I got to know Doug Smith while we were both working at Channel 4, but I loved him long before then. Thinking of him makes me think of my grandmother.
Grandma Cichon rounded up us kids and we took the bus from Seneca Street near the city line all the way up to Hertel Avenue for the first Italian Festival in North Buffalo after years on the West Side.
In perfect Grandma Cichon fashion, we prettyquickly walked up and down through the rides and games –it wasn’t much different from the Caz Park Festival we were used to… And then, eschewing the pricier Italian Sausage or ravioli, we ate lunch at the Burger King at the corner of Hertel and Delaware.
And since we were so close to K-Mart, Grandma couldn’t resist running in, which we did (probably for air conditioning, I’d guess, more than anything else.)
In the parking lot leaving K-Mart, heading for the bus stop, I think I spied him first. A real-live celebrity from Channel 4. Doug Smith! Right there! The guy with the convertible Beetle! In the flesh!
As if that wasn’t enough, Grandma– in her breathy, asthmatic voice– started moving toward him shouting, “Doug! Doug! Oh Doug!”
She knew him in her role as the longtime President of the South Buffalo Theatre on South Park Avenue.
“Oh Marie, how are you my darling,” he said, overacting the part, maybe even kissing her hand.
Italian Festival, Burger King, Doug Smith, and Grandma knows him! What a day!
Doug Smith would have made me smile even if I’d never met him… but that he was always great— and that he always makes me think of my grandma is really a bonus.
Then again, I think Doug’s the kind of guy that evokes layers of memories for plenty of people around Buffalo.
He was one of a kind– and warmly touched so many lives. He died today at 81. Rest in Peace, Doug Smith.
John Zach’s Buffalo broadcasting career has spread over seven decades, starting in the late 50’s as a volunteer in the early days of public broadcasting at Channel 17.
When he walks away on December 30th to spend more time with his chickens (and his grandkids, I assume), he takes with him the last vestige of a great era in Buffalo radio.
He learned the craft of radio and radio news from men who treated their jobs in radio like their friends and neighbors treated their jobs at the plant or the office. Buckle down, do your job with all you’ve got and with the highest attention to detail and quality, shut your mouth and get it done with as little nonsense and frill as possible.
For quite some time now, John has been the defiant last holdout of that generation still grinding away in the news mill every day– to the point where there aren’t even many folks left who started ten or twenty years after John did still at work in broadcast news in Buffalo.
The sound and sensibility he has brought to Western New York microphones for nearly 60 years is unmistakable. That unique richness and breadth his presence has added to the tableau of media and journalism in Buffalo will be forever missed from our airwaves and news coverage.
Your chickens and grandkids will like to see more of you, John, and I can assume you won’t mind seeing more of your pillow in the 3am hour. That, however, leaves the rest of us to miss you and your daily presence in our lives.
The many Faces of Ed Little By Steve Cichon November, 2004
ED LITTLE spent an astonishing 62 years on radio, nearly all of it in Buffalo and Rochester. His awe-inspiring career took root in 1938 when he stepped in front of the microphone at WEBR as a child actor with a grown-up voice. Later he played many parts on stage and on the air with the UCLA Campus Theater troupe.
During World War II, Little carried a wire recorder aboard B-29 bombing missions over Japan and delivered the play-by-play description for later playback on NBC.
Joining WEBR as a music personality post-war, he soon became host of the late-night Town Casino broadcast, interviewing every megastar of the 1950s—from Danny Thomas and Tony Bennett to Johnnie Ray and Rosemary Clooney—at that storied nightclub.
During 1958-64 he lit up the night airwaves at KFMB San Diego, then returned to Buffalo for an eye-opening career shift—becoming the newsman during Joey Reynolds’ nighttime romp on WKBW.
Following 14 years as the afternoon news anchor at WBBF Rochester, Little in 1981 joined the news team at WBEN, where his trademark delivery continued to add a sense of distinction to that station’s aura until his retirement in 2000.
Ed in the Press… Click to read MORE
He was one of my best pals ever… The late, great Ed Little. He was a WBEN newsman from 1979-2000, was a newsman at KB on the Joey Reynolds Show, and hosted a show live from the Town Casino on WEBR in the early ’50s. He started in radio in the 30s as a child actor, and also flew in bombers over Japan in WWII, recording his play-by-play of bombing runs to be played back later on nationwide radio.
He could sometimes be a pain to work with 🙂 but he NEVER had a bad word to say about anyone, and always had plenty of change to buy you a 25¢ cup of coffee from the vending machine in the basement. Judas PRIEST, indeed!
BUFFALO, NY – It’s funny the way memories begin to haze. Strictly from a Buffalo point of view, in the late 50’s and early 60’s, KB was one of many stations cranking out the music and antics that made for great rock n’ roll radio.
Stations like WBNY, WWOL, WXRA, and later WYSL and a host of others were capturing the imaginations of young people in Buffalo. Tommy Shannon first made girls swoon at WXRA Radio, from a location way out in the boonies. The studio was on rural Niagara Falls Boulevard, in a location which soon would be the home of Swiss Chalet for the next 50 years. WXRA later became WINE, where Hernando played host.
Tom Clay, one of many disc jockeys to use the name Guy King on WWOL, was arrested after his playing ‘Rock Around the Clock’ over and over again, while perched atop a billboard in Shelton Square. Traffic was snarled for hours in what was considered “Buffalo’s Times Square,” and is now just considered the MetroRail tracks in front of the Main Place Mall.
If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Joey Reynolds (right), Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.
As many of the smaller stations in Buffalo were churning out rhythm and blues music all day, at night, for Buffalo and the entire eastern seaboard, ‘the Hound Sound was around.’
George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, the Godfather of rock n’ roll radio (not just in Buffalo, but PERIOD) first plied his trade in Western New York at Niagara Falls’ WJJL, as early as 1951. By the mid 50’s, Lorenz’s hip daddy style, and the fact that he was spinning records from black artists, made him an institution.
Ironically, the man who brought Elvis to Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went Rock n’ Roll full-time. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top 40 style format. While inspiring many of the changes that came to KB and many other stations around the country, the Hound stayed true to his style, and founded WBLK Radio; where he continued to uncover and spotlight new artists, both in Buffalo, and to a syndicated audience around the country.
Despite a pioneering spirit and great imaginative programming, each of those true rock n’roll pioneer stations had unique problems. Either they weren’t well financed, or had daytime-only signals so weak that they couldn’t be heard throughout the city and all the nearby suburbs.
Enter WKBW Radio, soon with the corporate backing of owner Capital Cities (now THE DISNEY CORPORATION, by the way), and its monstrous 50,000 watt signal. With an eventual 50% of the marketshare, KB quickly blew all of the much smaller competitors out of the water. Half of the audience was listening to KB. Never before, and never since, has a radio station been so dominant in Buffalo.
On July 4, 1958, Futursonic Radio was alive on WKBW. The rock n’roll era had arrived on a respectable, long established Buffalo radio station. When station manager Al Anscombe first convinced the Reverend Clinton Churchill to make the switch to Top 40, initially, the station was stocked with out-of-towners at the direction of the man who’d established WBNY as the city’s Top 40 leader, program director Dick Lawrence.
But eventually, a base of homegrown talent sprinkled with some of the most talented people from around the country, KB built an unprecedented following in Buffalo and around the country. Most of the names already mentioned here made their way to KB, and many reading this might not know or remember they worked elsewhere.
As often happens, over the last 50 years, for better or for worse, people who remember Guy King or the earliest Tom Shannon or Daffy Dan Neaverth shows, will think they heard those things on KB, forgetting those early pioneering rock n’roll days. If you watched Elvis shake his hips on Ed Sullivan for the first time, and you then listened to Elvis on the radio– It wasn’t likely KB, even though your memory might tell you otherwise.
Many who played a part in making those smaller stations great feel slighted by the fact that KB has swallowed up the collective memory of the early rock n’roll era; but it’s no slight on those great stations and the folks who worked there: It’s more a testament to the incredible juggernaut that KB was. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he was just the first to make the same car available to everyone.
With its clear-channel 50,000 watt signal, KB was heard all over the eastern half of North America. Anyone who worked at KB in its heyday has stories. The Joey Reynolds Show was a resounding Number 1 in Buffalo. But 370 miles away in Baltimore, the show showed up in the ratings as number 4. The late newsman Ed Little would remember being in the room as packages containing female lingerie were opened; sent from Maryland by an obviously big fan. Don Yearke, known as Don Keller the Farm Feller back in the early 60s on KB, was recognized along with his KB Litter Box by a fan in Southern Pennsylvania.
Starting in the mid 50s, and running through the mid 70s, its fair to say cumulatively, that nighttime KB disc jockeys like George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, Dick Biondi, Tommy Shannon, Jay Nelson, Joey Reynolds, Sandy Beach, and Jack Armstrong enjoyed more listeners on a single radio station during that clear-channel time in the evening, than any other station in the country.
For that reason, KB owns a special place not only in Buffalo’s pop cultural lexicon, but also for thousands and thousands of fans, who just like the ones in Buffalo, fell asleep with their transistor under their pillow, wondering where the hell Lackawanna was.
The proof is in a quick search of WKBW on your favorite search engine. People from all over the country, and not just Buffalo transplants, have built websites dedicated to keeping the memory of WKBW alive. It’s a part of Buffalo’s past of which we should all be proud.
Listen to WKBW!
Narrated by then-KB Radio newsman Irv Weinstein, this piece reflects the KB staff from it’s first year as a Top 40 station. It starts with The Perry Allen show, with an Irv Weinstein KB Pulsebeat Newscast… with some of the great writing and style Irv would become known for in Buffalo over the next 40 years. You’ll also hear from Russ Syracuse, Johnny Barrett, Art Roberts, and Dick Biondi.
Narrated by Irv Weinstein, Instant KB was actually released on a single-sided album sized record for distribution sponsors on the local and national level. You’ll hear snippets of disc jockeys Stan Roberts, Fred Klestine, Jay Nelson, Dan Neaverth, and Joey Reynolds at work, followed by a Henry Brach newscast, and a quick excerpt from Irv Weinstein’s documentary “Buffalo and La Cosa Nostra.” Many KB commercials and contests follow.
The famous Jeff Kaye produced and narrated look at KB in 1971, with jocks Danny Neaverth, Jack Sheridan, Don Berns, Sandy Beach, Jack Armstrong, Bob McCrea, and Casey Piotrowski, with Kaye’s thoughts and insights on each in between. First appeared on album form from the industry periodical “Programmer’s Digest.”
BUFFALO, NY – When Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls teamed up in 1965, it’s probably fair to say that more people would have been watching Channel 4’s test pattern than the news on Channel 7. But by the time Rick Azar retired in 1989, the three had not only become the longest running anchor team in history, but also gained an iconic status unparalleled for any other triumvirate in television news history.
For me personally, Irv, Rick, and Tom have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My dad and I watched the news together every day. My mom tells anyone who’ll listen that “IRV TINE-TINE” was among my first words, and I would run around the house singing my own version of the Eyewitness News Theme (ba-ba-BA, BA-BA, Badabadaba, ba-ba-ba-BA-BA, BADABADABA!).
Commander Tom and his pals Davey and Goliath kept me quiet and entertained, and left me having a great desire to have a red jacket with yellow epaulets. And then there was the time my Grandmother nearly passed out when we all met Rick Azar AND Mike Randall at the Broadway Market one Easter… “He’s so handsome, He’s so handsome,” Grandma repeated over and over.
Eyewitness News Audio
Some of the people, places, and stories of Channel 7 through the years…
Buffalo, NY – When Jim Fagan was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, I sat with him and we went through dozens of his photos and mementos from his decades in radio– from his days as a disc jockey at Buffalo’s old WINE Radio in the 50s, to his decades as a newsman at WKBW.
When he showed me this photo as a clipping from the Tonawanda News, he beamed with pride at being photographed with Hubert Humphrey.
“A good guy, a really good guy,” Jim said, his unmistakable voice trailing off.
Jim died this week, and everyone who knew him, felt about him the same way he felt about Hubert Humphrey. He was just a really good guy. Let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
In every era of Buffalo television, there have been local commercial pitchmen who’ve left us wondering if maybe we should go read a book. While the usually low budget spots become grating when they play over and over, like most things familiar — they become fun to remember when they’re gone.
Buffalo news archives
Jim Pachioli was the owner and raspy-voiced pitchman for Factory Sleep Shop. He was often seen in energy-filled TV commercials wearing boxing gloves as he delivered the company slogan, “Nobody beats us, we guarantee it!”
The commercials weren’t great, and Pachioli knew that. “I think it’s a bad commercial,” he told The News in 1985. “But if it’s bad, they remember.”
If you were near a Western New York TV set in the early ’80s, you couldn’t avoid the TV spots. Factory Sleep Shop, reported News Critic Alan Pergament, was spending about $35,000 every month on television ads.
“Not since car dealer Dan Creed looked into the camera and said ‘Shame on you,’ has one local television commercial gotten so much mileage,” wrote Pergament in 1983.
Pachioli admitted in an interview with News reporter Jane Kwiatkowski that while he was embarrassed when people told him his commercials were terrible, the pain was eased when those words came as the people where buying a mattress from him. He was on the floor of his shop 12 hours a day, six days a week. A Buffalo guy who came from a poor family, Pachioli was proud of the business he built and operated from 1960 until his death in 1999.
Having spent my early formative years in front of televisions in Buffalo living rooms in the late ’70s and early ’80s, at least half of the viewing choices (and most of my favorite shows) came from north of the border. We didn’t get cable on Allegany Street in South Buffalo until I was in kindergarten or first grade at Holy Family, so it was 2, 4, 7, 17, 29 and whatever the rabbit ears could bring.
I was part of a generation caught between ample kids’ TV in Buffalo. Rocketship 7 closed up shop when Dave Thomas flew off to Philadelphia in 1978. Commander Tom was still a staple — but only on weekend mornings. Channel 29 offered a wide array of cartoons, but most were C-grade when they were new 20 or 30 years earlier.
“Heckle & Jeckle,” “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Mighty Mouse,” and “The Tales of The Wizard of Oz” were all in heavy rotation on WUTV, and that probably would have been fine had a little dial switching and tin foil scrunching not brought the glow of Canadian magic into our early mornings.
In the same way we look on in awe at toddlers’ mastery of smart phones and tablets, adults must have marveled at my skills in using the big clunky separate 2-13 VHF and 14-82 UHF dials and well as my ability to manipulate the foil-covered rabbit ear antennas.
Through the wavy technicolor lines and hissing audio of bad reception, we became adoring fans of programs that might as well have come from another solar system with planets named Etobicoke, Saskatchewan, Peterborough and New Foundland.
Some of my earliest TV memories involve waking up early before my parents, grabbing an apple for my brother and myself, and, in the darkness of a 1981 morning, trying to tune in Channel 9 to catch the 6:30 a.m. start of the Uncle Bobby Show.
Even with the advent of the social media and the proliferation of web-based nostalgia for just about everything, I’m fascinated by the numbers of Buffalonians within 10 years of my age either way who have no memory of “The Uncle Bobby Show” — until they watch.
And somehow, from somewhere deep inside their consciousness, they sing the “Bimbo the Birthday Clown” song along with the YouTube clip — flabbergasted and a bit weirded out by how they know it.
My memory of “The Uncle Bobby Show” was that it was on early in the morning, but it aired during the noon hour for most of the show’s run on CFTO-TV Channel 9. I’ve written extensively about Uncle Bobby and even interviewed him once, but the undisputed king of Canadian children’s television remains “Mr. Dressup.”
Mr. Dressup, Casey and Finnegan held the 10:30 a.m. timeslot on CBC’s Channel 5 through most of four decades. The show was a part of my preschool life, and like many Buffalonians, was a part of most sick days on the couch, home from school.
In my house, we had our own “tickle truck,” much like Mr. Dressup’s. It was an old cardboard case for beer bottles — Schmidt’s, I think. We drew flowers on it and filled it with hats, sunglasses and some of my ol’ man’s old ties.
The only squabble anyone in my house ever had with “Mr. Dressup” was my mother. Many episodes would end with Mr. Dressup making lunch for Casey and Finnegan. This would naturally lead to us feeling hungry and looking for lunch as well.
“Maybe they eat at 11 at Mr. Dressup’s house,” I remember my saintly mother saying, “but in our house we eat lunch at noon.” Or, in TV-speak, after “The Price Is Right.”
Since the show was around for so long, and in the same time slot, most of us don’t have much problem remembering Mr. Dressup. Not as much the case for another show with a similarly long run, which bounced around into different time slots.
“The Friendly Giant” was a low-key show that invited you to “look up … waaaaaay up,” a few different times per episode, including when the Friendly Giant himself would set out dollhouse furniture for us kids watching at home to sit in.
There was “a rocking chair for someone who likes to rock,” which lead to more than one fight in my house over who would get to sit in that rocking chair if we ever made it to the Friendly Giant’s castle.
A list like this wouldn’t be complete without a mention of CHCH-TV Channel 11’s “Hilarious House of Frankenstein.”
From what I can tell, during the time when I was watching this stuff, this show was up against Uncle Bobby, and I think I’ve made my allegiances perfectly clear.
While I don’t have clear memories of watching this show, I do have clear memories of seeing Vincent Price in Chips Ahoy! commercials in the mid-’80s and trying to ask my friends if they remember him from “that show.” I’ve long since been used to blank stares from friends.
Finally, there’s “Sesame Street” — which is about as American as it gets. But we Buffalonians were among the very few who became trilingual through Sesame Street.
When Goldie wasn’t asking us to bring our mommies to the TV, we learned to count to 10 in Spanish by watching “Sesame Street” on WNED-TV Channel 17. Many of us learned some French, too, by watching “Sesame Street” on CBC’s Channel 5 from Toronto.
Aside from “the letter ‘zed’ ” and swapping Spanish for French, there were a few other differences with Canada’s Sesame Street. For example, if you remember attempting the Japanese art of origami after watching Sesame Street, you were watching that day on Channel 5, not 17. These origami pieces were created for Canadian audiences.
It’s of little surprise, then, after having grown up on Canadian kids’ shows, that as adults we would watch more hockey and drink more Labatts than any other city in the country.
Early morning TV in Buffalo, 1976. Buffalo Stories archives.