Monday, June 25, 2012

Don Richards and Dick Clark

I thought you'd like to see this article that appeared in the Warren Couinty Report in early May of this year, right after the death of the legendary Dick Clark  -Lee

“I think we were both proud of the opportunity to be there on the radio, remember television was
just starting as of 1947-48, and it wetted our appetite for broadcasting.” – Don Richards on his
and fellow 1951 Syracuse graduate Dick Clark’s work on SU’s campus radio station

Richards recalls his and Dick Clark’s early days
Broadcasting legend brought youth culture, integration into American homes

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

The April 18 passing of Dick Clark
recalled not only an exceptionally
long broadcasting career, but much
Clark’s 1954 move from a broadcasting
novice’s spot as a commercial
“station break” announcer for a local
Philadelphia radio/TV ABC affiliate
into an emergency replacement
spot as host of a local afternoon teen
dance show was more than a fortuitous
professional moment.
Months after the 24-year-old Syracuse
University graduate solidified
his position as host of a show catering
to local kids not all that much

Don Richards displays note from Dick Clark dated July 19,
2011, explaining Clark ’s problems traveling to their Syracuse
University Class of 1951 reunion.

younger than himself he had two
ideas in rapid succession. They were
ideas that both reflected the times
and times that were on a horizon –
the 1960’s explosion of youth culture
and the racial integration of not only
that culture, but American society as
a whole as the 1950s moved toward
the tumultuous 1960s.
On April 19, the day after the 82-
year-old Clark succumbed to a massive
heart attack following a medical
procedure, and eight years after
suffering a serious stroke, Warren
County resident Don Richards shared
some personal memories of his and

Dick Clark, left, and Don Richard’s 1951 SU Yearbook photos 
Clark’s breaks into broadcasting following
their 1951 graduation from
Richards and Clark met as undergraduates
working for the campus

radio station.
“I think we were both proud of the
opportunity to be there on the radio,
remember television was just starting
as of 1947-48, and it wetted our
appetite for broadcasting,” Richards

Upon graduation both got their first
Richards at College Staton
jobs in Utica, New York; Richards as
an announcer/disc jockey for a CBS
affiliate radio station, WIBX; Clark as
an announcer with a new, local TV
station, WKTV.
“After we’d both signed off for the
day, we’d get together for pizza and
few beers and discuss the world and
how things were going,” Richards
fondly recalled (comforting how
some things stay the same).
By the end of the following year,
1952, both had moved on to larger
market jobs that would shape their
professional careers.
“One day early that year he told me
had gotten an offer from WFIL in
Philadelphia, an ABC radio-TV affiliate.
That December I got a job with
WTOP in D.C., the CBS radio-TV affiliate,
which worked out pretty well
for me when I eventually replaced
Walter Cronkite in the D.C. market
when he moved on to the national
news with CBS,” Richards says of the
first big breaks for the young Syracuse
broadcasting alumni.
So the young broadcasters with
parallel career tracks from Syracuse
campus radio to Utica, New York local
markets found themselves in bigger
markets not far from each other
in the east coast corridor.
“He invited me up and I visited Dick
and his first wife, Mary, in Philadelphia.
He was just a staff announcer
at the time doing station breaks. But
a short time later both the host and
producer of the station’s Monday to
Friday, afternoon dance show got
into trouble for getting to know some
of the girls on the show, who were
high school kids, a little too well.
Well, they eventually got arrested
and the station management came to
Dick and said, ‘Look, we’re in a bind,
can you help us out and take over the
host spot while we look for a replacement?’
Of course he said yes – and
he did very well. He related to the
kids, heck, he was 24, 25 at the time
– and he pinned down the spot as the
show’s host.”
Within about a year, Richards said
Clark has the first of the two ideas
that would shape his and, to a certain
extent, America’s television futures.
“It was his idea to approach the
network about picking up the show.
Remember, there were only three
television networks then. And ABC
gave the show, it was just called
‘Bandstand’ then, I think, a sevenweek
shot. Within four weeks it was
the highest rated afternoon show in
the U.S.”
Richards explained that Clark and
“Bandstand” eventually moved from
Philadelphia to New York after parent
network ABC decided to give
the idea of a teen, after-school dance
party a late-afternoon ride across
“I think management at WFIL was
happy for his success. As an ABC affiliate
of course they could pick the
show up but it was no longer really
local for them,” Richards said. “And
eventually he and the show ended up
in Hollywood.”
Within a year of that move from
Philadelphia into the national consciousness,
before the end of 1955,
Clark’s second idea for what was
now “American Bandstand” was
“I think it bothered him that there
were no black kids allowed on the
show and he approached ABC about
integrating,” Richards said.
It was no small proposal in 1955.
But perhaps amazingly, with the
social movement for racial equality
and civil rights in its infancy and Jim
Crow laws of separate and unequal in
force throughout much of the nation,
one of the three national television
network’s managements said yes.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Of course it is a history still being
written and wrestled with 57 years
later as the conse-quences of deeply-
institutionalized racism within
America’s social and political landscapes
continue to make headlines
all too frequently.
But in 1955, a vision of a more inclusive
and united social path forward
was brought into living rooms
nationwide to the beat of rock & roll,
under the stewardship of a TV dance
show host and the American Broadcasting
Network. So despite any later
alleged flaws in how that vision was
executed, old video shows American
Bandstand’s integration as a part of
our social and cultural history.
And it was with memories of those
times in mind that Don Richards approached
news of the 60th reunion of
Syracuse’s graduating class of 1951,
last July. He reached out by letter to
his old friend and campus broadcasting
buddy about attending. Citing
being wheelchair bound as a consequence
of his 2004 stroke, Clark
declined. However, Clark fondly remembered
the times at Syracuse and
in Utica as he and Richards made
their made their way toward their
Replying to Richards’ inquiry about
whether he could make the reunion,
Clark wrote on July 19, 2011, “How
well I remember those post Syracuse
days in Utica! I can still remember
eating leftover frozen pizza (I’d leave
some in the glove compartment
overnight at times.) Many moons
have passed since those days in Utica
and Philadelphia.
“I had a stroke 6 years ago which has
confined me to a wheelchair these
days and makes travel a bit challenging.
For that reason I won’t be attending
the 60th anniversary from SU. I’m
sure I would enjoy it if I was in better
physical condition.
“Thanks again for you note and
good memories.”
At the reunion, Richards didn’t forget
his old broadcasting buddy.
“I decided to dedicate my reunion
trip to Dick, who is certainly one of,
if not the Class of ’51’s most famous
He requested a “reunion packet”
for his absent friend, who as one of
the university’s most famous graduates,
was gladly accommodated by
reunion organizers. Richards mailed
a box with the packet, including an
ID badge with Clark’s 1951 yearbook
photo, other Syracuse paraphernalia,
and photos of the campus radio
station and DKE frat house, where
Clark was member and later a financial
supporter, as he also was of the
After receiving his reunion “care
package” from Richards, Clark wrote
on Sept. 11, last year, “I can’t tell you,
Don, how much I appreciate your
letter and all the reunion gifts. Thank
you so much for your thoughtfulness
… I’ve really enjoyed the photographs
of the Carrier Dome, the shots of
WAER with the copy of the weekly
program guide, and also the photos
of the guys at the DKE house, complete
with the members’ signatures

… Boy, what memories … All in all,
I vicariously enjoyed the trip back for
our 60th reunion through your eyes.
I can’t believe you went to all the
trouble you did. I most appreciate all
your efforts. Thanks, once again, for
your kindness.”
And so ended a final trip down
memory lane for two Syracuse alumni,
both of whom made their respective
marks in broadcast journalism as
the era of television was just beginning
to usurp radio as the standard
of mass communications at the mid point of the 20th
century.  -RB

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