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Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve: Media Establishment of Cultural Institutions


For over 20 million Americans this weekend, the backdrop of all the family get-togethers and the social parties and the esoteric resolutions and the drunken celebrations will be the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve playing on tv. This cultural institution of a show has celebrated New Year’s Eve with America every year for the past 5 decades, and is by far the most influential brand in New Year’s Eve social events.

Before Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve, the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in American media was an annual big band performance by Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. This show began in the 30s — before the ubiquity of household televisions, when everything was transmitted by radio — and left its cultural legacy of playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight.

But as television became the norm in the 50s, these big band performances no longer carried the level of excitement that the new generation demanded in their media. In that uncrowded media space no longer imaginable to us today, 28 year old hotshot Dick Clark became the cultural icon on television, drawing audiences in the range of 50 million people with the music show he hosted called American Bandstand. In that generation, Dick Clark’s influence on television was no less than that of Johnny Carson’s, so when Clark proposed in 1972 to have a New Year’s Eve show to rival the incumbent Guy Lombardo, NBC was onboard.

The idea of the Rockin’ Eve show — and even title — was to create a more youthful celebration of New Year’s Eve than the stodgy black tie affair that Guy Lombardo had established for nearly half a century. Bi-coastal coverage was introduced, a tradition that remains today, with coverage of the hottest rock bands at the time putting on live performances in Long Beach California and the Times Square Balldrop coverage on the East Coast. By its fifth year of production, the Rockin’ Eve Show overtook Guy Lombardo in viewership, and has over the next five decades become an annual production that has solidified itself as an American cultural institution in its own right.

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