Little Richard plays Buffalo at the Zanzibar, 1956

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Rest in Peace Little Richard. Buffalo’s loved him since 1956.

His influence is heard on every single pop song recorded since rock n’ roll was called rhythm and blues or “race music.”

He was George “Hound Dog” Lorenz’s favorite musician. He was The Beatles favorite musician.

Don’t believe the campy persona he lived because he had to because it was just about impossible to be a black gay man in America.

From a song writing, music, and showmanship perspective– he invented rock ‘n’ roll.

A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!

Van Miller sings “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” 1995

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Uncle Van was really something special.

For most of the 1995 football season, Van Miller walked around the Channel 4 and WBEN singing “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” just that one line, over and over again, getting himself and the rest of us excited about a possible fifth Bills Super Bowl trip.

As the playoffs drew near, he wrote the rest of the lyrics and, accompanied by Ken Kaufman, recorded the song.

We played the baloney out of it on WBEN, and they played in on Channel 4 several times, too.

I later worked with Van at Channel 4, where he often worked my name into tennis highlights for reasons known only to him 

 

Jacquie Walker: Record setting class

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

No one has anchored Buffalo’s TV news at a single station longer than Jacquie. She’s been at 4 even two years longer than Irv was at Channel 7.

It’s an incredible record, especially because in so many ways, she’s the anti-Irv.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, child, closeup and indoor

If you had to describe what you love about Irv in a word, you might say brash or gritty. Jacquie, you might say is kind and genuine. And it’s true. She is kind and genuine– but still as gritty a journalist I’ve ever worked with.

It’s a great honor to call Jacquie a friend and for 36 years, it’s been a pleasure to watch her work her genuine kindness and journalistic grit each night in my living room.

Thanks, Jacquie, for making Buffalo a kinder, classier place.

A little plastic transistor radio and Larry King on WBEN

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the late 80s, Buffalo night owls had John Otto on WGR, Larry King on WBEN, and Bruce Williams nationally syndicated TalkNet show on KB. I really loved all three, and would spend nights tuning back and forth on my little plastic Realistic AM radio under my pillow.

Afraid of repercussions from my mother’s quite amazing sense of hearing, the volume was so low I missed at least half of what was said. But being 9 or 10, listening to these bigger than life talents, I knew this was something I had inside of me to do.

I’m in awe that I had the chance to live the dreams that grew bigger and brighter from that little pink 9-volt radio whispering away in the wood-paneled 1980s bedroom I shared with my little brother.

Larry King

Larry King, smoking a cigar at a Mutual Broadcasting microphone, c.1981

Long before he became little more than a pair-of-suspenders caricature of himself on his CNN interview show, Larry King hosted one of my all-time favorite radio shows, late nights on the Mutual Broadcasting System.

More than ever came across on TV, on the radio, he was kind of a punk, kind of a blowhard. He’d take on heckling and prank phone callers– and really lose half the time. Would audibly smoke cigarettes on the air, and brag endlessly about hanging out at Washington’s trendy institution restaurant Duke Zeibert’s. Occasionally, he’d fall asleep on the air.

It was always an adventure to listen, mostly because when he’d put in the effort, man, was he talented. A great storyteller. Sometimes with Jean Shepherd (of A Christmas Story) level brilliance.

While completely fabricated, this story about Larry and his friend heading out for “Carvels” brings you to the street corner he’s talking about, and leaves you with such vivid images of the places and people, it’s just masterful.

Being honest, most of the time, that high level of talent was nowhere to be found– but even then, the show was highly entertaining.

Like the time a college student was asking Larry for advice on a career in journalism, and the clearly half-asleep Larry goes off in legendary fashion.

I called Larry’s radio show a handful of times. Once, I was 14 years old and called to challenge an author who was denigrating American youth and their lack of passion for geography. Larry interrupted me and started telling me I was wrong, but then the author interrupted Larry to agree with me. It was a proud moment.

Two other times I remember were more on the heckling/prank side.

Once, I used a stupid voice and a made up town in New Hampshire as my name (Mt. Coakerknock, NH, Hello!) to ask Larry what his favorite doughnut was. “Fascinating question, sir,” he said with mock appreciation. I forget what his answer was, but his did say he didn’t like powder doughnuts, because “I don’t like anything messy on my face.”

Larry King, 1986.

Larry famously had a heart attack in 1987, and the commercial breaks on his shows were filled with his endorsements of various products like herbal supplements which he would claim were helping to keep him healthy after having a heart attack. “Friends, it’s Larry King. Since my heart attack, I’ve been using Garlique brand garlic supplement, and  let me tell you, I’ve never felt better.”

After Larry quit the late night radio show, WBEN carried a midday show he hosted for a few months, but it didn’t last long. I called that show and asked him if he had another heart attack when he found out he was no longer on WBEN in Buffalo.

ut that was my way, I guess, to be a part of a medium and a show I loved.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll dust off those old cassette tapes and post them here.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

More than coffee, done right it’s a cup of togetherness

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I’ve been thinking a lot about coffee lately, and the sum of coffee is more than the beans.
Someone was dissing good ol’powdered coffee creamer the other day. Not me. I started working in radio at 15 years old, and through high school and college put in a lot of 16 hour days.

In those days, the only coffee at WBEN was from a vending machine in the basement. 

Those 25¢ 5oz cups of instant coffee with powdered creamer kept me alive.

My wife and I are part owners of a coffee shop now— with some of the most delicious, finest roasted coffee in Western New York… but I still keep a jar of instant coffee and powdered creamer on hand because every once in a while, I get nostalgic about that terrible brackish fluid which kept my motor running so many years ago.

I saved one of those cups with the intention, I think, of getting Ed Little’s autograph on the cup. The coffee really was bad, but it was the best coffee I ever had when Ed would grab two shiny new quarters and ask if I had time to head down to the basement.

In his mid-70s, Ed was far and away the oldest guy working at the station and gave weekend news the bigger-than-life sound of a much earlier era with bold writing and bombastic announcing. I was the youngest by a big margin, a wide-eyed 15 year-old twerp with boundless enthusiasm for all things radio and for old guys who liked to tell stories.

“You can buy when we have steak,” Ed would say, never allowing me to pay for our coffee ritual, even when he bought me lousy coffee at one of a dozen or so different little lunch counters with booth service, all the kind of place that served meatloaf and gravy. But no matter what the special was, the coffee was always there to wash it down.

Toward the end of Ed’s life, I called him up for a coffee but he was too sick to go out. His voice sparkled when I offered to bring over a couple of cups of Tim Horton’s. He was visibly sick, but pulled on a turtleneck and a pair of perfectly pressed slacks for my visit to his kitchen table and the coffee I was finally able to buy.

My earliest memories of drinking coffee come from the necessity of warmth. I was about 7 when my parents would load us kids into the backseat of our chocolate brown AMC to drive my ol’man to work early in the morning before we went to school. It was the only way that mom would have the car to go to work herself after we’d get home and get on the bus.

The heat didn’t work in the car, but holding and sipping plastic tumblers of coffee kept us warm. The coffee was always on at our house growing up. I always enjoyed bringing Mom a cup just the way she liked it. Dad never seemingly finished a cup and was constantly walking over to the microwave—later wheeling over to the microwave—to blast that cold cup for 45 seconds or so.

“A minute’s way too long, Steveo,” dad would say yanking the mug out of the microwave, taking a long sip with quick a self-satisfied mmm.

When you walked into Grandma Coyle’s kitchen, right there in the middle of the table, almost like a centerpiece, was the Mr. Coffee– right next to the black rotary dial wall phone and a pack of Parliament 100s.

Grandma Cichon had been a waitress at Colonial Kitchen, which ingrained the sanctity of coffee when hosting people at her giant white Formica kitchen table. The kettle on the stove was always lukewarm and ready to make a Taster’s Choice instant coffee in a Corelle Gold Butterfly mug. You got milk and sugar without asking. If she was out of milk, Grandma would put a buck in my hand and send me to Fay’s, because that was Seneca Street’s cheapest half-gallon of milk.

After Grandma Cichon died, I’d walk in the front door and say hi to Gramps, as I walked into the kitchen to put on the kettle for us both.

Any cup of coffee I made for Gramps was judged “perfect, son” with the first sip, and he meant it from the bottom of his heart every time—not just because the coffee was good, but because we were drinking it together.

I personally pour all of this into each cup of coffee I make at JAM. Our rich blend is delicious, and I know you will love it—but that’s fleeting. What lasts forever is our coffee story, and JAM was built with that in mind.

This is what we mean when we say Coffee and Community. You’ve become a part of my coffee story. I hope you’ll make JAM part of your coffee story, too.

Happy 100th Birthday, “Friendly Giant” Bob Homme

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Today would have been “The Friendly Giant” Bob Homme’s 100th birthday.

The Friendly Giant and Jerome the Giraffe

I can’t be the only one who fought with my brother over which chair we’d get to sit in as the opening credits rolled…

“And a rocker over here for one who likes to rock…”

Eileen Buckley, Buffalo’s all-time award-winning radio journalist

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In a career that’s spanned 34 years, Eileen Buckley is Buffalo’s all-time most award-winning radio reporter.

Given the level of excellence she brings to her work everyday and the fact that she’s done such high-caliber work across four different decades, Buckley leaves WBFO today having been honored more than anyone else ever when you add up time at WBFO, WGR, and WBEN.

Her reporting speaks for itself, but she’s also one of the great people I’ve met in broadcasting… a good friend to have out in the field, both personally and professionally.

I just hope I still recognize her in Dash’s on Hertel– that she’s not wearing big sunglasses and a floppy hat to keep her new TV fans at bay.Congrats Eileen on starting your television career at Eyewitness News!!

Eileen was a mentor when I started, and now, somehow, she’s younger than me. It’s strange how that works.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware at Hertel in 1950

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

There’s not much that’s recognizable from this 69-year-old view of Delaware Avenue, looking south from Hertel Avenue.

Delaware Avenue, looking south from Hertel Avenue in 1950.

The Esso gas station and Deco restaurant have long been replaced by the buildings that are now home to KeyBank and M&T Bank. In fact, none of the commercial buildings visible remain.

The houses on the left and the train overpass off in the distance are the only landmarks which still stand.

In 1950, there were several car dealers on both sides of Delaware up to the train overpass, including Hunt for Chevrolet. The last car dealer in that stretch was Gary Pontiac, which was torn down to make way for Tim Hortons.

It’s worth adding that this photo came from the “Buffalo History” file of the dean of Buffalo radio talk show hosts, Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer John Otto.

John Otto, in the WWKB studios in the mid-1980s.

In the days before the internet, when Otto had to rely on his memory and his vast collection of files when leading his “conference call of all interested parties” overnight on WGR. Most nights, Otto would take calls from anyone willing to “pull up a piece of airtime, speaking frankly; generally, on any topic at all.”

These days, the answer to most questions are available with the proper search terms in Google. When a point of information came into contention on the Otto program, he would often turn to “your listenership” for an answer, if he didn’t have it at his fingertips.

Aside from the nightly talk show for which he’s remembered, Otto was also a television pioneer, having hosted children’s programs and serving at the Atlantic Weatherman in the early days of Channel 2.

Otto was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1998. He died in 1999.

Clint Buehlman sings about winter’s slick roads on classic Buffalo radio

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

In 1973, Clint Buehlman was celebrating 30 years of hosting the morning show on WBEN. His program had more listeners than the next three stations’ morning shows combined. More than 300,000 people tuned in to “your AM-MC” during the course of the week.

WBEN morning man Clint Buehlman at the piano in 1973.

“Dependability,” explained Buehly, was the reason for his 40 years of success on morning radio on WGR and then WBEN.

And from the 1930s through the 1970s, if it was snowing in Buffalo on any given morning, you could depend on tuning around your dial to find “Yours Truly, Buehly” sitting at the piano, singing his song about driving in winter weather.

“Leave for work a little early cause the roads are kind of slick,

and even though your brakes are good you’ll find you can’t stop quick.

“When you step upon that peddle and your car begins to skid,

just remember this advice and you’ll be glad you did.”

It was winter weather that helped end the Clint Buehlman era on Buffalo radio. During the Blizzard of ’77, listeners came to rely on the more modern sound of Danny Neaverth on WKBW, and less on the dated sound of Buehlman’s show on WBEN.

In March 1977, Buehlman turned 65, and WBEN management took it as an opportunity to force him to retire.

Clint Buehlman, at the piano, 1950s.