Buffalo’s radio staff musicians

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


The WGR Staff Orchestra, featuring conductor David Cheskin, right. Announcer John Lascalles is at the microphone to the left.

The best known and most remembered musician of Buffalo’s radio staff musician era is probably Dave Cheskin.

He was a “one man wonder” during the Golden era of Buffalo radio in the 30s and 40s, serving as WGR’s Music Director, band leader, and conductor.

Trained at Juilliard and then a violinist for the NBC Orchestra for three years, Cheskin came to Buffalo as the music director for the Erlanger Theater, soon taking on the role of Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation Music Director in 1931.

Dave Cheskin

His live broadcasts, conducting the 18-piece WGR Orchestra, were among Buffalo’s most popular radio programs of the day.

At one point, Cheskin was also conducting 18 network shows a week— including “Buffalo Presents”— heard all over the country on NBC and CBS as performed live in the WGR-WKBW studios.

WGR live broadcast with Dave Cheskin conducting.

Cheskin was tapped as the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Pops Conductor through the war years, and spent more than 30 years leading one of Buffalo’s premier dance bands.

The WGR Orchestra

The members of Cheskin’s bands and orchestras also move on to their own high-profile radio gigs as well.

Harold Austin, known for leading the bands at the Crystal Beach Ballroom and on the Crystal Beach boat “The Canadiana,” as well as in the Dellwood Ballroom during WEBR’s Hi-Teen Show, started his musical career as a musician in Dave Cheskin’s WGR Orchestra.

Through the years, hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians waited at the foot of Main Street to board The Canadiana. Once aboard, the sound of Harold Austin’s Orchestra filled the ship in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Violinist Max Miller was a featured star for many years with the WGR Orchestra, until he was named WBEN’s Musical Director.

Max Miller, conductor, WBEN Orchestra

Miller was nine years old, the first time he played the violin on Buffalo radio. After graduating from Buffalo’s East High School, he played regularly as a part of the Shea’s Buffalo orchestra.

Max Miller, center with violin, leads the WBEN Orchestra.

Miller took over the reigns at WBEN from Bob Armstrong, the trombone and cello player who’d lead the WBEN-NBC Orchestra for most of the 1930s.

Bob Armstrong’s Hotel Statler Orchestra in 1941 (above) was mostly the same group heard on WBEN at the time.

Vera Holly and Herman “Tiny” Schwartz were the featured vocalists, sitting at the front of the stage.

The musicians included, in the front row, Charlie Wullen, leader Bob Armstrong, Bill Jors, John Porejko, Stan Zureck, John McFadden, and Bill Wullen. In the second row, Pat Vastola, Dan Brittain, Hank Krompart, and Andy Dengos, with Ed Rydel and Tom Sist at the top of the bandstand.

The Federal Theater Jubilee Singers on WEBR in 1938. From left to right, Ruth Malone, Grant Johnson, Martha Boynkin, Robert Edwards, Harriett Baull, and Godfrey Tottin. The group was unit of the Depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project. They travelled the city to portray the origin of Negro spirituals and jubilee music.
The winners of WEBR’s 1940 “Barbershop Harmony” contest were James Davies, Daniel Colley, Crawford Anderson, and Donald Rowley.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

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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.