University City Historical Society

WFIL Studio & WHYY Studio

4548 Market Street

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places July 28, 1986

The WFIL Studio, constructed in 1947–48 with a major addition in 1952 is notable as one of the first buildings in the United States designed specifically for television broadcasting and as the site of the early years of American Bandstand, a major force in the development and dispersal of rock and roll music and television's longest running musical variety program. The original structure, be gun in 1947 and completed in 1948, was a model for television station design in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the early years of the medium. To consolidate their television and radio operations in one location, WFIL expanded the original building with a major addition in 1952, the year that a local record and dance program called Bandstand began televising from the station's newly completed studio B. The local popularity of the program was so great that in 1957, the year after Dick Clark became the host, the program joined the national ABC network as American Bandstand. The show had an immediate, overwhelming and sustained impact on the future of rock and roll music, which was just beginning in the mid-1950s, and on the popular culture of the baby boom generation, millions of whom spent hours each weekday afternoon wat ching teenagers dance on the small screen. Although less than 50 years old, the building can be judged exceptionally significant in the history of communications because it is one of only a f ew early television broadcast facilities that occupied a building newly designed specifically for that purpose; the extraordinary impact of American Bandstand on the development of popular music and on popular culture, especially during the program's years in Philadelphia, also confers an exceptional importance on the site for its association with the program's early and most influential years, 1952–1963.

The development of television as a mass commercial medium, delayed during World War II, began to move ahead rapidly in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In September 1947, when WFIL began broadcasting, the station was one of only a handful of stations operating in the United States. By 1948, the year the building at 4548 Market St. was completed, only 37 stations were on the air; but by 1949 the number had risen to 59, with over 300 license applications pending with the FCC. Although WCAU was the first operating station in Philadelphia, WFIL was the first in the city and very possibly the first nationally to occupy a building designed especially to house television broadcasting. The trade and architectural literature of the late 1940s and early 1950s cites the high cost of television equipment as the major reason for the paucity of new construction. Most stations chose to convert existing radio stations or renovate other existing space rather than spend money on new construction. WFIL, however, did both. Walter Annenberg and his company, Triangle Publications, were-building a media empire and owned the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, WFIL and the Philadelphia Arena, a professional sports stadium built in 1920 in West Philadelphia. The concept for the new television station was based heavily on sports broadcasting, and Annenberg constructed his new studio next to the source of a major element in the station's programming. He selected the prominent Philadelphia architectural firm of Savery, Scheetz and Gilmbur, successors to the firm of Addison Hutton, founded in 1870, to design a highly functional structure to accommodate then current and anticipated needs of the new medium. The building and the equipment were all state-of-the-art and were described as such in trade and professional literature of the period. The building was featured in Architectural Record's building types study on radio and television buildings published in June 1949; the article included the plan and photographs of interior technical and production areas, evidence of the building's architectural importance as an early, if not the earliest, example of a type. All other newly constructed stations in the article were built later than WFIL, and a survey of broadcast industry literature of the period did not identify any new stations built earlier than WFIL. The WFIL Studio was also used to illustrate the 1954 TV Stations: A Guide for Architects, Engineers and Management, a primer used to develop plans for many of the stations constructed during the mid-1950s and later. Indeed, many of the general considerations of site selection and even interior space planning are relevant to the design of stations today.

In 1952, an 11,300 sq. ft. addition was made to the 1947–48 building. This addition made it possible for WFIL to consolidate all broadcast activities in one location and the radio operations were moved to 4548 Market Street from their previous location in the Widener Building in Center City. Designed by Abraham Levy, a Philadelphia architect in active practice from 1920 through the 1960s, the addition, like the original building, exemplifies a highly functional design to accommodate the increased production activity at the station. The addition included the 3100 sq. ft. studio B, the largest of the three studios in the building and the site of the production of American Bandstand. In addition to being one of relatively few early television stations constructed specifically for the new medium, the building remains largely intact from this last building phase (1952) for WFIL at the 46th and Market St. location. The structure served as the station 's headquarters until 1963 when a new facility was constructed at City Line Avenue and the Market St. building was transferred to Philadelphia's public broadcasting station, which used the studio until 1980. WFIL television was sold to Capitol Cities in 1972, at which time the ABC network affiliate became WPVI.

On October 13, 1952, the same year that WFIL consolidated operations at 4548 Market St., Bob Horn, a popular local disk jockey began broadcasting a program from studio B called Bandstand, recognized as the first record and dance party program on television. The program combined recorded music, dancing teenagers, studio and viewer contests, celebrity guests and a simple set of bleachers and a podium. Dick Clark became the program's host in 1956 and, because of the show's immense local popularity, convinced ABC network executives to give it a trial nationally. On August 5, 1957 Bandstand became American Bandstand when it was broadcast live nationwide for the first time. The show was an immediate success with an initial viewing audience of 20 million and weekly fan mail in excess of 15,000 letters. Within one year these figures had doubled and Dick Clark had a Saturday night rock and roll show in addition to the weekday American Bandstand . From 1957 until 1963, when WFIL moved to its new location and moved the show to a once-a-week Saturday time slot, the program was seen each weekday afternoon by millions of viewers. In early 1964 the show moved to California. Bandstand has been televised continuously for more than a third of a century and is recognized as the most enduring, the most copied, and, especially during its years in Philadelphia, as the most popular and influential musical variety program in the history of American television. American Bandstand is a cultural institution of exceptional importance in the development of rock and roll music which was just beginning when the show began to be televised in Philadelphia; the show has been equally important in popularizing new dances, and in determining the fads and fashions of the baby boom generation - a group whose enormous impact on our society is now being studied and interpreted.

Rock and roll, or rock'n'roll, was a term made popular by the disk jockey Alan Freed and was used to describe the music developing in the mid-1950s that combined elements of rhythm and blues and country music. But it was Dick Clark and American Bandstand that brought rock and roll into millions of American homes and made it acceptable. Freed and his often violent concerts were frightening to many adults, and rock and roll was routinely denounced in the 1950s for the negative impact it was having on the country's youth. American Bandstand countered that image and made rock and roll acceptable; and it did so by cutting across regional, social and ethnic boundaries to affect the entire nation's appreciation and acceptance of the new musical form. Philadelphia in the 1950s and early 1960s was a major force in the American record industry and the music business with powerful disk jockeys, record companies and major recording artists. Disk jockeys across the country watched what was promoted in Philadelphia to determine the music they would play; Dick Clark became the most influential of these disk jockeys with the success of American Bandstand and its status as the only national television outlet solely devoted to rock and roll music in the late 1950s. In subsequent decades the show has continued to be the preeminent network variety program to feature and promote rock music. Numerous local and national copies have attempted to emulate the successful format of American Bandstand, but none has achieved the popularity nor the longevity of the original.

Virtually all of the major rock recording artists have appeared on the show with the exceptions of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Many artists made their network debuts on the show including rock legends ranging from Buddy Holly and the Supremes to Cyndi Lauper and Stevie Wonder. The year-by-year charts of the top 100 songs and their performances on American Bandstand, compiled for The History of American Bandstand (Michael Shore with Dick Clark, 1985) attest to the number and range of performers who have appeared on the show during its more than 33 year history. The importance and influence nationally of American Bandstand during its years at the WFIL studio is documented in contemporary popular and entertainment press. Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, Billboard, Variety,and TV Guide all chronicled the effects of the show in promoting rock and roll music and teen-oriented culture. The show launched and made the careers of singers and teen idols like Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, who have had an enormously successful, national revival tour in 1985. American Bandstand is the source of the often-used phrase, "I give it a (fill in a score), it has a good beat and you can dance to it." Rock historians may disagree about the kind of effect American Bandstand had on the development of rock music, some accusing it of producing" schlock rock"; but none dispute the tremendous extent of that influence especially during the Philadelphia period.

American Bandstand's extraordinary significance, however, goes beyond the music. As one rock historian describes it, "American Bandstand was the cement of a generation, setting its dress, dances, pop heroes, and modes of behavior" (Arnold Shaw, p.175). The show, seen daily by millions of viewers across the country, made national celebrities of a group of high school students from Philadelphia. Viewers copied hairstyles and clothing of the "regulars", established fan clubs for them, mimicked their latest dance steps, and followed their social and dating activities. Teen-oriented publications of the period such as Sixteen, Photoplay and Teen Screen regularly featured articles and often carried contests associated with the "regulars." The WFIL Studio and Pop Singer's drugstore on the nearby corner of Farragut and Market Streets were the daily afterschool destination of these Philadelphia teenagers who had become national media idols; both the studio and drugstore were also the destination of hundreds of fans who came from all across the country to be on the show and meet their idols.

The first Bandstand era ended in 1963 when WFIL moved to a new location on City Line Avenue and the show was reduced to once-a-week. In early 1964 the show moved to California where it has continued to broadcast weekly and has continued to feature the major performers in rock music and highlight a group of dancing teenagers. The move from a daily to a weekly schedule effectively eliminated the prominence of the "regulars", but the show has maintained its appeal by adhering to the simple formula that originally made it such a success. The only real alterations have been changes in the set made periodically over the years. The show continues, and the popularity of the weekly show and the enormous national television viewer response to the reunion specials that are broadcast every few years attest to the important place of the show in our culture that was established during the years at the WFIL Studio in West Philadelphia.

The WFIL Studio, although less than 50 years old, has a place of exceptional importance in the 20th century history of the United States for being a virtually intact example of the earliest type of new construction for television station use, no others of which have been documented to be as early. In addition to its importance in the early history of the medium of television, the building, as the site of American Bandstand from 1957–1963, played a major national role in the history of rock music and had an enormous impact on the cultural development of the baby-boom generation. American Bandstand , under the guidance of its host Dick Clark, "altered the face of the American music establishment" (Peter Derry, p.26). The continued recognition of the show's significance is evidenced by a recent exhibit of the original podium in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. The WFIL Studio at 46th and Market Streets is a national landmark of both television and rock music's earliest era.

This National Register Nomination was researched and prepared by Susan Shearer.

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