Teenage Frolics was a WRAL-TV music and dance program that is thought to be the country’s first regularly-scheduled television program hosted by an African-American.
The weekly program debuted on Channel 5 in 1958 and ran until 1982. It was hosted by J.D. Lewis, a WRAL radio and television personality who broke racial barriers and gained widespread popularity during a long career at Capitol Broadcasting Company.
Teenage Frolics aired live from the WRAL-TV studios at noon every Saturday. The show featured a studio audience comprised of African-American teenagers who sometimes traveled up to 100 miles just to take part. Former audience members say they practiced their moves all week to be ready to impress fellow dancers and the viewers at home.
Teenage Frolics was best known for its current music and dance. The program featured a house band led by local musician Irving Fuller, and on occasion nationally-known recording stars would drop by to promote their latest records. The show’s free-flowing live format also gave J.D. Lewis a platform for interviews with community leaders and nationally-known entertainers such as Lou Rawls and Isaac Hayes.
Teenage Frolics provided a window into black youth culture and music and gave African-American teenagers a sense of pride. The show also made host J.D. Lewis an institution in the community – a role model who gave black teenagers a chance to express themselves in positive ways. Lewis’ daughter, Yvonne Lewis-Holley, says people still approach her on the street and say that her father “…was the first black man they could see on TV who wasn’t pushing a broom.”
Teenage Frolics is often compared to “Soul Train,” a nationally-syndicated dance program featuring legendary host Don Cornelius. While Soul Train gained fame on a national level, it didn’t debut until 1971 — thirteen years after Teenage Frolics took to the air on WRAL-TV Channel 5.