They Began Teen-show Craze Before 'Bandstand,' Grady, Hurst Reigned

Posted: March 20, 1995

When the pop history of Philadelphia is written, Grady and Hurst should get a very long chapter.

It seems like they've been around since Marconi invented the radio. Their longevity, popularity and recognizability in Philadelphia is unmatched.

Joe Grady, 76, who began a radio career in 1935 and Ed Hurst, 67, who was on the air as a teen-ager, are genuine pioneers.

They invented the teen dance show format when Dick Clark was in knickers. In fact, the duo got first crack at hosting "Bandstand," but had to turn down the opportunity because they were tied to radio contracts. So WFIL-TV (now WPVI) selected two Grady and Hurst types - Bob Horn and Lee Stewart to launch "Bandstand."

Those now in their mid 50s and 60s jitterbugged with Grady's and Hurst's ''950 Club" on WPEN radio from 1945 to 1955.

Today "950 Club sockaroos" (bobbie socks sold on the show) are a priceless piece of kitschy Philly memorabilia.

But you don't have to be a graybeard to remember the pair. Just about everyone over 25 can recall the odd couple and their youthful hip-shaking followers on TV at the defunct South Philly Aquarama or the equally vanished Atlantic City Steel Pier.

"Yeah, we started the Steel Pier Show in 1958 on Channel 12," Hurst recalls. In 1960, we moved the show to Channel 3. Then the show went to Channel 10. Next we went to Channel 17. And we did the last 12 years for Channel 6."

The show finally danced off the tube when Resorts International purchased Steel Pier in 1978 - five TV stations and 20 years later.

They're still at it. When WPEN brought back the Grady and Hurst Show as part of its nostalgia make-over in 1981, the reunion was front-page news in the Evening Bulletin.

Today Hurst does a solo on WPEN on weekends. From time to time, sidekick Grady drops by or Hurst puts him on the air via telephone. They still get together to host an annual Penn's Landing big-band concert, and recently hosted a ship cruise.

Like Abbott and Costello or Lucy and Desi, the two were a natural fit. The easygoing, avuncular Grady became the straight man for impish jokester Hurst - a grandfather who still has the smart-aleck grin of a mischievous kid.

Grady is originally from South Philadelphia. His interest in radio was sparked by his father, a Navy Yard worker who built his own radio equipment.

He started with WPEN in 1935 as an engineer, but soon became an on-air announcer. Hurst, an Atlantic City native, worked for a shore station as a teen-ager and joined WPEN in 1945.

The two joined up in 1946 for an afternoon show. It's hard to believe now, but teen-agers once worshiped the likes of Nat King Cole, Patti Page and Louie Prima.

Youthful themselves, Grady and Hurst played to the high school crowd. They took calls from the kids and talked up high school happenings.

Some teens came to the radio station to watch the show. "We called them into the studio to say, hello. And they started dancing," Hurst says.

It evolved from there. Without planning, Grady and Hurst invented a format: dancers, a little patter with the teens and celebrity guests. The concept would become even bigger when television allowed those at home to actually see the dancers.

They soon issued membership cards. Live guests included Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Frankie Lane and Eddie Fisher.

"Johnny Ray came to sing his big hit 'Cry,' " Hurst recalls. "We had 3,000 kids lined up outside the station."

Actually, they were first to bring the format to TV in 1950 - two years before "Bandstand." Then WPEN allowed the pair to do a Saturday dance show on Channel 3 because it served to promote the weekday radio show.

But there was no way to take the "Bandstand" deal. They held the top ratings, and WPEN took steps to ensure they didn't jump ship.

By 1955, they could see radio was being swamped by TV. "We bought out our own contracts," Hurst says. "It cost us $60,000, and we had to pay money we made over the basic contract."

They took their dance show to Channel 12 in Wilmington, Del., then known as WPFH. It was a shoestring operation where they sometimes had to operate the cameras and microphone boom themselves.

Unlike other broadcast personalities, both took steps to ensure a livelihood beyond show biz.

Hurst runs a very successful life insurance firm.

Grady, who holds multiple college degrees in communications, took a part- time job teaching speech to aspiring priests at St. Charles Borromeo

Seminary and ended up spending 25 years at the seminary on City Avenue as a department head.

Both have long, successful marriages - 50 years with the same woman for Grady, 45 years for Hurst.

The two are constantly recognized on the street by post-war jitterbugs who stop them to reminisce about that bygone era when being a teen-ager was actually fun and Grady and Hurst were Philadelphia's leading fun-meisters.

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