Hi Fi Hop gave Kansas teens a place to rock 'n' roll
In the early 1950's a new kind of music called rock 'n' roll was taking over the airwaves. Girls in poodle skirts and guys in wing-tipped shoes danced to songs by Frankie Avalon and Elvis Presley. And for the next decade, a locally produced TV show called Hi Fi Hop captured the change in American culture.
"Music was in transition," said Hi Fi Hop host Bill Brooks. "You had pop artists of the day. Suddenly you had artists like Elvis Presley show up and take over with top hits."
Most people remember Hi Fi Hop as a local hour-long teenage dance program. The live show aired daily starting in the late 1950's. The show originally started on a Wichita TV station called KEDD, Channel 16. KEDD closed down a few years later and a new TV station, KTVH Channel 12, today known as KWCH, picked up the show.
1950's rock 'n' roll was tame compared to today's music. But back then, the swinging rhythms of rock and R & B singers like Frankie Avalon, Tommy Edwards, and Jackie Wilson drove both parents and teenagers crazy.
"Adults were not that excited about the music but [the show] was a chance for teenagers to be on camera and dance. They loved it," said Hi Fi Hop director Faye Graves.
The show was aimed at young people and viewers across Kansas tuned in to see how their peers dressed and danced. Pepsi and Stay Crisp Potato Chips, a local chip company, were some of the big sponsors. Early on, there was a waiting list to be one of the 50 dancers that appeared live on the show each day.
Nick Mendoza, a dancer on Hi Fi Hop, says he remembers learning to dance by watching the show on a black and white television. When he was 14, he took his girlfriend Wanda Price to the show where they won the daily dance contest.
"It was being part of the new sensation of rock 'n' roll," said Mendoza. "The kids got to dance up close. It was kind of risqué in a sense."
As the daily dance contest winners, Mendoza was given a tie clip that had a gold record with the words Hi Fi Hop made by a local jeweler Quinten Lynch. Wanda won a necklace with the same logo. Daily winners went on to compete in the monthly contest. The station took the 12 monthly winners to an annual Hi Fi Hop contest with famous guests artists. Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were the first performers that sang for the thousands that attended the annual dance off.
Big names also headlined the daily shows. Patsy Cline, Frankie Avalon and Ike Cole, brother of Nat King Cole, were some of the many artists that stopped by the Channel 12 studios as they toured the Midwest.
Bill Brooks says Hi FI Hop was also successful because it was easy to produce and filled a large amount of air-time.
"Stations had immense amounts of time they had to fill locally," said Brooks. "Networks only programmed prime time in the evenings. You could do a dance show very economically."
But the success of Hi Fi Hop took the station by surprise. The show received huge ratings in the 5 p.m. time slot. The show won enough attention that some of the dance contest winners were flown to Kansas City where TV Guide took them to lunch.
"The show had more impact and reach than we even realized at the time," said Brooks. "The station didn't get out of it what they might have had they understood at the time. They had the tiger by the tail."
The show's popularity began to wind down by the time Brooks left to become a news anchor in Denver in 1966. He says the show's success was a combination of the birth of rock 'n' roll and the opportunity to dance on television.
"Music was really what the program was all about and the kids dancing created the local flavor," said Brooks.