Bob Horn didn't know what to expect when he hosted the first Bandstand show on WFIL-TV in Philadelphia in the fall of 1952.
He and co-host Lee Stewart had done all they could do to prepare for the teen-oriented program. The backdrop to Horn's lectern was designed to look like the inside of a record store. Another curtain featured pennants of the area's high schools and the dance floor was flanked on one side by pull-out pine bleachers like those found in most area gymnasiums.
But on that first program, teens just trickled into the studio that Horn and Stewart had hoped would be filled with dancing kids. Most of them were girls. That trickle soon became a torrent.
“By the end of the third day we were trying to find a way to get 1,000 kids into a studio that could only hold 250,” producer Tony Mammarella later recalled.
Mammarella, Stewart and Horn found a way to keep most of the kids happy - they divided them into three groups that rotated in and out of the studio every 30 minutes. Furthermore, they created a committee of 12 teens to help maintain order and monitor clothing. Dungarees, pedal pushers and open dress shirts were on the committee's hit list.
When the show was expanded by 15 minutes just 10 weeks after its premiere, Horn estimated that his staff had provided 5,000 area teens with membership cards that allowed them into the studio twice a week.
Bandstand helped launch a national dance craze in the spring of 1953 when Horn plugged Ray Anthony's recording of The Bunny Hop. The show's growing popularity came at a time when not every Philadelphia family had a television receiver in their home. Consequently, many teens watched the show from other locations, such as firehouses, where they could dance along with the kids in the studio.
Bandstand had expanded yet again - to a full two hours a day, from 2:45 to 4:45 each afternoon - and membership cards had been extended to 10,000 teens when Horn hosted the first of his popular Bandstand picnics in the summer of 1953 at Philadelphia's Woodside Park. Some 12,000 people showed up for the picnic, which raised money for the Philadelphia Children's Heart Hospital.
By its first birthday, Bandstand had a full 135 minutes of daily airtime on WFIL-TV, from 2:45 p.m. until 5 p.m. Horn told columnist Harry Harris of the Philadelphia Bulletin that the show's popularity extended to his committee of teens, pointing out that "some of them have fan clubs of their own.
"The only trouble is that sometimes 'stardom' goes to their heads and they begin to think the show can't go on without 'em, Then we have to clamp down by taking away their membership cards for a while."
Do you have any stories about Bandstand, Dick Clark or growing up in the Philadelphia area during the show's run at WFIL-TV? Please share them in the comments section or e-mail them to me.