Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Philadelphia Kid

Dick Clark (©

As a child growing up in the Sixties, I was very much aware of the music coming over the local radio stations. New Orleans was a major breakout center for singles in the nation as was Baltimore at that time. But when it came to a national center for breaking out new artists, there was only one city that was mentioned with reverential tones that bordered on a rock and roll religion. That city was Philadelphia and if there was a prince of broadcasting there, it was Dick Clark. Clark, with his lean, good looks and easy demeanor was a natural for the camera lens and was beloved of most every boy and girl who turned on his "American Bandstand."

Through the years his fuzzy black and white image became sharper and more focused as color broadcasting was the norm. And the music changed with the times. The Doo Wop sound of the American streets became the mop top harmonies of the British invasion, eventually giving way to the psychedelic era of the Woodstock generation, the anti-war protests of the Vietnam War era and the me first generation of the Eighties. Through it all was Dick Clark, a man who changed with the times and changed the times through his constant search for new, pertinent music performers and styles. He made no distinction about race or ethnicity. If there was talent to be found and a worthy sound to be heard, he brokered those deals and received the gratitude of younger generations, who looked upon him as one of their own.

Eventually, his many productions became instrumental for a host of different TV and radio programming, his American Music Awards, Golden Globes and Rockin' New Year's Eve broadcasts ushering in year after year. Even after a debilitating stroke in 2004, Clark showed his capacity to be resilient and viable for millennial audiences. I remember working in college radio where Dick Clark Productions (DCP) provided weekly programs available on transcription discs. The programming was free of charge as long as embedded commercials - most of whom were from the U.S. Army - were broadcast. It was a stroke of genius. Most college radio stations were not looking for recruitment ads, but they were hungry for good, solid programming. DCP filled that bill and the only requirement was that the shows be aired during prime time.

It is incredible to think that the man who helped introduce America to Bill Haley and the Comets, Roy Orbison, Dion and the Belmonts, Chubby Checker, the Supremes, the Temptations, and the Jackson Five was the same man who gave Madonna and Aerosmith some of their early breaks. In the end it was, as Clark himself admitted, all about the music. While dance shows have gone the way of the 78 rpm disc and the record industry has undergone a paradigm shift, there is still an abundance of music to be had, much of it still waiting for a visionary like Dick Clark to introduce it to contemporary audiences. Yet, there is a sadness, an acknowledgment by most in the know, that there will never be another icon like Clark. The music business is so fractured and the popularity of music sharing and downloading services and websites so different from the way it was in the past that much of the only way musicians and singers can make money these days and achieve fame is through touring and merchandising. Back in the heyday of the record business, hundreds of performers made millions of dollars. Today the sad news is that millions of performers are making hundreds of dollars. Even a tireless producer like Dick Clark would not be up to the challenge of today's music scene. Rest in peace, Dick. Your legacy will live on as those whom you touched remember you as the broadcasting pioneer and music legend you were.

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