This column originally appeared, in slightly different form, on March 4, 2002, shortly after Jim Lobbey died of a heart attack. I’m running it as part of a series leading up to the White Grill Rock Reunion November 10 at the Frontenac Community Center.
A live program that featured groups from area high schools in the 1960s, “Teen Hop,” hosted by Jim Lobbey on KODE-TV out of Joplin, was our answer to American Bandstand with Dick Clark out of Philadelphia.
The ever-smiling Lobbey introduced the songs and the dance contestants, pitched Party Steaks and did live commercials with the ageless Bunny Newton, who would bring jewelry items from his store “under the revolving sign at the corner of 10th & Main.”
Lobbey also interviewed each of us individually — as we sat at tables drinking Pepsi and eating Kitty Clover Potato Chips — with questions like “Who’s your favorite teacher?” “What school activities are you involved in?” and “What are you going to major in in college?”
I was there in 1966. My partner and I lost the dance contest to a couple who went on to win the all-school dance-off (when the various high school winners returned to compete). All was not lost, though; I married the girl in the duo that beat us, and we’ve been “dancing” ever since.
Seeking more “Teen Hop” lore, I sent out an e-mail request for memories and got some great recollections from current and former area residents. Here are some excerpts:
• I think the opening announcement went something like, “HEY KIDS! IT’S TIME FOR ‘TEEN HOP’!! WHERE LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS PARTICIPATE FOR FUN AND PRIZES!” I know I watched it to hear all the latest tunes. Did they have a “rate a record” too? Didn’t the dancers in the contests pick their songs in advance? One of my earliest recollections is when a group from Pittsburg High School brought The Seibrings to play live on the show. I only went my senior year — that would have been the fall of 1967. I organized the trip starting with a letter to KODE to a gentleman named Bob who was a fixture there along with Jim Lobbey. There was some rule that Kansas high schools could not be represented, so we had to go as the Frontenac Teen Town. I believe we went the Saturday after homecoming, and the score of the game was announced and the homecoming royalty singled out. I remember how strange I felt in the TV studio and thinking, “Gee, this place is really small compared to how it looked on TV.” I remember the lights and the older TV cameras with those revolving lenses that allowed for close ups and far shots. I bet they only had two cameras at the most. — Mark Matarazzi
Page 2 of 3 - • I remember practicing — at the Crestwood Country Club for some reason — and my parents driving a group of us over to Joplin in my Dad’s 1961 Chevy nine-passenger NOMAD station wagon!! The tables were covered with red-and-white checkered cloth that we all wrote our names on. I can remember how small and very hot that studio was. — Steve Herman
• They always mentioned “The Eagles Nest” as where to go in Joplin. I think it was a teen hangout. During the table interviews, everyone mentioned being members of Hi Y and Thespians even if they weren’t. You mentioned that American Bandstand came on immediately after “Teen Hop.” I remember going to a dance during the Fall of ‘66 on the top of an outside parking lot in Joplin. The guest DJ was Dick Clark. — Dick Coleman
• Every Saturday, for years, my cousins Mike and Jeanne and I watched — and practiced — at aunt Pep’s house. Mike did a great Bunny Newton impression. — Kathy Spigarelli Kirkland
• I remember when I was a freshman (1974) and we played Northeast-Arma in football on Friday, and there was a big fight that made the KC paper. The next day, all the football players had black eyes and cuts while dancing in their leisure suits at “Teen Hop.” — Mark Allai
• Actually, for most of us, our big highlight was getting to watch “Teen Hop” at home, and waiting for someone to say “Hi” to us (what a thrill to have your name mentioned on TV). Maybe they should bring that show back. — Sheila Pettus Hill
Sheila’s observation was right on. When I think about it, relaxing at home and watching “Teen Hop” in front of the black-and-white TV was actually more fun than being in that cramped, stuffy studio and trying not to get too anxious and freeze up in the dance contest.
As far as bringing the show back, it would sure be a hoot for us paunchy and balding 60-somethings to be in dance contests to the old tunes and then sit at tables drinking pop, eating chips, and answering questions about our grandkids and retirement plans.
But it just wouldn’t be the same without Jim Lobbey.
Still, we have the memories, keepsakes of our youth that come to us when we think of Teen Hop and Lobbey — maybe standing to one side there in the old KODE studio, smiling and watching us dance a slow one to the strains of Simon and Garfunkel:
“Hello darkness my old friend. / I’ve come to talk with you again. Because a vision, softly creeping, / left it’s scenes while I was sleeping. And the vision that was planted in my brain, / still remains / within the sound of silence.”
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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