Dick Clark
Flickr via Tyler Merbler

The DUI that made Dick Clark’s career killed Philly’s big New Year’s Eve

Updated: 11:50 a.m.

Many cities have a defined New Year’s Eve celebration. New York City is the obvious one, with Rockin’ New Year’s Eve held in Times Square every year and broadcast nationally. But other major cities have similar big parties. For the previous eight years, Dallas had Big D NYE, an event in downtown Dallas that featured TV anchors and celebrity guests and was aired across Texas and nine other states.

What about Philadelphia? Sure, about 50,000 people come to see fireworks on the Delaware, but nothing stands out as a major tradition.

The reasons for the lack of a go-to New Year’s Eve celebration are pretty simple: Dick Clark and the Mummers.

Back in 1952, WFIL, which was then 6ABC, started broadcasting American Bandstand. The show normally aired on weekday afternoons but from 1952 to 1956, but it put on a special for New Year’s Eve. That’s how Jerry Blavat, better known as the famous DJ Geator with the Heater remembers it. Blavat started appearing on the show as a 13-year-old.

Bandstand’s host at the time was Bob Horn, and he hosted the New Year’s Eve show. Other on-air talent from WFIL would take part, too.

Then in 1956 Horn was fired from the show after a drunken driving arrest. Clark took over. He helped convince ABC to air Bandstand nationally. That move also spelled the end for the Philadelphia-centric New Year’s Eve party.      

“When Dick Clark went national,” Blavat said, “that was the end of that locally in Philly.”

Bandstand eventually moved its studios to Los Angeles. Clark began hosting Rockin’ New Year’s Eve in 1974 and continued to do so until his death in 2012.

Rather than have a trademark, Philadelphia has several midsize parties. Hughe Dillon, who covers Philadelphia’s social scene on his blog Philly Chit Chat, said SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks is the premier activity. It puts on two fireworks shows, with each getting 50,000 people, according to “a very very” rough estimate from the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. NBC10 and Telemundo will televise the 6 p.m. show but won’t have entertainment built around it, a la Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.

Several places along the river throw parties, including SugarHouse, the Seaport Museum and the RiverRink. That area is likely the closest Philadelphia gets to a signature celebration.

Dillon also said the Piazza’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in recent years have been “a crazy, hot mess” and a “fun time.” But he said a New York City promoter is throwing the event this year.

“I haven’t heard the same excitement on the street leading up to it as I have in the past,” Dillon said.

Blavat has another reason for why Philadelphia lacks a signature celebration.

“Our New Year’s Eve is the Mummers Parade,” he said.

Attendance has dwindled for the Mummers Parade in recent years but it used to be in the hundreds of thousands. In 1961, attendance was even reported at 1.6 million. It was probably an exaggeration — that would be about twice as many people as were at the pope mass — but such a number would exceed the 1 million who usually celebrate at Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.  

“Our parade is equivalent to New Year’s Eve in Times Square,” Blavat said. “That’s why really don’t have a gigantic party.”  

Update: The article has been corrected to properly reflect falling attendance in the New Year’s Day Mummers Parade

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