The common thread is Walter Annenberg, president of Triangle Publications and Triangle Broadcasting. Annenberg, like his father, Moses, found that businesses ran smoother when they were unfettered by rules and competition.
Moses Annenberg earned a reputation as being a ruthless competitor when he ran his own newspaper circulation business before going to work as circulation director for William Randolph Hearst’s publications. The elder Annenberg also controlled a national wire service for bookies that was the phone company’s fifth-largest customer. He later bought the Racing Form.
In 1936, Moses Annenberg bought the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper for $15 million. While he was fond of using the newspaper to attack political foes, it was tax evasion that landed Moses in prison. After three years, he was released in 1942, only to die 39 days later of a brain tumor.
Leadership of the Annenberg empire fell to Walter, Mose's only son of eight children. Walter founded Seventeen magazine in 1944 and bought WFIL radio from the Lit brothers one year later.
When Annenberg decided to enter the then-uncharted world of commercial television in 1947, he took a calculated gamble - constructing the first studio in the nation designed specifically for television. Hedging his bet a bit, he decided to have the studio built adjacent to another Annenberg property, The Arena, giving the station ready access to the city's biggest sports and entertainment events.
When WFIL-TV hit the air, it was dead last in a three-station market. It was this languishing in the ratings that prompted Annenberg to "suggest" to WFIL general manager Roger Clipp that they give an afternoon teen dance show a try.
Bandstand got off to a fast start after its October 1952 launch, but Annenberg had already moved on to another target - a national publication of television listings. There were three major guides in November 1952 -Chicago's Television Forecast, Philadelphia's TV Digest (originally Local Televiser), and New York's Television Guide.
Annenberg bought up the competition and in less than four months launched his national TV Guide from his Philadelohia base. The first edition was dated April 3, 1953, and featured Lucille Ball on the cover, with her young son, Desi Arnaz Jr.
Within a year of its launch, TV Guide had already named Bandstand the best music program in Philadelphia. Bandstand went on, of course, to be one of the most successful programs in TV history. Annenberg didn't do so bad, either. At one point, TV Guide accounted for 20 percent of all magazine sales, earning Annenberg a cool $1 million each week.
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.