A reporter remembers the day when the rockin’ stopped
Growing up in Western New York, back in the days when our entertainment came from Saturday matinees at the movies and action shows on the radio, none of us had even heard of a guy named Dick Clark.
For, although Clark was beginning to make a name for himself as a glib, smooth-talking announcer just a couple of hours away in the town of Rome, we had our own local radio heroes whom we fervently wanted to follow into the radio biz.
Sometime in my 16th year, dad brought home a clever little device that a customer at his Firestone Store had traded in for a tire. The device was a 78 rpm record player, with a major difference. Any record you played could be heard on a nearby radio set, without a wire connection. It was, in effect, a very low-power radio transmitter.
I discovered that, by adding about a hundred feet of wire to the device’s antenna and tossing it on top of the garage, I could strengthen the signal so my “radio program” could be heard around the neighborhood.
I soon lost interest in the project, before I could add a microphone to make it a real radio station – which is just as well, since I had already violated one federal communications law. My mother did not raise her only child to do hard time at the Little Valley Penal Institution over in the next county for cheating the law.
So I applied myself to my studies and got my real and legal introduction to radio three years later. By then, Dick Clark had become a household name, an object of admiration and envy from local station jocks such as myself.
Parents at the time took a highly suspicious view of teenagers of any stripe. Adults were convinced that young folks, with their vociferous rock music and sloppy attire, were undermining American culture. To them, smooth-faced, carefully coiffed and immaculately turned-out Dick Clark brought peace to the generational culture wars of the 1950s and 1960s.
Aside from his obvious talent, there was a curious and troubling thing about the guy: he didn’t seem to age. Over the years, people began to call him “the world’s oldest teenager.”
Like Dorian Gray, did Dick Clark have an aging portrait of himself hidden in the attic? Or was it something as mundane as an unconscious imitation of all the kids he hung around with on his nationally-broadcast “American Bandstand”?
Since he represented everything youthful, it came as something of a shock to learn of his death last week. It was equally shocking to realize that the world’s oldest teenager was 82 at the time of his passing.
Almost until the time of his death, Dick produced and hosted an avidly watched year-end show, “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” His boyish, clean-cut image graced the small screen for more than half a century.
My contemporaries and I are nearly old enough to share our longevity with the Amazing Mr. Clark, but only in age. In energy and stamina, he outperformed nearly everyone. Not only would producing that new year’s show of his wear most of us out, but who among us seniors is even awake at midnight, unless it’s to visit the loo?
A couple of months ago, my lady barber asked how my family celebrated the New Year.
“Quietly,” said I. “We haven’t partied on New Year’s since Guy Lombardo died.”
“Guy who?” she asked.
Until that moment, I had felt well enough to contemplate hitting the gym or doing a brisk stroll on the boardwalk. Now, I’m having a conversation with a young lady barber who is asking me who Guy Lombardo was!
A friend, also a senior, told me about a discussion he had had with a young man who mentioned World War II, except he kept calling it “World War Eleven,” failing to understand that those are roman numerals for “2” following “world war,” not Arabic numbers for “11.”
Stories like that tend to depress me. They indicate how irrelevant the things that mattered so deeply to our generation are unknown or uncared about by the youth of today.
Ruth Gordon, the multi-talented actress who lived and worked well into her 90s, famously asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”
Thinking of “World War Eleven” and a once-famous bandleader from the misty past, I’d have to answer, “Too old, Ruthie. Much too old.”
Dick Rossé is a 36-year veteran of Mutual and NBC News and is currently a member of the Delaware Speakers’ Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.