clark, an icon in the entertainment industry, "America's oldest teenager," who just kept going and going despite suffering a few health setbacks.
I, for one was not really surprised when my daughter informed me of his death after learning about it on, what else, Facebook, although the news had taken me aback somewhat. Having grown up seeing the guy's face on the family television set a few times a week, between "American Bandstand" and whichever of the "Pyramid" game show incarnations was currently aired, as well as his annual "New Year's Rockin' Eve" to usher in the new year, Clark's death represented another part of my young life relegated to the history books.
My generation thrived on Bandstand. It was our Saturday staple, a great way to cap off a morning of cartoon watching. While kids may have watched different shows among the three or four offered at any given time, most of their dials abruptly turned to ABC at around noon to catch Bandstand.
BFF and I spent many a Saturday either together or separately in our own homes watching Bandstand. If we weren't together, one typically called the other and we spent a half hour discussing the hour-long show. We'd discuss the musical guests of the day, getting all dreamy-eyed when it was someone like the Bay City Rollers, Peter Frampton or Rick Springfield. Admittedly, there were some acts we just didn't care for. Hey, not all the music from the '70s was good.
Watching all the supposedly teenagers (we suspected they were actually a little older) whoop it up on the dance floor sometimes prompted us to get up and attempt a few of their moves. Although we totally busted in our imitations, I'd never had so much fun failing at something.
The weeks-long dance contests that started in our high school years prompted us to become dance critics. We felt so powerful being able to dial a number to vote for one of the couples. Wow, our opinion might actually count. Boy did our heads swell when our couple won in the end. We had such good taste and really knew our dance stuff.
I found Rate-a-Record to be one of the most interesting, albeit confusing, segments of the show. Two random teens chosen from the audience ranked two records, portions of which were played, and ranked them. The scale was the confusing part, between 35 and 98. What kind of weird numbers are those? If it averaged out to, say, 60, did that mean they liked or disliked the song? And when Clark asked the raters for comments on the music, typical responses were something like, "it's got a good beat," "I like the tempo," and/or, "you can dance to it." These were said even if the records, few of which seemed to eventually become hits, were rated low. Hmm, could there have been a little pre-coaching going on here?
So what would teens of my generation, and my older brothers' and others, have done without Bandstand? Sure, we had our radios to listen to the hits, but Clark brought all these performers to our homes so we could actually see them perform their hits (who cares that they were lip syncing and the shows were not live). He often talked to them after so we could actually hear what they had to say. We knew that if a song was on his show, it would be a hit.
Kids of today have a number of music shows to choose from, but Bandstand was pretty much it for us. MTV and music videos more or less killed Bandstand and the variety show format by the late 1980s, but it lives on in many a boomers' heart and Dick Clark is the reason for this. His smooth, no-nonsense, yet friendly delivery endeared him to teens because they saw him as someone they could relate to. How he managed to keep his boyish looks for so long is a mystery, but this certainly couldn't hurt in his dealings with adolescents.
Like Bandstand, New Year's Rockin' Eve became a staple for my generation to usher in the New Year. Every year, top rock and pop artists of the day perform on the show. What an exciting way to celebrate a fresh beginning! It sure beat watching Guy Lombardo and his champaign music.
It's not like I idolized the guy or anything like that, but I did respect him. Clark was a genius as far as knowing what TV viewers wanted and produced it for them, making a fortune in the process. His communication skills were also superior, making him one of the best, if not the pinnacle, of announcers/interviewers from the late '50s into the '90s.
Clark's legacy echoes throughout television and radio, where he started, with such followers as Ryan Seacrest and countless shows made by Dick Clark Productions. Few people on this planet over the age of 16 have never heard of him. He was a pioneer in his field and paved the way for other music-oriented/variety series, game shows and programs featuring entertaining clips of people doing something funny.
Wherever he is now, he's no doubt doing something to entertain his cronies. It's in his blood.