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

 

 


Love Our City.
Experience Buffalo.


Steve Cichon

From the earliest days of the internet, Steve Cichon has been writing, digitizing, and sharing the stories and images of all the things that make Buffalo special and unique. 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.



Categories:

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.

Parkside
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.


By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

  facebook  linkedin  twitter   youtube  instagram

Mixed feelings on Millard Fillmore’s birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Millard Fillmore’s grave at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Buffalo’s own Millard Fillmore is buried in Forest Lawn cemetery, his grave very simply marked.

Those who loved him, appreciated his contributions to Buffalo’s formation as a city, and his involvement in the creation of dozens of institutions from UB to the SPCA to the History Museum… in death, they called him M.F.

There are also those who look upon his signing of the Fugitive Slave Act and his later lack of enthusiasm for the northern cause toward the end of the Civil War and call him M. F.

It’s nice that we can all agree about what to call Millard Fillmore on this, the 219th anniversary of his birthday.

I tend to agree with both interpretations. HB, MF.

Sears & Kmart, once the gold standard, now nearly dead

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I was a longtime Kmart man.

Throughout my childhood, even as Hills, Twin Fair, Gold Circle, Ames, and Brand Names all had their advantages, Kmart was my gold standard in shopping.

It was always clean, well stocked, and carried quality merchandise.

When we first bought our house, Sears was still the embodiment of dependability. To buy something from Sears was an investment.

It’s been sad to see these great brands ravaged, and to know the service and dependability they stood for is completely and utterly dead on any large scale.

I was thinking about all this after writing about the demise of Kmart and Sears for The News.

The days when Sears and Kmart first arrived in WNY

 

Krispy Kreme is the “The Blizzard of ’77” line waiting

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Even removing any social justice or political overtones, as a community, Buffalo has a tortured relationship with national chains, especially chain restaurants.

Police blockades set up outside Chick-Fil-A’s Walden Avenue location in Cheektowaga during its first week of operation, November, 2018. (Steve Cichon photo)

On one hand, we are proud of our superlative and eclectic local dining scene, and we are very encouraging and protective of our Western New York neighbors trying to make it in the slim-margin restaurant world.

One the other hand, though, we bear a chip on our collective shoulder when Western New York “doesn’t fit into the business model” of some trendy shop we saw on vacation or a Shangri-La Superbowl advertiser.

“It’s fine,” we say, like any other jilted lover, if a national company ignores us– but then we drop everything and fawn when they pay us any attention. For a little while anyway, depending on the brand.

We say “thanks, but no thanks” to plenty of big names. Dominos and Dunkin Donuts have both tried more than once to make splashy entrances into the Buffalo market, but stores have eventually closed. Folks in the Elmwood Village were downright hostile when a Jimmy John’s Subs opened in 2016 (and closed the following year.)

The fact is Buffalo has a pretty good handle on quick pizza, coffee, and subs, and those places did little to ignite our imaginations here.

But the opposite is also true.

Just like with this week’s bated-breath arrival of Chick-Fil-A, a handful of big chains have made headlines with their much-anticipated grand openings in Western New York. In 2013, Popeye’s came to Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo and in 2015, Sonic opened on Union Road in Cheektowaga, each with much fanfare, long lines, and news coverage. Both were nationally advertised brands that Buffalonians might have only sampled on vacation.

Lining up at Sonic during its first week of operation on Union Road. (Steve Cichon photo)

That notion of seeing something great elsewhere and wanting it here extended to grocery stores as well. Wegmans remains a beloved local giant, but when Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came to town, many waited in line to give them a try.

Jammed aisles in the days after Trader Joe’s opening on Niagara Falls Blvd. (Steve Cichon photo)

By now, whether you’re a Buffalonian who waits in line or Western New Yorker who scoffs at the queues, just about everyone expects a line when something new comes to town. Even if you don’t “get it,” you know it’s going to happen—ever since the grand-daddy of all mass-hysteria snaking lineups happened in October, 2000.

Directing traffic outside Krispy Kreme, 2000.

Just like all Buffalo snow storms are measured against the Blizzard of ’77, all Buffalo grand-opening crowds are measured against Krispy Kreme.

Because of the blizzard, we recognize that any snow can quickly become an emergency. Because of Krispy Kreme, we know our fellow Western New Yorkers can’t wait to get into a newly opened chain.

Both the ’77 and ’00 watermark events started slowly. Krispy Kreme hired an off-duty police officer to handle traffic and two Town of Tonawanda cars were sent to the scene on that first morning on Oct. 3, 2000.

Making the donuts at Krispy Kreme’s now-closed Niagara Falls Blvd. store.

“Traffic was backed up two blocks to Brighton (Road), and there were women with babies in strollers, all sorts of people just milling around watching the action,” said Town of Tonawanda Assistant Chief Robert Rowland on that first day. Traffic stayed heavy all day.

More than a week later, on Oct. 11, store manager Dave Benfanti told The News, “We never expected the opening to be this big.” Several nearby businesses like Goodyear Tire, EMS, and M&T Bank reported their parking lots were still being filled with more Krispy Kreme customers than their own.

A month later, only a few days before Election Day, the lines were still long as First Lady Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea came to Buffalo in the closing moments of what would prove to be Mrs. Clinton’s successful run for the US Senate. A good part of the Western New York trip was spent at—yes, Krispy Kreme on Niagara Falls Blvd., with both Clintons shaking hands to those in line and signing boxes of doughnuts of those leaving. It all added to the surreal feel of Buffalo’s weird obsession of late 2000.

The lines lasted longer than anyone would have expected, but they died out just as quickly.

Krispy Kreme’s Western New York footprint rapidly expanded first with another stand-alone store across Walden Avenue from the Walden Galleria, and then by making the doughnuts available in each of the several dozen Wilson Farms stores in the area.

Niagara Falls Blvd store, now just a memory.

Five years later though, in August, 2006, it was announced the stores would close and the red glow of the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign was forever darkened, but the memory is forever imprinted on our psyche.

The lasting result of the Krispy Kreme story is a lot like the result of the Blizzard. Until the last person who remembers the epic snow of 1977 is gone, whenever it snows a little more than we expect, there will be someone telling the story of where they were, and how the snow drifts reached the traffic lights.

And whenever we Buffalonians get overly excited about a fast food joint, national grocery store, or heaven forbid—someday an Ikea store, we remember with smiles, frowns, and a sense of bewilderment the great Krispy Kreme rush of 2000.

Great-Great Grandpa Slattery: “A jovial man and a good mixer”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Found a couple of new articles about my great-great-grandfather, Grandpa Coyle’s grandpa, Captain Thomas Slattery.

He was a Great Lakes ship captain. After many years commanding package freighters, he was given the helm of the SS Juniata, one of the great passenger ships of the Great Lakes.

Thomas J. Slattery was born to recent Irish immigrants in Prescott, Ontario. He moved to Buffalo as a young sailor in his 20s, living first on Orlando Street and then on Indian Church Rd.

I’ve never seen the photo of him as a young man in the one article. The only photos I’ve ever seen of of him as a much older man.

Comfort in the kettle’s whistle

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

There’s a full kitchen a few doors down from my office, and someone left the tea kettle to boil and walked away.

It was going for two or three minutes before I got up to shut it off… I felt like I was back at Grandma Cichon’s house, where a lot of times it felt like I was the only one who heard the kettle going.

By the time I made it down to the kitchen just now, I was thinking back to taking similar steps towards a whistling kettle to make a couple of cups of awful instant coffee for Gramps and me… so we could sit and talk with Lawrence Welk or Stan Jasinski playing in the background.

“Perfect. Thanks son,” Gramps would say to any cup of coffee, knowing that it was made with love.

Perfect. Thanks Gramps.

I didn’t know I was a pencil snob

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I guess I’m a pencil snob. There’s a box of 144 new pencils in the desk I inherited, but I had to order some good ol’ Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2s.

Ever since Mr. Frost handed me a new one of these on the first day of second grade, every other pencil has felt inferior.

American cedar, quality lead, and a soft eraser that erases without ruining the page. And, maybe most important, they just smell like pencils.

Are you still reading this? Now I’m embarrassed.

No one should care this much about pencils, but then again, you already knew there is something wrong with me.

Pausing to reflect, 9/11/18

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The WECK Coffee Club paused at 8:46am this morning.

This morning we pause to remember… where we were, what we doing at the moment when we found out our world had changed.

We remember that moment…

We remember the people who were sitting at their desks in the World Trade Center and The Pentagon… and those who wrestled evil on a plane over Pennsylvania.

We remember the first responders who rushed in to help…

We remember those who volunteered to defend our country…
and we remember those who who never returned home.

In their honor, I hope we also remember the way we came together as a country and as a people, and try to find some way to bring that feeling into our daily lives– and remember what we have in common as Americans, in honor of those we lost on this day 17 years ago.

The early rock ‘n’ roll history of Buffalo’s very own 1230am

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

1230am signs on

When 1230 am officially signed on in 1956, WNIA was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”

WNIA, 1956

The record library here in our Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.

From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”

WNIA control room. (Dennis Majewicz photo)

Sixty years ago, it was a difficult decision for a radio station to play rock ‘n’ roll music full-time, like WECK does now.

In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”

WNIA Founder Gordon Brown, remembered in his hometown Democrat & Chronicle in 1979.
Tom Donahue, 7th grade

A few years after the station first signed on, a group of local singers—all high school students– at WAY Radio productions sang the jingles you can hear in the piece linked above.

One of those singers was Tom Donahue.

That means his voice has now been heard professionally on the station for more than 50 years.


Mike Melody, Tommy Thomas, and Jerry Jack…

We’re continuing to talk about the early rock ‘n’ roll history here at 1230am.

There were dozens of young disc jockeys who played the hits here at Buffalo’s upstart rock ‘n’ roll station.

Dozens of DJs– but only 4 or 5 names.

Station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.

He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.

WNIA’s on air schedule

6 AM to Noon – Tommy Thomas
Noon to 6:30 – Jerry Jack
6:30 to 12:30 AM – Mike Melody

Brown died in 1977, and the station was sold. Since then, the disc jockeys you’ve heard on WECK didn’t necessarily have to use their own names– but they didn’t have to be Mike Melody or Mac McGuire, either.

WNIA poster created from original WNIA art by Steve Cichon.

Midnight Mood & Be Big…. 

We continue our week long look back at the early rock ‘n’ roll history of 1230am.

It’s one of the most requested songs as people reminisce about radio in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

It was the 1230 theme song for years, Richard Maltby’s Midnight Mood would play every night at midnight… that’s a tradition we continue now at WECK each night as the clock strikes twelve.

WNIA was a quirky station. The daily noon time Catholic prayers were bookended by rock ‘n’ roll music.

And if you listened to the station at all in those days, you probably remember that you should be big… be a builder.

THE IMPRESSION YOUR FRIENDS AND OTHERS HAVE OF YOU IS BASED ON WHAT YOU DO…TO TEACH…
TO CREATE… TO ACCOMPLISH… OR TO BUILD, WHETHER YOU DIG THE TRENCH FOR THE FOUNDATION
FOR A BUILDING; WHETHER YOU LAY THE LAST BRICK ON ITS TOP; WHETHER YOU WORK WITH A PICK
AND SHOVEL OR WITH THE TOOLS AND MACHINES, OR IN THE OFFICE,OR SELL THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES
OF INDUSTRY; WHETHER YOU GROW, PREPARE OR HARVEST THE VERY FOOD WE EAT… WHETHER YOU ARE A
HOMEBUILDER RAISING,TEACHING OR EDUCATING YOUR FAMILY OR OTHERS HOW TO BE COME A BUILDER…
NO MATTER WHAT YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU DO, IF YOU ARE A BUILDER, YOU ARE ONE TO BE LONG REMEMBERED.
THOSE WHO ATTEMPTED TO DESTROY THE PYRAMIDS OF EGYPT WERE DESPISED AND SOON FORGOTTEN…THOSE
THOUSANDS WHO LABORED TO BUILD THEM WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN………. BE BIG…… BE A BUILDER
–as transcribed at http://www.flynnflam.com/wsay/bbbb.html, a website dedicated to remembering WNIA’s sister station, WSAY, in Rochester.

The minute long diatribe, punctuated with the slogan BE BIG, BE A BUILDER, was the brainchild of station owner Gordon Brown.

It was a reaction to the war protests of the late 60s, and now its a well-remembered part of Buffalo’s broadcasting history.


Listening to the Archives

Mac McGuire, Tommy Thomas, Mike Melody, and Jerry Jack all holding court in the Make Believe Ballroom during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The call letters WNIA originally stood for “NIAGARA.”

When the station was sold in 1977, the new call letters, WECK were selected to represent another Buffalo institution.

WECK sticker, late 1970s.

From WNIA to WECK

This week we’ve been looking back at the history of 1230am…

For 20 years, tiny WNIA had a powerhouse sized influence on rock ‘n’ roll radio in Buffalo, from the same ranch house we broadcast from on Genesee Street.

From Mike Melody’s “Make Believe Ball Room,” to “Be Big… BE A BUILDER,” to Richard Maltby’s “Midnight Mood,”  WNIA and 1230am were very much a part of the tapestry that made up life as a teenager in Buffalo in the 50s and 60s.

By the late 70s, those days were over, the station was sold. WNIA became WECK.

The Roll that rocks. Get it? WECK Roll?

Anyway, 1230 grew up with those 50s and 60s rock ‘n’ rollers and was spinning the disco tunes with DJs like Frankie Nestro.

After years of “Music of Your Life,” then talk for a while, we’re now back to our roots as Buffalo’s home for Good Times, and Great Oldies…

Buffalo’s Very Own WECK.