Dick Clark: 10 Ways He Changed Pop Culture Forever

Pioneer of TV and radio died at age 82. Here's an appreciation of his biggest achievements

By Leslie Gornstein Apr 19, 2012 12:55 PMTags
Dick ClarkABC/ Ida Mae Astute

Will anyone be as influential over pop culture as Dick Clark was? Not likely.

Yes, musicians like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson revolutionized popular music, and TV owes its very bones to innovators such as Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin.

But it's tough to find one man who straddled all of that, launching so many touchstones of pop culture over so many decades:

1. Dancing to the Hits: In 1957, Clark's American Bandstand show debuted nationally. Every single weekday afternoon until 1963 (and then weekly until the early 80s) kids would tune in to watch their peers dancing to their favorite pop acts. The format inspired a string of descendants from Soul Train to Britain's Top of the Pops.

2. Discovering the Stars: Any pop star who broke big between 1960 and 1990 owes thanks, in part, to Clark. The alumni list includes Madonna, Elvis, John Mellencamp, Rod Stewart, Prince and Jon Bon Jovi, among many others.

3. Making New Year's Eve Cool: Before the 1970s, New Year's Eve was a more staid affair, at least for Americans, who were used to watching big band act Guy Lombardo every Dec. 31. Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve changed that, bringing in younger acts. In recent years, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg and Janet Jackson, among many others, have joined him to watch the ball drop.

4. Building the Pyramid: One of the first quiz programs to offer a huge cash prize in under a minute, the seminal game show debuted with Clark at the helm in 1973. Other hosts eventually took over, and the show met its sunset in 2004. But thanks in part to Clark, Pyramid remains one the most decorated of its kind, with nine Daytime Emmys, second only to Jeopardy!

5. Pranking the Rich and Famous: Clark coproduced the show TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes, which debuted in the 1980s. The series featured, among other gags, pranks on big stars. It wasn't the first of its kind—Candid Camera pulled jokes on TV, too, mostly on ordinary people—but Clark's show was certainly one of the most influential; call it a prototype for Punk'd. The idea is still wildly popular; Bloopers is set to return to television this fall.

6. Crowning DJs as Kings: Clark started off as a radio DJ on Philadelphia's WFIL station. During those years, WFIL decided to follow a rising trend: having their DJss, such as Clark, announce and talk over the records they were playing. The result: DJs as stars in their own right, a phenomenon we still see today.

7. Popularizing Top 10 Countdowns: Today we see countdowns as an essential part of pop culture. But that wasn't always the case. At the end of every edition of his Dick Clark Show, which aired in the late 1950s, Clark would count down the top 10 records for the coming week. The gimmick inspired countdowns aplenty, including David Letterman's iconic Top Ten lists.

8. Rolling Out The American Music Awards: The more populist version of the Grammys would not have come to be without Clark. Since 1973, fans have been able to directly reward their favorite musicians by voting for the AMA winners.

9. Exploring Radio Syndication: Clark was among the first to try it, launching a radio countdown show in 1963. The show lasted for less than a year, but would be credited as one of the earliest attempts at radio syndication, which is now common practice.

10. Redefining Agelessness: There's a reason why Clark was known as "the Oldest Living Teenager." For years, comedians anchored jokes on Clark's seeming eternal youth, and they weren't just talking about his tastes in Top 40 music. Even The Simpsons has made hay from Clark's inability to crack; its 10th Treehouse of Horror special reimagined Clark as an ageless robot disguised as a human.