New podcast from Steve Cichon

The latest book from Steve Cichon

& Buffalo Stories

Read excerpts right now

Order a copy

Welcome to!

The history of Buffalo, one story at a time.

The Buffalo Stories Archives is the result of decades’ worth of the passionate collection of Buffalo’s day-to-day Pop Culture history by Steve Cichon.

The online portion of the archive is representative of the thousands of local books, magazines and newspapers, thousands of images and photos, and thousands of tapes and digital files of audio and video recordings contained in just over a thousand square feet of storage space.

Far from the Library of Congress or The Buffalo History Museum, at the heart of our archive is the cast away, in many cases literally garbage-picked collections and items that have often been rejected by everyone else.

It’s Buffalo’s story in a microcosm. What others have cast away; we whip up into something special.

About Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo’s past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News.

He’s a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon’s been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special.

The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives– hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.

While wearing his signature bow tie, Cichon puts his wide range of professional experience—from college professor, to PBS documentary producer, to radio news director, to candidate for countywide elected office—to work in producing meaningful interpretations of the two centuries worth of everything that makes Buffalo the one-of-a-kind place that we love.

When you browse the blog here at Buffalo Stories LLC, you’re bound to not only relive a memory– but also find some context for our pop culture past– and see exciting ways how it might fit into our region’s boundless future.

Why? Western New York’s embedded in his DNA. Steve’s Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.


Buffalo’s Pop Culture Heritage
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and
celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo. That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find here.

Buffalo’s Radio & TV 
Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history.  Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.

 Buffalo’s Neighborhoods
North and South Buffalo. The East and West Sides.  But how many neighborhoods can you name that don’t fit any of those descriptions? From the biggest geographical sections, to the dozens of micro-neighborhoods and hundreds of great intersections.

There is a category for Buffalo Neighborhoods, but as the historian of Buffalo’s Parkside Neighborhood, and having written two books on the neighborhood’s history, giving the Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Parkside Neighborhood it’s own category makes sense.

Family & Genealogy
My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland. Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.

&c, &c, &C: reflections from Steve’s desk
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.

Buffalo Stories Bookstore
Buy Steve’s five books and other special offers from Buffalo Stories LLC.

BN Chronicles
Steve’s daily looks back at Buffalo’s past from the archives of The Buffalo News and Buffalo Stories LLC. Weekly features include “Torn Down Tuesday” and “What it looked like Wednesday,” along with decade by decade looks at what Buffalo used to be– and how we got here from there.

Thank you, WNY!

Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY: Best Blogger

It’s an honor to have my work recognized, especially when it helps call to attention a very important topic.

READ: A brief memoir in depression and anxiety

As appeared in Buffalo Spree, August 2018

By Steve Cichon

  facebook  linkedin  twitter   youtube  instagram

Buffalo’s Italian Population through the years

       By Steve Cichon

As late as the 1940s, newspaper stories written about Buffalo’s Italian population were painted with wild strokes of exotic color.

“Off in a section of the city where the rays of the sun, on a bright day, glisten down upon dilapidated housetops and seek their way into narrow streets and by-ways with which the place abounds, are colonized a people in whose native land the skies are the fairest and bluest, and where the very breezes are filled with invigorating fragrance.”
– The opening paragraph of “The Italian Colony in Buffalo,” The Buffalo Courier, 1898

Sprinkled throughout 50 years’ worth of these newspaper accountings of how and why Italians came to and flourished in Buffalo, are the facts – and the colorful descriptions – which make up this story.

Italians in the Hooks neighborhood near Canal Street, 1908.

A handful of Genoese were the first Italians to make Buffalo their home.

When Luigi Chiesa set up his home and birdcage store at Elm and Broadway in the mid-1840s, he didn’t know any English, and there wasn’t anyone in town who knew any Italian. But he quickly became a Buffalo backer.

“Chiesa became a self-appointed immigration agent for Uncle Sam,” reported the Buffalo Express in 1901, “and in his letters to friends in Italy were importunings to this great country, ‘God’s Country.’ ”

His name means “church” in Italian, so not long after arriving in Buffalo, he became well-known among longtime city residents as Louis Church. But to the slowly trickling in numbers of Italians, he was still Luigi and his home was the first hub of Buffalo’s Italian community.

John Roffo was among the first Italians to settle in the neighborhood that would come to be known as Little Italy near today’s Canalside. After arriving in 1847, he was a wine merchant and grocer on Canal Street, then opened a tavern on Erie Street.

Louis Onetto, who owned a macaroni manufacturing works on Broadway near Michigan for more than 50 years, came to Buffalo in 1866.

Those early sons of Italy were northern Genoese, but in the decades to come, the massive numbers came from southern Italian places like Sicily and Naples.

“The Sicilians far outnumber the other Italians in Buffalo,” reported The Express. “They are the dark-skinned, raven-haired, black-eyed Italians who are most numerous on Buffalo’s streets. They are the manufacturers of macaroni, the fruit hucksters, and the bootblacks.”

“The Italian Moses who led the Sicilians to the promised land of Buffalo was Frank Baroni,” reported The Express. He came to Buffalo from Valledolmo, Sicily, in 1882 and immediately wrote home encouraging people to find their way to Buffalo.

“The great majority of the Italian colony,” reported The Express in 1908, “are of the peasant and laboring class.” But not all.

Among the first 42 to heed Baroni’s call from Sicily was a destitute boy, Charles Borzilleri. Eventually, he was the first Italian to graduate from UB Medical School and became prominent not only in the Italian community but in Buffalo at large. He founded Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street and also spent several terms as the president of the Erie County Medical Society.

Those Italians moving to Buffalo settled in one of the oldest parts of Buffalo, displacing the Irish enclave near the Erie Canal and Buffalo Harbor around Canal Street and the Terrace. What was the center of this neighborhood is today covered by the Marine Drive Apartments near Canalside.

“Hemming in on one side by the water’s edge, and intersected on the other by the ponderous traffic of a steam railway, the locality offers few inducements to those who would establish homes within the boundary lines of Buffalo,” reported The Courier in 1898.

That’s why through the 1890s, more Italians began moving onto the other side of the canal as well, into what we would now describe as the West Side.

Long before City Hall was built, St. Anthony’s Church – now in the shadow of City Hall, was the primary place of worship for Buffalo’s Italian population. Italians began to move in from what is now City Hall north to what is now the Peace Bridge.

Right at the center of that newly Italian area was Front Avenue, which would be renamed Busti Avenue in honor of Buffalo’s first celebrated Italian in 1930.

It was the third attempt to name a street after Paulo Busti, an agent for the Holland Land Company. Like many of Holland’s executives, his name appeared as a street name on maps of early Buffalo. The original Busti Avenue was re-christened Genesee Street. The streets now known as Upper and Lower Terrace streets were once known as Busti Terrace, before Busti’s name was dropped off the map for a second time.

A 1930 breakdown said that there were about 20,000 Buffalonians who had been born in Italy, and another 45,000 who had at least one Italian-born parent, making Italians Buffalo’s third most numerous foreign-born residents, behind Germans and Poles.

Buffalo’s Italian community celebrated when, in 1958, the first one of their own was elected mayor. Frank A. Sedita – who grew up in the neighborhood behind City Hall, doing the jobs typical of grammar school-age Italian boys like shoeshine boy and newspaper hawker – was elected to three terms as Buffalo’s mayor.

The Great Howard Simon

       By Steve Cichon

Howard Simon might be the best broadcaster I’ve ever worked with.

So knowledgeable, personable, smooth and genuine that he really didn’t have to prepare.

Still, he’s the most prepared talkshow host I’ve ever seen. 

Howard Simon with the late Jim Kelley, 1996.

Even though he’s the best broadcaster I’ve ever worked with– I don’t even feel moved to write about that when I think about Howard. All I can think about is that Howard Simon might be the finest human being I’ve ever worked with.

Howard and Steve, WBEN Studios, 1995

It’s the fact that he is a great, amazing human being that makes him a great broadcaster. Humble. Even keeled. Giving. Would rather make a caller or a co-host look good than put the spotlight on himself. Dozens– maybe even hundreds– of co-workers and fellow reporters owe so much to this kind soul who gives so much, sometimes it’s difficult to realize it’s happening.

Steve and Howard, WNSA/Empire Sports Network, 2003

I’ve known Howard for 30 years. He has never disappointed me. He doesn’t disappoint– as a talkshow host, as a journalist, as a human being.

The world needs more guys like Howard. Radio and sports broadcasting definitely could use more people like Howard. 

Rob Ray and Howard, 1995

Of course, the fact that Howard is so nice (and I am such a prick) makes him a very easy target for my merciless chirping. 

He won’t like that I’m sharing some of these highlights from early in his career– but I know he’s expecting it. (Or at least he should be. The guy’s about to retire.)

The WGR Morning Show, c.2005

As we listen to the clips below, we will all laugh at Howard talking up a Kajagoogoo or Wang Chung song, reading a newscast, or even being a country music disc jockey. We’ll laugh, because Howard lets us. We’ll laugh, but we’ll all be thinking, what an amazing talent at everything he does. 

Wang Chung!
UB vs Buff State, 1981
WOHO jock
Buffalo Stallions news—WBNY
Mudhens PBP, 1988
Kajagoogoo! 1986 Elmira
Real Country! No bull!!
HOWARD SIMON!! WNSA voice over guy

My favorite Howard protege is Chris Parker.

Howard Simon and Chris “Bulldog” Parker

Even though it’s almost 30 years ago, it’s still one of my favorite shows to have been a part of– those two co-hosting on WBEN’s One-One-One Sports.

Howard Simon & Bulldog WBEN 1996 Part 1
Howard Simon & Bulldog WBEN 1996 Part 2

WGR’s 100th Anniversary

       By Steve Cichon

WGR is celebrating 100 years of broadcasting and, as WGR Historian, I put together a handful of minute-long stories talking about the station’s rich history.

WGR’s Sign On

Just weeks after Buffalo’s first radio station… WWT first went on the air, On May 21, 1922, WGR broadcast its first programs the Federal Telegraph Company on Elmwood Avenue.

“Buffalo enters into the field of national radio broadcasting with the formal opening of one of the largest and most powerful broadcasting stations in the east….  thousands of dollars (have been spent) to furnish Buffalo with a class of radio service which will be equal to that of stations which have been broadcasting since interest in radio began to assume such proportions as we see today,” reported the Courier.

The original owners started WGR to sell radios… and Federal Radio’s $25 set could easily pick up any broadcast within a 30-mile radius of the city.

“This renders radio reception in homes of Buffalo and vicinity no longer an instrument of the well-to-do, but for almost anybody who cares to use it.”

In 1923, WGR became one of the earliest tenants of Buffalo’s brand new Statler Hotel, where it was a Class B station– authorizing broadcast on reserved frequencies, without interference, at high power. That meant the station could be heard regularly within several hundred miles, but could also be heard on occasion as far away as Hawaii and England.

For a century now, WGR has been the voice of Buffalo heard around the world.

WGR Sign-on

Early personalities at WGR

Bob Schmidt, later known as Buffalo Bob Smith

For 100 years now, WGR has been bringing the great voices of radio to Buffalo.

Before he was Howdy Doody’s sidekick and one of television’s early stars, Buffalo Bob Smith, Masten High School grad Bob Schmidt was one of the stars of WGR in the 30s and 40s as “Smiling Bob Smith”

In the early years of radio, the country’s most powerful stations—like WGR—weren’t allowed to play recorded music. Conductor David Cheskin, the leader of the 18-piece WGR Staff Orchestra, was one of Buffalo’s most popular entertainers and a “one man wonder” during the pre-war Golden era of Buffalo radio.

The WGR Orchestra

Cheskin’s music made WGR nationally famous as he conducted 18 network shows a week— including “Buffalo Presents”— heard all over the country on NBC and CBS as performed live in the WGR studios.

Billy Keaton was one of WGR’s most popular hosts after he, like many early radio entertainers, settled down with radio after a life on the road as a Vaudeville man.

Billy Keaton in the WGR studios with singer Johnny Ray.

After his “Stuff and Nonsense” program took off, his success turned a temporary Buffalo assignment permanent. After the war, Billy’s wife Reggie joined the act, and the two hosted the “Mr. and Mrs. Show” on WGR.

As a long-time WGR Radio fan favorite, Billy was the natural choice to welcome the first viewers to WGR-TV in 1954.

Then and now, the great voices of Buffalo can be heard on WGR.

WGR– Early Voices

Baseball on WGR

For 100 years now, Buffalo’s best sports coverage has been a reason to listen to WGR.

From the earliest days of announcers recreating baseball games from tickertape print outs, complete with broken pencil sound effects for the sound of a hit

Roger Baker

To Bisons play-by-play from Offermann Stadium with Buffalo’s first sportscaster Roger Baker and his protégé who’d spend more than 60 years broadcasting sports in Buffalo, Ralph Hubbell.

Hubbell broadcast the games of Bison Great Ollie Carnegie as he set an International League homerun record which stood for 69 years.

Later it was Bill Mazer who was behind the WGR microphone when another great Bisons slugger—Luke Easter famously hit a White Owl Wallop over the Offermann Stadium scoreboard.

Pete Weber and John Murphy at the Rockpile

In the 80s, WGR was owned by the Rich Family—and with Pete Weber behind the play-by-play mic…

The station was instrumental in helping get Pilot Field built—starting a renaissance for building in downtown Buffalo, and a renaissance for classically designed ballparks all around the country.

Baseball on WGR through the years

Ted Darling on WGR

WGR was the long-time home of Ted Darling… whose smooth and exciting style brought gravitas to the expansion Sabres in 1970 and became a trusted uncle behind the Sabres play-by-play mic on radio and TV for the next 21 years.

Sabres broadcast crew, Mid-80s, in the Memorial Auditorium Press Box. Mike Robitaille, Jim Lorentz, Rick Jeanneret, Ted Darling

His genuine excitement for what he was describing on the Memorial Auditorium ice and the stunning pace of his broadcasts helped make listening to the radio almost as exciting as being there for a Perreault rush or a Korab check.

Darling’s voice instantly brings generations of Buffalo hockey fans to a different place and time.

There’s something that feels like home when you hear Ted Darling….

Ted Darling

Rick Jeanneret on WGR

Spine-tingling. Quirky. Explosive. Imaginative.

What can you say about Rick Jeanneret that even comes close to listening to him?

Across a span of 51 years—Rick Jeanneret’s has been an inseparable part of what the Sabres are to us…

And for most of those years, it was WGR that brought you that voice.

Rick Jeanneret

Van Miller calls four Super Bowls on WGR

There were different places around the radio dial you heard Van Miller’s voice through the years, but the only place you ever fastened your seatbelt for Van Miller Super Bowl fandemonium was WGR.

Van Miller, the Voice of the Bills (Buffalo Stories archives)

Thinking of those great teams of the 80s and 90s, our minds flash pictures of Kelly, Bruce, Andre and Thurman—but the sound is undeniably Van Miller.

Another voice that made WGR feel like home during the Bills Super Bowl run…

Van Miller– Four Straight Super Bowls

The Great DJs of WGR in the 70s

The 1970s were the glory years for big personality disc jockeys and rock ‘n’ roll music on WGR.

Shane Brother Shane was “Buffalo’s zany philosopher king.” The Cosmic Cowboy did it all to make smiles across the miles, hoping you fill your night with life, love, laughter, family, friends, fun and music.

Shane Brother Shane

Stan Roberts—whose WGR jingle called him the Corny DJ—is remembered for wearing a lampshade on his head on Royalite TV commercial and Dial-A-Joke, but also as a warm, friendly, and funny presence on morning radio across five decades.

Buffalo Stories archives

Frank Benny was one of the smoothest broadcasters to ever work in Buffalo– as the weatherman on Channel 2 and DJ on WGR starting in the 60s through the 80s.

The DJs of WGR in the 70s

The Commercials of WGR in the 50s & 60s

WGR has aired literally millions of commercials over the last hundred years…

Our sponsors have not only paid the bills, but have made for great memories themselves, like these Buffalo classics from the 50s and 60s:

The commercials of WGR in the 50s

The Commercials of WGR in the 70s & 80s

Hundreds of thousands of sponsors have aired millions of commercials on WGR over the last century…

Through the 70s and 80s, thousands of local institutions used the power of WGR with commercials you can’t forget–

The commercials of WGR in the 70s

The Voices of News on WGR

Sportsradio550 has been Buffalo’s premier source for Bills and Sabres news for decades, but for 80 years— WGR was also the home of some of Buffalo’s most beloved news voices.

Since his time as News Director at WGR Radio and WBEN Radio, Ray Marks (center, seated in the WGR Newsroom in the mid-1990s) had been teaching communications courses at St. Bonaventure, Buffalo State, and Medaille. He died in 2015. (Buffalo Stories/staffannouncer archives)

We also remember WGR personality and Traffic Reporter Mike Roszman and pilot Herm Kuhn, who died when the WGR Traffic plane crashed between reports in 1993.

WGR’s News voices through the years

Artie Baby Boo-Boo & The Coach

Back in 1988, Art Wander got Bills General Manager Bill Polian so mad, he told Art to get out of town.

Instead, Art spent the next decade taking your calls (and East Side Eddie’s calls) on WGR.

Then there was “The Coach,” Chuck Dickerson.

Chuck Dickerson, “The Coach”

He was a coach for the Bills—until Marv Levy fired him after Super Bowl XXVI for being a little too opinionated.

For a decade starting in 1993, Chuck Dickerson was the loudest football fan in Buffalo.

Art Wander & Chuck Dickerson

John Otto, Buffalo’s first talk show host

WGR has been heading to the phones as Buffalo’s call-in show pioneer for more than 60 years, starting with John Otto in the early 60s…

John Otto, WGR, 1975.

And you’ve been a big part of what makes WGR special ever since, taking part in call-in shows with hosts lke JR & Susie, Paul Lyle, Tom Bauerle, Ann Edwards, Clip Smith, and so many more…

But the brilliant and dry-witted John Otto– and his nearly 40 years overnights on WGR– is the stuff of legend.

Some shows were more legendary than others.

Thursday nights it was Desperate and Dateless, with co-host Shane Brother Shane (and later with Tom Bauerle.)

John Otto & WGR talkshows

This was a fun project and it was wonderful to celebrate so many great broadcasters and friends, but the truth is– it felt a bit funny.

For the first half of my broadcasting career, WGR was a sworn enemy of the stations where I worked– first as a news competitor at WBEN and then as a sports competitor at the now-defunct WNSA Radio.

But many of the guys I worked with at WBEN and WNSA now work at WGR, so I guess we won 🙂

During the decade I worked at Entercom Radio (2003-2013), I primarily worked at WBEN– although you regularly heard my newscasts on Star 102.5, KB Radio, and 107.7 The Lake.

You also heard me occasionally on WGR, filling in at the sports desk, like in this clip from 2003…

Cichon says, remember the time you spent listening…

Of course, my biggest on-air contribution at WGR was as the curator of the Haseoke archive.

Haseoke– Rubber Ducky

Milk Bottle Caps of 1940s Buffalo

       By Steve Cichon

Over the last few weeks, eBay seller wmlengadairy has been selling a huge collection of Buffalo area and Western New York milk bottle caps from the late 30s, 40s, and early 50s.

These are the paper lids which came on top of glass milk bottles, which were most often delivered daily to homes nearby the particular dairy by a milkman.

Many of these are extremely rare, and together show how the neighborhood dairy was an entrenched part of life not too long ago.

Same as it ever was: Jerry Sullivan vs Bruce Smith, 1997

       By Steve Cichon

Bills Safety Jordan Poyer and sportswriter Jerry Sullivan have been going back and forth for a couple of weeks now… But there’s nothing new under the sun.

I recorded this 1997 postgame exchange between Jerry and Bruce Smith at the WBEN studios on Elmwood Avenue from a live feed coming from Rich Stadium.

With the static from our wireless microphones, it’s hard to hear exactly what Jerry is asking Bruce, but most of Bruce’s response is pretty clear.
“You a punk ass motherfucker once you get (interference),” said Bruce, to the laughter of the assembled reporters, photographers and players.

“I know you’re going to say it,” said Bruce. “I know you ain’t gonna stop.”
The first clear words we hear from Sullivan on the tape are, “(something) stop being an asshole…”

To which Smith replied, “Oh, I’m the asshole! I’m the asshole! Oh yeah,” before turning to another reporter and calmly telling him, “Go ahead, man.”

That year, I produced Bills games on the radio. For years, we’d run the postgame show without a delay. My timing or the exact order of events might be off, but I think we started running a delay on the player press conferences after Thurman Thomas stormed away from the podium microphone one time yelling something close to, “half of you ain’t ever put on a jockstrap,” but with the word “fuck” worked in there somehow.

I think I have that audio somewhere, but I couldn’t find it today.

Anyway, that running live on the radio earned me a strongly-worded note from my boss about trying to make sure to avoid those sorts of words going out on the air if possible.

When this Bruce Smith interview aired live, I was able to “dump” out of delay—so the WBEN audience never heard Bruce Smith call Jerry Sullivan a “punk-ass motherfucker” on the radio. The problem was, with the 1970s technology we were using at the time, there was no way for me to hit dump a second time so quickly and avoid allowing Jerry and Bruce calling each other assholes on the radio.

Back in those days, while there were relatively few ways to hear or see full press conferences, it just so happened one of the local tv stations—I don’t remember whether it was 2, 4, or 7—aired this press conference live on its post-game show.

The complete exchange between Bruce and Jerry was aired live on TV and talked about for weeks on sports radio talk shows on WBEN and WGR—as well as in letters to the sports editor as published every week in the Sunday News.

Jerry Sullivan & Bruce Smith

Episode 14: Estrangement Pains

       By Steve Cichon

When I look at old photos of three-year-old me crying or listen to whiny old cassette tapes I made as a five-year-old, it’s pretty clear that I was a sensitive little boy.

Because of that, some things that most people roll with— left me traumatized.

Now I was surrounded by a huge, loving family— but it was also a family which was (and continues to be) filled with every sort of mental illness imaginable.

This was true in close relationships, very close relationships, and very, very close relationships.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about the difference between building a house on a foundation of rock versus building on a foundation of sand.

There was sand in every crevice of my young life.

Things like moving seven times and being in seven different schools by the time I was in sixth grade, just for starters.

As a kid, rolling with it was just fine. I didn’t know any better, even as I stumbled around trying to find my own way.

What seemed everyday normal to me maybe should have had a giant warning sign on it, but it didn’t. And from my perspective at the time, why would it? Isn’t this the way it should be?

The most important skill I learned during that time was to make sure I outwardly looked like all was swell— even as the stormy, weak, and teetering emotional foundation upon which I’d built my life was crumbling and constantly being patched in real time.

I’m happy to say that the space in my head and my heart has been reimagined and refortified, and, while I’ll spend the rest of my life finishing the rebuild and getting used to the new space, I’m feeling more more grounded these days with far less anxiety and far more direction.

Sadly, finding firmer ground for a less chaotic life hasn’t come without cost.
Looking back I realize that never having developed a good sense of self, I was always willing to play any role in a relationship I valued— right down to doormat if necessary.

Most of my friends and loved ones are happy to see me strong, healthy, and happy— but a few of the most cherished people in my life couldn’t stand the idea of me standing my ground for my own health and well-being.

Its not easy to stay away from these people, some of whom are dealing with (or not dealing with) their own dilemmas in their own lives. That they can’t make room for me working to make my own life better hurts.

And the hardest part of that is— whatever anger, bitterness, and even hatred some of these folks have for me— I still love each of them with the same intensity and commitment as I always have.

Only now, that estranged love comes with intense and haunting sadness.
I love them and wish them well— but if you can’t be part of my new adventures… or at least be happy that I’m happy— well, necessity makes our relationship a memory.

And that aches, but it’s growing pain that’s better for all of us in the long run.

Episode 13: Gramps and his Wall of Pop

       By Steve Cichon

Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles.

Coke Pepsi RC Cola… Cardboard eight packs filled with loose glass bottles lined the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every supermarket in Buffalo and they were always on sale.

But even when they weren’t on sale, buying those 8 packs of glass bottles was the cheapest way to buy the name brand pop.

That’s why Gramps loved ’em and literally filled the hall with them.
Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house.

When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.

It was in that narrow hallway where there was always enough pop stacked up to quench the thirst of a small army. With 10 kids, that’s pretty much what Gramps had— and he’d buy all the pop he could when it was on sale whether he needed it or not.

When you look straight past the pop, if Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, you’d see her first thing when you’d swing open that heavy front door.

She was always sitting at the head of the worn out white Formica kitchen table— complete with a cup of instant coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.

If you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right— and he wasn’t working one of the three jobs he still had when I was a kid— Gramps would be sitting in that well-used comfy chair just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.

Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.

“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent.

I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?

“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask reflexively, and immediately piss off my ol’man.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.

As we kids run in to give him a hug, Gramps would ignore my ol’man completely and give an inventory in case we were hungry.

“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”

The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway filled with pop on the way to the kitchen.

I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became- my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.

In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about the supermarket end cap worthy pop display.

That’s barely an exaggeration.

The entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop cans and bottle pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.

It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein. Better selection, too.

There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.

As I mentioned, Gramps had ten kids— but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time.

Huns, it’s for the kids, Gramps would say as Grandma would yell at him coming home from grocery shopping with more pop when there were already hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house.

I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…

But Gramps wasn’t a drinker. Never a beer or a highball, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.

He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”

You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.

And of course, this stuff was pop. I don’t think I even heard the word soda until was 8 years old.

“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”

Episode 12: John Rigas – More than one thing is usually true

       By Steve Cichon

Almost 20 years after the corporate balloon he helped inflate burst— I still don’t know what to think about Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas, who died this week at the age of 96.

I worked for him for a couple of years just before he was sent to federal prison and the company was bankrupted.

It’s was a bizarre moment… sitting in my Adelphia middle manager’s office watching video of him being lead off in handcuffs on the NBC Nightly News, with the reporter making reference to “Adelphia’s management team” being arrested– somewhat chilling, since that could have described me at that point.

I had to lay off a handful of friends and co-workers because they were hired using the convoluted process that was a part of Adelphia’s shell game style of bookkeeping.

In the end, my job, and the jobs of all of my friends at the Empire Sports Network and WNSA Radio were lost. I was mostly unemployed for a year.

I personally lost thousands of dollars in talent fees and retirement earnings— many lost much, much more.

But as far as Mr. Rigas himself— the honorific still feels appropriate— in each of the many personal interactions I had with him, I always found him to be warm, kind, and humble.

After his arrest, though, little things began making sense.

The story I most often tell about Mr. Rigas is about the time I went to his office to interview him. He was gracious and welcoming to me. Also in the room were two executive managers whose salaries were both well into six figures.

As Mr. Rigas and I made small talk before the interview started, he excused himself and called a quarter-million dollars’ worth of Vice Presidents over by their first names and asked, “Can one of you get me a cup of coffee?”

The two men, with very important high-ranking jobs and tremendous responsibility within the company, nearly killed each other racing for the door to be able to get “the boss” his coffee first.

The whole ordeal felt sinister and abusive in the moment, and it was proven that this incident was reflective of the way the company was run all the time.

I learned a lot from Mr. Rigas and from working within the corporate structure he lorded over, and nearly all of it was “the way not to do things.”

There was what I can only imagine to have been genuine personal kindness to my face— but that doesn’t mesh with the ruthlessness with which he and his family played with and damaged the lives of their employees, including many of my friends and many reading this right now.

May perpetual light shine upon him.

May we also learn from the selfishness, greed, and power thirst that knocked him from his great heights.

Episode 11: Understanding Christ in 3 minutes or less

       By Steve Cichon

Religion, Christianity, can be utterly complicated.

But to understand Jesus, one simply has to go find a good translation of the Bible where Christ’s words are written in red.

Just read the red words. Christ’s words are straightforward.

If that sounds like too much work, read even just the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7.)

If you take this straight forward speech in, ruminate upon it as new material and apply basic sixth grade level reading comprehension skills, you’ll come to understand Christ made it unbelievably simple.

Sixth grade reading level is all you need because he’s direct.

No interpretation is needed– unless you’re trying to squeeze in your own BS.

No gray areas or yeah-buts.

The themes are super easy and laid right out. Points from the Sermon on the Mount in order.

Know that if you’re blessed somehow– that blessing was given to the world through you.

Let your light shine.

All of this is equally important—you can’t pick or chose which to follow.

Before you come before God to pray—be sure your conscience is clear and you are reconciled with your brothers.

Be merciful in making peace—or you will find yourself in need of mercy.

The desire to sin is as bad as the sin itself—stay away from both.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Love your enemies. (Bless them, in fact.)

Do good for the sake of doing good, not a pat on the back.

You can’t serve two masters. You can’t serve God and wealth. You can’t serve good and evil.

Consume simply. Don’t worry about tomorrow.

Don’t judge because you will be judged by the standards by which you judge.

Value the things that are valuable in your life.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s easy to go astray, but following the more difficult righteous path offers the life you seek.

Good people show goodness. Evil people show evil. Know the difference.

Build your life on these teachings and you will weather the storm of life.

Add in a couple more of Christ’s teachings–

Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Give away all your possessions and follow me.

People will know you are my followers when they see the way you love one another.

That’s just about all Christ gave us. That’s it.

Be defiantly good. Defiantly love people. Defiantly don’t be a jerk.

These ideas are all that the first Christians (the ones taught by Christ himself) knew– and it’s all I need.

Episode 10: Best car, worst car

       By Steve Cichon

It’s only by good luck that I survived driving my first car— an original Volkswagen Beetle. It was a beaten-up, road hazard death trap.

But man I loved it.

Sahara Beige was the color when it left the factory— but it was more primer and bondo by the time I bought it off a front lawn in Niagara Falls for something like 400 or 500 bucks.

It really wasn’t even street legal— back then, a couple of extra bucks could usually get you an inspection sticker whether your car was roadworthy or not.

I loved this car, it was far and away the coolest ride in my high school parking lot.

There was even a scene like from a movie when a cute girl said, “This is a really cool car,” and I felt like looking into the camera like Ferris Bueller and giving the double eyebrow raise.

I learned to drive stick in this car in the Seneca Mall parking lot with my ol’man. In that parking lot, outside the old Penney’s, is where I got pulled over for the first time.

The West Seneca cop saw me driving back and forth and thought I was trying to run over seagulls. Man, my dad was pissed.


Of course, if we’re being honest, the memory of this broken down Beetle is great— but I’m also glad I don’t have to drive it everyday.

If I think about this car long enough, my stomach turns and my nostrils with the once familiar essence of gas fumes, degrading Naugahyde, and some since- discontinued floral Lysol trying to mask the other two.

There were no working gauges (including speedometer and gas), no working heat, and plenty of character.

I daydream about this first car I ever owned often— but I rarely think about my second car.

Man I hated it— but it was the most underrated vehicle I’ve ever owned.
The 1987 Dodge Colt (manufactured in Japan by Mitsubishi) was an ugly, generic-looking 80s Japanese hatchback hand-me-down from my parents.

My ol’man had been in two accidents with it and didn’t get it fixed— so it was ugly and busted up.

And it was also embarrassing to drive because the fan belt made a loud, high-pitch squeal the first 15 minutes or so it was driven.

That dented and crunched-up little crap box would actually scream LOOK AT ME, when that’s the last thing I’d have wanted anyone do.

Driving it was a continuation of the disappointing feeling I’d always had for the gold Colt from the very beginning, since it replaced our brown 1980 AMC Spirit as a family car.

The poor Colt never really had a chance. It was a sad final drive with my ol’man, smoke belching from the Spirit form the still solid, American-built tank as we dropped it off to trade in for the light, plastic-y, insect-like Colt.
Even the key was a disappointment.

I thought we’d get a cool Dodge/Chrysler key with the iconic 5-point star/pentagon logo on them— but instead this car had giant, odd shaped keys with MITSUBISHI stamped across the top.

So gross.

Ugly, disappointing, and some serious bad mojo, too.

Dad was rear-ended so hard in the Colt that the bucket seats were permanently bent— and he had to have surgery from the resulting whiplash.

The car would almost certainly be totaled today— and who knows, maybe it was then, but we drove it for years.

I also remember from the passenger seat the time when a kid on a bike cut out in front of my dad on Seneca Street.

The bike wound up mangled, and while the kid bounced off and permanently dented the hood— the teenager was fine.

My dad drove him and his crumpled bike home to Duerstein Street.

Once he dropped the kid off at home, my ol’man, a Parliament with too much ash dangling from his lip, told me if he ever saw me riding my bike like that I “wouldn’t have to worry about a car because he’d grab me and rip my goddamn head off.”

(It was his way of saying he cares 🙂 )

The Colt had been passed around the family for a couple of years— a couple of different uncles drove it— before the short time I used it to get to work and school.

I did my best to upgrade the car which, by this point looked like it had been abandoned in the streets of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.

I went to Kmart— and bought and installed a radio with a cassette deck, making the music coming out of the single speaker in the middle of the dashboard a bit more tolerable.

I also went to a head shop and bought a bunch of stickers, most of which were for bands I had no interest in— but I had to put SOMETHING on this car to make it less ugly.

One of the stickers was a giant Jerry Garcia Desert Face decal— and while I wasn’t a deadhead, I at least knew who he was and I had Touch of Grey on a few of the mix cassettes that were the vehicle’s sound track… so there was that.

It wasn’t long before I passed this car along to some other desperate-for-transportation family member, and I bought myself a well-used 1986 Volkswagen Golf from a driveway on Kenmore Avenue near the Boulevard.

Anyway, something made me think of the ol’ Dodge Colt, which deserves a second look from someone for something other than that screaming fan belt.