Buffalo in the ’60s: Bowling was a big business in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We Buffalonians don’t bowl anywhere near as much as we used to, but just like we still consider ourselves a blue-collar town (even though most of the blue-collar jobs have been gone for decades) we still sentimentally feel a link to the game our parents and grandparents enjoyed over pitchers of beer in leagues all across the city.

Sattler’s and bowling– two entities that made Buffalo great in the 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Buffalo Stories archives

While for many bowling was a game that was as much about smoking and drinking and socializing as it was about rolling a ball down the lane, it was also serious business in Buffalo.

There was a time when Channels 2, 4, and 7 all aired local bowling shows– and Channel 4 had two shows– “Beat The Champ” with men bowlers and “Strikes, Spares, and Misses” with lady bowlers. WBEN-TV’s Chuck Healy was in homes six days a week for two decades as Buffalo’s bowling emcee as host of those programs. This 1971 ad describes “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” which aired daily at 7:30pm, as “Buffalo’s most popular show.”

When local TV bowling was at its zenith in the 1950s, even radio stations promoted their coverage of the sport. Ed Little, who spent 62 years working in radio, most of them in his hometown of Buffalo, read the bowling scores on WEBR Radio before he took the drive down Main Street to host live broadcasts with the stars performing at the Town Casino.

WEBR’s Ed Little with bowling highlights weeknights at 6:30. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo’s best bowlers became celebrities– well known from their exploits as televised. Nin Angelo, Allie Brandt, Phyllis Notaro, and scores of others became some of Buffalo’s best known athletes.

Sixty years later, families still beam with pride when relating the stories of their family’s greatest athletes, even when an elder has to explain most of the fuzzy details. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of “Beat the Champ.”

A Courier-Express photo illustration bringing together many of Buffalo’s great bowlers of the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

We live in an era where we’re watching the numbers of Western New York bowlers and bowling alleys dwindle rapidly. But five or six decades ago, it wasn’t just bowling alleys that were plentiful: The sports pages of The Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express were regularly filled with ads for the all the accouterments of  bowling.

Bowling was big, and judging by the pages of the city’s newspapers, there was big money to be made as well. The run up to league time in 1960 saw no fewer than five decent-sized ads for custom bowling shirts…. because it wasn’t just about your score, it was about looking good at the social event of the week at your neighborhood bowling alley.

Bowling shirts from Al Dekdebrun, who became famous in Buffalo as a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills of the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Laux Sporting Goods sold bowling shirts from their original location at 441 Broadway on Buffalo’s East Side. (Buffalo Stories archives)
One of Buffalo’s biggest sellers of custom bowling balls was on the city’s West Side at Buffalo Rubber & Supply, Niagara Street at Pennsylvania. (Buffalo Stories archives)

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.