Once the show went national, long lines of eager teenage dancers formed outside the studio doors before showtime -- boys on one side, girls on the other. Although care was taken to admit roughly the same number from either gender, it was not unusual to see girls dancing with girls, especially in the early years.
While certified "regulars" had no trouble getting into the WFIL studio, the odds were stacked against anyone who just showed up. The show's producers recognized this potential problem early and held out at least a few spots for out-of-towners who had written ahead to reserve space on the show. Tony Mammarella, who produced the show for the first two years of its national run, said he had enough requests for the coveted spots to fill 20 school buses each day.
One American Bandstand visitor from 1962 later wrote about his special day trip to Philadelphia.
Tony Gabriele was a high schooler in Perth Amboy, N.J., when he and three fellow students won a trip to Bandstand as a reward for winning "some academic prize or another," Gabriele wrote in his role as a columnist for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press in August 1997 after noting the 40th anniversary of American Bandstand's debut as a network show.
A condition of the trip was that the students be accompanied by a faculty member. "Since this was a Catholic high school," Gabriele wrote, "it was Sister Mary Someone-or-another. ... Sister Mary was, naturally, in her full-dress nun uniform ... and I was, naturally, in a white shirt, tie and my best Robert Hall tweed jacket and itchy wool dress trousers."
Gabriele wrote of his fondness for the music of the day and the thrill of being just 20 feet from that day's guest, Dion, as he lip-synced to Lovers Who Wander.
"I would like to report that I danced up a storm on the show, but it was hard to find space on the dance floor because of the Regulars," Gabriele wrote, adding, "The Regulars didn't exactly prevent the rest of us from getting to the center of the dance floor; it's just that if you got too close you risked being overcome by hair-spray fumes."
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.