Do you remember these New Year's Eve hosts from TV past?

Who was your favorite emcee when the ball dropped?

Top images: AP Photo / The Everett Collection

While it seems as if half of America is crammed into Times Square every December 31, the fact is the crowd represents a teeny, tiny fraction of the population. Most of us watch the New Year arrive on television. It's a tradition nearly as old as the medium itself.

To many, Dick Clark is the first name that comes to mind when discussing the broadcast history of the holiday. However, not only were there other icons before him, Clark was not even the first host of his own New Year's Rockin' Eve.

As another new year arrives, we thought we'd take a flip through the channels of the past and remember the many TV hosts of New Year's Eve history. 

With the advent of cable, the options proliferated greatly in the 1990s. We're going to stick with the classics, from the earliest days of broadcasting the ball drop to the dawn of the 1980s. 

Which host did your family watch? Who was your favorite?

1. Guy Lombardo


No discussion of New Year's Eve hosts could reasonable begin anywhere else. The Canadian, known as "Mr. New Year's Eve," along with his swinging band the Royal Canadians, kicked off their yearly television black-tie parties on December 31, 1956. By then, he was already an established tradition, having hosted the affair for 27 years on the radio. The TV broadcasts typically took play at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. It is largely because of Lombardo that we all sing "Auld Land Syne."

Image: AP Photo

2. Ben Grauer


Instead of an annual special, NBC got in the practice of running that evening's regular programming — The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Saturday Night Live, etc.— with cut-aways to live reports in Times Square. For years, the network's man on the street was Grauer. Eleven times between the years of 1951 and 1969, the veteran radio and television presenter covered the glittering ball dropping to the Allied Chemical sign in Times Square. Later, up until 1976, he would jump ships and cover NYE with Lombardo.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Three Dog Night


By the mid-'70s, Dick Clark felt that Lombardo's formal affair appeal more to the older set, so the American Bandstand pioneer looked to produce his own alternative for younger viewers. Yet Clark was not the first man (or, well, men) to host his New Year's Rockin' Eve. In its premiere year, on December 31, 1972, the special was led by the wildly popular cover band Three Dog Night. Dick Clark was on location in Times Square, but as soon as the ball dropped, the camera cut away again to Queen Mary in Los Angeles, where the band was getting funky.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. George Carlin


To ring in 1974, the production remained afloat on the Queen Mary with cutting edge comedian Carlin as the host. The Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, Linda Ronstadt and Tower of Power rocked the ballroom. These first two years of New Year's Rockin' Eve went down on NBC, before the program moved to ABC and you-know-who finally took over…

Image: NBC

5. Dick Clark


In his first couple years as host, Clark struggled to lure eyeball away from Lombardo. When the venerable big band leader passed away in 1977, the opportunity arose for New Year's Rockin' Eve to finally overtake the Royal Canadians in the ratings. The broadcasting legend would remain host through 2006, though guests occasionally stepped in. For example, take this television duo…

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Erin Moran and John Schneider


America adored Joanie. But instead of teaming the Happy Days darling with her Chachi, Clarke paired Moran with John Schneider of The Dukes of Hazzard. The couple properly rang in Eighties with Blondie, Chic, The Village People and more.

Image: Vintage Deluxe / CBS

7. Andy Williams


Meanwhile, after the death of Lombardo, CBS regrouped and created Happy New Year, America, which ran from 1979 to 1995. Amiable crooner Andy Williams was its most frequent host. Also holding the shiny microphones were Gladys Knight, Donny Osmond and Paul Anka. The litany of names who covered the ball drop in Times Square is a motley assortment, including everyone from Terry Bradshaw and Jim "Ernest" Varney to Kermit the Frog and Brent Musburger.

Image: CBS

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BillO 29 months ago
I remember when you could count on It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World being on every New Years Eve.
jeopardyhead 29 months ago
I started watching Guy Lombardo's New Years broadcasts two or three years before he died. I tried watching the first year Guy's brother took over, but I just wasn't feeling it. The first time I saw any of Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve was about 2008.
Wufferduck 29 months ago
Let’s just skip the New Year’s eve shows they are no longer relevant.
JL1965 Wufferduck 29 months ago
Agreed , I believe they are a joke anymore along with pretty much most of what’s on tv today
jimmary2 29 months ago
Guy Lombardo’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne has got to be the go to ringing in of a new year. After that Dick Clark took the reins. Today, New Year’s Eve shows are a joke.
Douglas 29 months ago
Dick Clark end of question.
CaptainDunsel 29 months ago
I wasn't aware they even *held* New Years Eve celebrations after Dick Clark exited, "stage up".
Nala92129 29 months ago
I remember Guy Lombardo joking, "When I go, I'm taking New Year's Eve with me!" I particularly remember one memorable broadcast. Guy's orchestra was playing, Aretha Franklin was singing, as the camera panned around to show a sea of white, elderly faces, with the exception of one very tall black man. He and Aretha locked eyes, and it was a riveting moment. I've never forgotten it.
Kenner 29 months ago
Bottom line is…we’re all just another year older⏰
David37643 29 months ago
I remember Guy and the big band music...but I don't remember, Happy New Year America on CBS.....I would not call Three Dog Night a "cover" band.
TheDavBow3 David37643 29 months ago
Yeah. A "cover band"? Makes zero sense. Might as well have pulled that out of a hat.
dangler1907 TheDavBow3 29 months ago
"Three Dog Night - 1960s and 1970s rock band that almost exclusively recorded covers of songs by many different artists and genres."
TheDavBow3 dangler1907 29 months ago
They were too good and popular to be designated as a "cover band". True, they recorded some songs released and/or written by other artists. So technically.... But with more than 20 top 40 songs and a few #1s, they shouldn't be relegated to "cover band" status.
CelticTwilight dangler1907 29 months ago
Three Dog Night is not a "cover" band and you look silly for trying to argue that they are one.

And you left something out of your wiki quote.

"Cover band
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.
gockionni CelticTwilight 29 months ago
Totally agree...Three Dog Night was not a cover band. Cover bands don’t have hits on the radio. They were the mainline band at my first concert in 1971. Hot pants, roman sandals and a groovy top with the big zipper and ring...those were the days!!
I don't think dangler1907 was trying to argue that they are a cover band, I think dangler1907 was responding to the question raised of where the author would come up with such a notion by citing a possible source.
justjeff 29 months ago
You know what would be a fun article (at least to me)? One detailing how many bands [or duos] we know by their most famous names started out under other monikers... For example, Creedence Clearwater Revival were Tommy and the Blue Velvets and The Golliwogs, The Turtles were The Crossfires, The Beach Boys started out as The Pendletones, Led Zeppelin was first called The New Yardbirds, Simon & Garfunkel first recorded as Tom and Jerry, Sonny & Cher were Caesar and Cleo,
Mookie Blaylock became Pearl Jam, Pud is better known as The Doobie Brothers... The Grateful Dead's
original name was The Warlocks... The Who started out as The High Numbers... Would you believe that The Bee Gees were once known as The Rattlesnakes?... The Supremes were the Primettes, named after fellow Detroiters The Primes - who became The Temptations...

Whaddaya know? I just wrote the article myself!

Feel free to add on to this, as I've left a lot of band names available for your own two cents worth!
TheDavBow3 justjeff 29 months ago
Oh yeah, that would be fun! You've mentioned a lot of good ones. One off the top of my head is Gerry and the Pacemakers were The Mars Bars. After Gerry and, his brother drummer, Freddy's last name of Marsden. Also The Statler Brothers were The Kingsmen earlier. They had to change their name because of the group of "Louie, Louie" fame. The only 2 I can think of real quick. Fun!
justjeff TheDavBow3 29 months ago
"The Kingsmen" is a vocal group and band name that it seemed everybody wanted to use at one time or another. The vocal quartet on the "Fibber McGee & Molly radio show were "The King's Men". It's leader (Ken Darby) according to IMDB "...originated The King's Men male vocal quartet in 1929 and appeared on radio, films, concerts, television and recordings. Later he led and arranged music for the Ken Darby Singers. He was a writer and production supervisor for Walt Disney Studios, and associate producer of many record albums."
vinman63 justjeff 29 months ago
That's pretty good, Just Jeff but that ain't the way I heared it!"
jeopardyhead justjeff 29 months ago
I've read that Jefferson Airplane (or at least a prototype) used to go by "The Great Society." Also, I think I've heard that The Allman Bros. Band were known earlier as "Allman Joy."
justjeff vinman63 29 months ago
Ah! Another Fibber McGee & Molly fan! Th'way I heeerd it, one feller say t'the other feller.... SAAAAAY he sez..."
Jaxter14 justjeff 29 months ago
I believe the Beatles were the Quarrymen.
Jaxter14 justjeff 29 months ago
Chicago started out as Chicago Transit Authority.
George57 29 months ago
My Grandfather always watched Guy Lombardo on New Years Eve. When we were kids we would watch Dick Clark on and old black & white tv in our parents room. I miss holiday traditions we use to have. It's just not the same any more. *sigh*
vikkr 29 months ago
It will always be Dick Clark.

TlorDagama 29 months ago
Motley assortment? you put Andy Williams and Gladys Knight in that mix? who ever wrote this article has no respect for class. And Village People nor 3 Dog Night had any class at all!
jeopardyhead TlorDagama 29 months ago
The way I read that paragraph was that they were calling those from the Times Square remote a motley assortment, not the hosts of the show.
Barry22 29 months ago
Three Dog Night was, and is, one of my favorite bands ever. Have seen them several times and had a ton of their stuff. I was 15 when they did that New Year's show, and made it a point to watch it.
Zip 29 months ago
I mostly remember Dick Clark's Rockin New Years Eve shows. But mainly, New Years reminds me of the smell of homemade Chex Mix.
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