Richard ‘Dick’ Wagstaff Clark was born on November 30, 1929 in Mount Vernon, New York. He was the second son, and last child, of Richard and Julia Clark. Dick new from a very early age that he wanted to pursue a career in radio. The fact that his father was a sales manager for radio stations and his uncle owned a radio station, no doubt, played a significant role in Dick’s decision.
While in high school, Dick suffered a tragic loss. His older brother, Bradley, was killed in action during World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. It was in high school that Dick took the first step in pursuing his dream of working in radio when, at 16, he got a job in the mail room of his uncle’s radio station. The small station, WRUN, was located in Utica, New York. Soon, he was reporting news and the weather.
After graduating high school, he enrolled in Syracuse University. There he earned a degree in advertising with a minor in radio. During college, he worked as a disc jockey at the student radio station before working in radio and television in Syracuse. In 1952, Clark moved to WFIL radio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In that same year, WFIL’s television affiliate began a show called Bob Horn’s Bandstand.
Clark hosted a companion show on the radio side of the business, occasionally filling in on the television show when Horn was on vacation. Within four years, Clark became the full-time host of the show, which featured teens dancing to the day’s popular music. Clark had been hosting the show for just a year when the program was picked up by ABC television for broadcast on a national basis. ABC renamed the show American Bandstand, a decision greatly influenced by initiatives led by Clark.
American Bandstand quickly became a major influence in popular music and Clark was the major reason. He realized that the music featured had to be relevant to the teen market and that meant playing rock and roll and R&B. Clark also realized that adults considered the new rock genre to be a bad influence – even evil. Clark established a dress code for the show – boys in coat and tie; girls in skirts or dresses. Creating a ‘wholesome’ persona for the show made it acceptable to parents. For his part, Clark’s personality and style connected with the teens. The result was that American Bandstand introduced rock and R&B to much of the U.S., both young and old.
American Bandstand was also the first racially integrated live television program – showing whites and blacks dancing on the same floor and sitting together in the audience. Needless to say, there was a good bit of controversy as a result. Once again, it was Clark’s influence with the viewing public which helped to diffuse much of the tensions.
Clark’s career exploded. He branched out into game shows, notably The $25,000 Pyramid. Clark became the host of Bloopers & Practical Jokes. In 1972, he became the host of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. While Clark is widely known for his on-air success, he was equally successful in the business side of entertainment. producing most of the shows he hosted, including his New Year’s special.
It’s rare to be a major celebrity on camera. It’s equally rare to be a highly successful ‘behind the scenes’ executive. It’s almost unheard of for a person to be outstanding in both disciplines. Dick Clark was one such exception. Why? He embraced his early passion, understood his purpose (influencing society through entertainment) and being persistent in the pursuit of his goals. In other words, Dick Clark built himself to be a fearless personal brand.
Fearless Brands create their legacy
Dick Clark is an American icon. He had a major impact on the music generations mainly through his role with American Bandstand and The Dick Clark Show. His influence wasn’t limited to music, extending to entertainment in general. Clark’s impact but to virtually all aspects of American society. The shows he hosted and produced provided much desired entertainment and they helped to create a sense of togetherness. People talked about the latest blooper clip, or game show winner – people discussed their love of music – new songs and popular musicians.
Perhaps the Dick Clark production which has had the greatest impact on society, is Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. It’s aired for forty-five years now, evolving from pre-recorded performances to featuring major live acts along with appearances by multiple celebrities. Clark’s show made it acceptable to stay home on New Year’s Eve. People did so knowing that they were part of the millions doing so. Much of the country – and the world for that matter – shares a common passage to the new year.
Even though Dick Clark suffered a major stroke in 2004, he made an appearance on the New Year’s Eve special each year until his death in 2012. His association with the show is so strong that it maintains his name in the title. Today, it’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.
That’s a legacy. That’s a fearless brand. What should we learn from Dick Clark?
Passion, Purpose, Persistence – Three characteristics are common to all fearless brands. They are able to identify and embrace their passion. Dick Clark was fortunate to do so at a very young age. Embracing one’s passion will always lead to discovering one’s purpose. Clark’s purpose was to introduce the public to new and popular music. Persistence? Clark began pursuing his goals at about age 12 and didn’t stop until he died at the age of 82. Each of us needs to combine passion, purpose, and persistence if we are to achieve true success.
Don’t limit yourself – Dick Clark could have been enormously successful as an on-camera talent. He could have been equally successful behind the scenes as a producer. He chose to pursue both avenues because doing so greatly increased the likelihood that he would achieve – and exceed – his goals. We have the same opportunity to tap into all of our potential – we shouldn’t limit ourselves.
Focus on others’ – Clark had a very clear vision of his ambitions. He also knew that to achieve his goals, he had to keep his focus on what the public wanted, what they didn’t want, and how to reconcile any issues. Having the teen dancers dress the way their parents wished, was a brilliantly calculated move to meet everyone’s needs. His positive talk about Bandstand’s integration was the result of Clark understanding public perceptions and concerns. Focusing on the needs of those we would serve guarantees that we’ll add value and find success. (see The Go-Giver)
Today, every major television network, and some not so major, produce and air New Year’s Eve specials. Even with his death, however, New Year’s Eve isn’t New Year’s Eve without Dick Clark. We’ll not achieve the reach and impact of a Dick Clark, but we can certainly create our own legacy through passion, purpose and persistence. Like Dick Clark, we can build a fearless brand.