This Day in History: May 2nd

Today in History: May 2, 1960

dick-clarkOn May 2, 1960, Dick Clark wrapped up his second day of testimony before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight. The subcommittee was investigating the impact of payola – the practice of providing disc jockeys with cash or other incentives to play certain records.

Clark was as engaging and earnest on the stand as he was as the host of “American Bandstand.” Rock and Roll in 1960 was still seen as an evil influence on the upstanding youth of America, but Dick Clark’s clean-cut charm while he presented himself as an “all-American businessman” who brought ”wholesome recreational outlets” to the teenagers of the U.S. had Congress eating out of his hand. Rep. Oren Harris (D.-Ark.) referred to Clark as ”not the inventor of the system, [but] a product of it.”

By May of 1960, Clark told Congress he owned the copyrights to 160 songs, as well as a stake in 33 music-related companies including record companies, song publishers, and pressing plants. Clark swore that he had never knowingly taken payola, but admitted that it was possible he may have promoted records he had an interest in without realizing it.

One of the companies Clark had a stake in was Jamie Records, which made Duane Eddy a star, and made Clark a whopping $31,700 (about $246K today) on a $125 investment (about $970 today). He explained to the committee that:

“…this is not as unusual as it may seem. I think the crime I have committed, if any, is that I made a great deal of money in a short time on little investment. But that is the record business.”

He signed an affidavit shortly before the hearings began stating he was no longer in possession of those particular investments.

Dick Clark was cleared of any wrong doing, and Rep. Harris further gushed, “Obviously you’re a fine young man.”

Not that any of this would have mattered to the legions of kids who watched “American Bandstand” religiously after school every day. Newsweek published a story on May 2, 1960 about the payola hearings which included a quote from one of the show’s dancers that could have come from Any Teen in Random Town, U.S.A.:

Even if I found out that Dick Clark took payola, it wouldn’t make any difference. He makes us teenagers happy.

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