Thursday, November 1, 2012

Pittsburgh TV Dance Parties

Terry Lee's "Come Alive" from TL Sound Company

Back in the early days of TV, local channels used to churn out their own programming to supplement the shows that the networks provided. And one of easier, low-budget productions was a live teen dance party.

It was a great way to draw the kids from their transistors and car radios to the new medium for an hour, combining records with free live acts promoting tour and club dates. What high-schooler of the late fifties-to-mid sixties wasn't on a show, or at least tuned in to catch one of his buds going all herky-jerky to the latest dance craze on TV with his babe?

As far as we can trace, the first live TV dance show to reach the Pittsburgh market was from Steubenville, Ohio, when WSTV (now WTOV) aired "Nine Teen Time" with hosts Stan Scott, George Wilson and Del Curtis. The show was first broadcast in 1955 in glorious black and white, and lasted until the late sixties. Some local acts that played there that you may recall were soul man Johnny Daye, Canonsburg's Donnybrooks, and the Stereos, a Steubenville group with a big following in the 'Burg.

A couple of years later in 1957, the 800 pound gorilla, Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," roared out of the City of Brotherly Love, lasting into the late eighties. It started in Philly as a local show in 1956 after Clark had expanded his play list to include "race records" - R&B - inspired by Pittsburgh's top-rated WCAE DJ Jay Michael, who in fact hosted a Bandstand show in the summer of 1959 when Clark was on vacation.

Jay Bird began his TV career in late 1954 as a rotating host of Thrift Drug Store's "Lullabye In Rhythm" on station WDTV (the forerunner of KDKA-TV), along with WJAS' Barry Kaye, WWSW's Art Pallin, and maybe KQV's Joe Deane (we can't confirm him). The show was on Thursdays at 11:45 PM, and starred  pop recording artists who were appearing in Pittsburgh area clubs.

Michael started his own show, the "Jay Michael Bandstand," in 1958 on WCAE-TV (now WTAE) and it ran throughout 1959. It aired from 3-to-5 PM every Saturday. Ricky Wertz, locally known as the hostess of the sixties Ricki and Copper show, began as Jay's on-air assistant on Bandstand. Del Taylor took over the hosting duties in 1960 when Michael left Pittsburgh for San Diego.

Among the performers Jay highlighted over the years were Fats Domino, Bobby Rydell, Sam Cooke, Brenda Lee, Johnny Preston, Desi Arnaz, Eddie Fisher, Andy Williams, Eydie Gorme, Debbie Reynolds, Jeff Hunter, Jerry Vale, Dorothy Collins, the Platters, Vaughn Monroe, Julius La Rosa, Tab Hunter, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, the Ames Brothers, Sophia Loren, Connie Francis and locals like Johnny Jack, the Skyliners, the Orlandos and Tomme Charles.

Another early TV dance show was the "6 O'Clock Hop"/"Daily Dance Party" that aired M-F on Channel 11, then WIIC, and had Chilly Billy Cardille as host. That Dance Party likely began sometime in 1957. Bobby Rydell and Connie Francis were among the acts that appeared on Cardille's card. Unfortunately, we can't dig out much on the program; it seems Cardille's incredibly diverse career is forever defined by "Studio Wrestling" and "Chiller Theater" to the exclusion of everything else he did - and the radio/TV pioneer did a lot.

The dance show that everyone remembers was Clark Race's KDKA "Dance Party." He took over the reins in 1963 from KD's Randy Hall, the original host, and the show went on until 1967. It aired on Saturday afternoons from 2:30 to 4:00 PM. "Back in those days, he was the biggest thing in town. He was the Dick Clark of Pittsburgh," Dance Party's director Victor Vrabel told the Post Gazette's Adrian McCoy.

The show opened with Race's familiar "String of Trumpets" radio theme by Billy Mure. Then local teens got down to the Twist, the Shimmy, the Mashed Potato, the Monkey, the Limbo, the Swim, the Boogaloo, the Frug, the Watusi, the Hitch-Hike...any sixties move that was hot was busted on "Dance Party." The program was held in what is now KDKA's evening news set (usually live, sometimes taped), fitting enough as the show was headline teenage news.

Among the acts that Race hosted were the Supremes, Buddy Holly, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Turtles, the Beach Boys, the Four Tops, the Hollies, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Tommy James and the Shondells, the Strangegloves and Neil Sedaka. Some local artists that appeared were Lou Christie & the Tammys, Bobby Vinton, the Vogues, the Donnybrooks, Buddy Sharpe & the Shakers and Johnny Daye.

Its successor on the Pittsburgh airwaves was "Come Alive" on WIIC (now WPXI), a show that began in 1966. Taped Fridays in the Channel 11 studios (the show aired Saturdays from 12:30-2 PM), it sometimes presented a timing conflict for original host Chuck Brinkman of KQV, who had a Friday night radio gig.

He thought he solved that problem the following year, when he switched to a Saturday afternoon radio slot, but instead ran into deeper doo-doo: His KQV show was sponsored by Coca-Cola, and "Come Alive" was backed by Pepsi Cola. *Awkward* So WMCK's Terry Lee became the host in 1967 until the show ended in 1970.

Whether Chuck Brinkman or TL hosted, the show drew some big acts: the Four Seasons, Moby Grape, Junior Walker, Tommy James & the Shondells, Gene Pitney, Paul Revere & Raiders, the Blues Magoos, the Association, the Animals, Iron Butterfly, the Turtles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the American Breed, Blue Cheer, Deep Purple, Shadows of Knight, the Monkees, the Temptations, the Human Beinz, ? and the Mysterians, the Easybeats, Canned Heat, Archie Bell & the Drells, the Four Tops, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Edwin Starr, Herman's Hermits, the Fenways, Racket Squad and the Electrons.

Lee returned to the tube on WPGH in 1976, when he hosted the “Terry Lee Show.” The program ran for two years on Channel 53 and then moved to KDKA where it aired until 1980. TL helped the action along, putting his featured TL dancers on a platform to get the dance floor hopping. Lee still has clips and slides of his TV show that he incorporates into his hop appearances to this day, and may be the only DJ with video existing of his show. Most of the tape reels of the various shows were erased and reused rather than archived.

He brought in acts like the Rolling Stones, Shazam, David Bowie, Boz Scaggs, Kool and the Gang, ConFunkShun, the Grateful Dead, the Rhythm Kings, and Sweet Breeze, playing between a heavy dose of dance tracks.

That was the last hurrah for Pittsburgh dance shows; local programming, once a cut-rate proposition, was now a drag on the bottom line. The music industry changed too, as national shows like Bandstand, Hullabaloo, Shindig and Soul Train all went off the air as dances were no longer the end-all of the biz.

But there was an era when the point of music was to make you grab a partner and move your feet. Pittsburgh teens from the late fifties through the sixties did just that, and made some memories on live TV that still linger.

(Old Mon would like to recognize reader Craig for suggesting the topic, along with Ed Salamon and his book "Pittsburgh's Golden Age of Radio" and Paul Carosi's web site "Pittsburgh Music History" for providing us with some background stuff we'd otherwise have never found.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

My mom & dad danced on Six O' Clock Hop!

Steve in SC said...

Was on Come Alive in early 1967 and think Chuck Brinkman was the host. Really cool and great history. Also remember TL doing Music for Young Lovers, club shows, etc. T'were the days!!!

Steve in SC said...

Was on Come Alive in early 1967 and think Chuck Brinkman was the host. Really cool and great history. Also remember TL doing Music for Young Lovers, club shows, etc. T'were the days!!!