Since taking over the family publishing business when his father, Moe Annenberg, went to prison for tax evasion, Walter had expanded into the broadcast industry. It was with some irony that Walter bought WFIL radio from Albert M. Greenfield in 1945. It was Greenfield who bankrolled the Philadelphia Record's bitter newspaper war with Moe Annenberg's Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1930s and used WFIL's airwaves to attack Annenberg.
Walter wasn't content with radio, though. He plunged into television full force in the mid-1940s, snagging the 13th television license in the U.S. and immediately beginning construction of the first building in America to be used specifically for television. Furthermore, the new building was right next door to the Philadelphia Arena, giving the station convenient access to the area's major indoor sporing events.
By the time the station hit the air on Sept. 13, 1947, plans were already being made to move both the Republican and Democratic party national political conventions of 1948 to Philadelphia tp take advantage of the extraordinary broadcast potential.
WFIL radio and television general manager Roger Clip had done a superb job of filling programming slots with innovative local shows that catered to Philadelphia's diverse and growing television fan base. An exception, however, was late weekday afternoons where a steady diet of old British films was replaced by programming built around video music films. Despite the changes, advertisers were fleeing to other stations.
A perturbed Annenberg told Clipp something had to be done. How about a televised version of that 950 Club show over at WPEN radio? That seemed to be pulling in crowds.
Indeed, the 950 Club hosted by Joe Grady and Ed Hurst had been the top-rated show in Philadelphia almost from its debut in 1946. Teens who showed up for the show created such a nuisance in the office building where the show began that WPEN owners - Sun Ray Drugs - sprung for a new auditorium-type studio to accommodate the teens. A crowd estimated at 3,500 once jammed the studio to try to catch a glimpse of singer Johnnie Ray. WPEN even allowed Grady & Hurst to take their show to television station WPTZ in 1950 as a means of promoting the radio show.
Clipp set up a meeting with Grady and Hurst where he told them he wanted to start the show in two weeks and to let him soon know their salary requirements. The 26-year-old Hurst was elated at the chance to break into television but the older Grady had a more somber asssesment.
"You don't think 'PEN's gonna let us out of our contract, do you?" he asked of his young sidekick.
The answer was an emphatic no.
When WPEN station manager Bill Silk got wind of the proposal, he gave Annenberg an angry call, threatening to pull $1 million dollars of Sun Ray Drug billings from the Inquirer and give them to the Record.
Grady and Hurst received a telephone call from Clipp the next morning.
"We find that this is not the propitious time to bring you boys over here," Clipp said. "We'll have to start our own."
Clipp and station manager considered their options. There were many young staffers who were in the running, but in the end they settled on a more senior staff announcer, Bob Horn, to host the new show, Bandstand.
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.