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.

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.

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.

The Golden Age of Kids’ TV in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’ve been taking a look back at the local kids shows we’ve watched through the years on Buffalo TV.

We go channel by channel, show by show, describing some of the favorites and adding photos when a photo is available.

Sadly, no video exists of most of these shows… but the memories live on.

Channel 4

Of course Buffalo Bob Smith was a local guy, and his national Howdy Doody Show was one of the most popular shows on TV anywhere in the late 40 and early 50s.

But along with Howdy Doody, Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first locally created kids’ shows.

MORE: Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

Mike Mearian

Uncle Mike and pal Buttons, WBEN-TV, 1956

Starting in 1954, one of the most popular shows on Channel 4 was Mike Mearian’s “Children’s Theater,” which featured the host as either Uncle Mike or Captain Mike when they played Popeye cartoons.

Buttons and Uncle Mike Mearian, WBEN-TV

Mike’s faithful puppet sidekick Buttons, was a marionette operated by Ellen Knetchel and voiced by Mearian.

The 1956 Sylvania TV Award nominations described Uncle Mike this way:

“Mr. Mearian’s genius as a humorist plus the best available children’s cartoons add up to youthful entertainment fun that is always in the best of taste.”

 

Captain Mike Mearian & Buttons the Cabin Boy

Virgil Booth

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Zoo,

There was also Mr Bumble’s Curiosity Shop. WBEN Announcer Virgil Booth was Mr. Bumbles. Booth also hosted regular kids shows as himself from the with Clayton Freiheit at Buffalo Zoo and Ellsworth Jaeger at the Buffalo Museum of Science. he also hosted cartoons through the years as Channel 4’s baggagemaster.

The soft-spoken announcer on WBEN’s Luncheon Club recently retired as Ch. 4’s baggagemaster and opened Mr. Bumble’s Old Curiosity Shop– filled with items bound to attract young viewers.

Mr. Bumbles takes about 30 minutes putting on makeup and costume each Saturday afternoon. He becomes a man in his 70s who uses the language of children to heighten their inquisitiveness during the 5 to 6 PM Saturday program.

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

 

Jerry Brick

Uncle Jerry Brick, WBEN-TV

Uncle Jerry Brick– who was the floor manager of the Meet the Millers Show during the week, hosted a Sunday morning kids talent show through the 50s and 60s that introduced more than 2,000 talented youngsters on Channel 4.

The show was described in the paper this way:  TV cameras capture priceless expressions of visiting tots as Jerry asks questions during the outing.

Bob & Ellen Knechtel

They created and operated the puppets and marionettes seen on Channel 4 from the 1940s through the 1970s.


Channel 7’s Kids Shows

Rocketship 7

Dave Thomas & Mr. Beeper

When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.

Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot on Rocketship 7

And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.

Dave Thomas, Banaszak, Nolan Johannes and Jimmy Edwin on Dialing For Dollars.

Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.

Commander Tom

Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.

Commander Tom, Dust Mop, and the rest of the crew on the Commander Tom Show,.

He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.

Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.

The Jungle Jay Show

Jungle Jay Nelson

Jay Nelson was a disc jockey on WKBW Radio, but is perhaps best remembered as the host of Channel 7’s Jungle Jay Show.

He wore a pith helmet and a leopard print jacket while playing old Tarzan clips when kids got home from school.

The shtick was so popular that even after he left Buffalo for his native Canada to work at CHUM Radio in Toronto, he continued calling himself Jungle Jay, and continued wearing the pith helmet. The show was just as popular north of the border as it was in Western New York.


Channel 2

Channel 2 has had a few popular locally produced kids’ shows through the years.

Maybe most popular was Channel 2’s weatherman Bob Lawrence as Captain Bob.

Puppeteer Jim Menke worked on Channel 2’s Captain Bob Show as well as on Channel 17’s Mr. Whatnot program,

He did local cut-ins during two wildly different programs.

At first, he entertained kids during Channel 2’s playback of old 1930s Three Stooges shorts.

Captain Bob also hosted the local presentation of The Mickey Mouse Club afternoons in the late 50s and early 60s.

Jim Menke was the puppeteer during the Captain Bob Show, and later he brought his puppet Corky to the Mr. Whatnot Show on Channel 17.

Mr. Whatnot, with Jack Paupst in title role, was locally produced by WNED-TV, Channel 17.

Another Channel 2 kids show that was as much a commercial as it was entertainment hit Buffalo TVs in 1960 with the opening of Fantasy Island.

Buckskin Joe at Fantasy Island on Channel 2, WGR-TV.

Buckskin Joe was the host of what looked like a TV version of Fantasy Island’s Wild West Show. Buckskin Joe was actually Clyde Farnan, the General Manager of the amusement park.

He was joined on TV by Marshall Rick, Annie Oakley, Little Bo Peep, and bad guys like Cactus Pete and Black Bart– who was also Fantasy Island’s business manager Harvey Benatovich.

Checkers and Can Can was a short-lived locally produced WGR-TV show featuring Checkers the Clown and Can-Can the tin man.

Checkers & Can Can 1960

Romper Room & Bozo

a 1969 ad for Romper Room on Ch.2. This show was produced in New York City.

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were probably a dozen different versions of Romper Room you may have seen on Buffalo television screens.

There were nationally syndicated versions, as well as shows that were produced in Toronto and Hamilton.

But on two different occasions, for short periods of time, there were Buffalo-produced Romper Room shows as well.

Channel 7 aired a local version of Romper Room for the first few years the station was on the air.

Miss Mary was the first local host. Her real name was Cele Klein, and she’d been a veteran soap opera actress. The show would get 150 letters a day from kids across WNY and Southern Ontario.

She handed her magic mirror over to Miss Sally Klein, who was around for about a year, then Miss Binnie Liebermann, who was hosting the show when the local version was cancelled in 1962– “clobbered” in the ratings, according to Channel 7, by Uncle Mike Mearian on Channel 4.

Another local version of Romper Room came in 1971 when Channel 29 first signed on the air. Miss Elaine Murphy was the host.

Channel 29 also had another live local version of a national show that appeared in local versions all around the country.

Fancis Stack as Bozo the Clown on WUTV, TV-29.

Young Buffalonians had watched Bozo the Clown productions from Chicago and Boston and watched Bozo cartoons– but the only locally produced Bozo’s Big Top was on WUTV starting in 1971 and starred local clown Francis Stack as Bozo.


Canadian TV

We’ve been looking at local kids TV over the past week, and while they weren’t 2,4, or 7, most of us spent plenty of time watching 5,9, and 11, because there were plenty of Canadian Kids shows we loved.

Mr. Dressup and his tickle trunk filled with costumes for him and puppets Casey and Finnegan was an iconic program airing on CBC for more than 40 years.

Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan sit on the tickle trunk.

Also on Channel 5 for a long time, The Friendly Giant was there every morning if you looked up… waaaaay up.

The Friendly Giant and Jerome the Giraffe

There was a rocker for someone who liked to rock, Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty the Rooster.

Channel 9 in Toronto gave us the Uncle Bobby Show. Bobby Ash was an old British vaudevillian, who was joined by Traffic Officer John, Meredith Cutting, “the Singing Policeman;” Cy Leonard, “the ventriloquist;” and of course… Bimbo the Birthday Clown.

Uncle Bobby (standing) and Cy Leonard, CFTO-TV.

And if you have any recollection of learning French on Sesame Street— you watched that on Canadian TV, too. In the US, Sesame Street has always taught Spanish.

Goldie Gardner, right, WNED-TV.

Of course you probably watched both– especially if you also remember Goldie Gardner asking you to bring your parents to the TV, as she did on Channel 17 for decades.

Uncle Bobby and Bimbo the Birthday Clown

The Kids Shows of Channel 7

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at some of the great kids shows we grew up with in Buffalo, and two great ones from Channel 7.

Rocketship 7

When Dave Thomas wasn’t hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes and Liz Dribben, he was palling around with Promo The Robot and Mr. Beeper.
Rocketship 7 was a must watch for many Buffalo kids through the 60s and 70s, before Dave Thomas blasted off for a new job in Philadelphia in 1978.

Dave Thomas and Promo the Robot on Rocketship 7

And Dave Thomas wasn’t the only Dialing for Dollars connection to Rocketship 7. It was relatively easy for Dave to change from his Rocketship 7 jumpsuit into his “count and amount” clothes, but it was a little more difficult for another cast member on both shows.

Dave Thomas, Banaszak, Nolan Johannes and Jimmy Edwin on Dialing For Dollars.

Johnny and Jimmy were the house band on Dialing for Dollars, and Johnny Banaszak had a quick change between his back-to-back gigs, too. He quickly had to shed the Promo the Robot suit and grab his accordion. He was not only the man inside the suit, but also the voice of Promo as well.

Commander Tom

Another salubrious kids show on Channel 7 starred All-American weatherman Tom Jolls as Commander Tom– who took to TV wearing the bright red jacket of a Canadian Mountie.

Commander Tom, Dust Mop, and the rest of the crew on the Commander Tom Show,.

He performed with his puppet pals which early on, were mostly made from his kids’ old stuffed animals.

Some of those puppets, which the Commander voiced himself, included Matty the Mod, a young and energetic, though not too bright alligator; Cecily Fripple, a sensitive and gentle thing of questionable age who tries to recapture her glorious past; and last but not least, Dustmop, the faithful watchdog of Central Command, who is spite of his old age and failing eyesight, is the brave protectorate of the entire cast.

 

The Kids Shows of Channel 4

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at local children’s TV shows through the decades…

Of course Buffalo Bob Smith was a local guy, and his national Howdy Doody Show was one of the most popular shows on TV anywhere in the late 40 and early 50s.

But Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first kids shows.

MORE: Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

Mike Mearian

Uncle Mike and pal Buttons, WBEN-TV, 1956

Starting in 1954, one of the most popular shows on Channel 4 was Mike Mearian’s “Children’s Theater,” which featured the host as either Uncle Mike or Captain Mike when they played Popeye cartoons.

Buttons and Uncle Mike Mearian, WBEN-TV

Mike’s faithful puppet sidekick Buttons, was a marionette operated by Ellen Knetchel and voiced by Mearian.

The 1956 Sylvania TV Award nominations described Uncle Mike this way:

“Mr. Mearian’s genius as a humorist plus the best available children’s cartoons add up to youthful entertainment fun that is always in the best of taste.”

 

Virgil Booth

Virgil Booth at the Buffalo Zoo,

There was also Mr Bumble’s Curiosity Shop. WBEN Announcer Virgil Booth was Mr. Bumbles. Booth also hosted regular kids shows as himself from the with Clayton Freiheit at Buffalo Zoo and Ellsworth Jaeger at the Buffalo Museum of Science. he also hosted cartoons through the years as Channel 4’s baggagemaster.

The soft – spoken announcer on WBEN’s Luncheon Club recently retired as Ch. 4’s baggagemaster and opened Mr. Bumble’s Old Curiosity Shop– filled with items bound to attract young viewers.

Mr. Bumbles takes about 30 minutes putting on makeup and costume each Saturday afternoon. He becomes a man in his 70s who uses the language of children to heighten their inquisitiveness during the 5 to 6 PM Saturday program.

Jerry Brick

Uncle Jerry Brick, WBEN-TV

Uncle Jerry Brick– who was the floor manager of the Meet the Millers Show during the week, hosted a Sunday morning kids talent show through the 50s and 60s that introduced more than 2,000 talented youngsters on Channel 4.

The show was described in the paper this way:  TV cameras capture priceless expressions of visiting tots as Jerry asks questions during the outing.

Bob & Ellen Knechtel

They created and operated the puppets and marionettes seen on Channel 4 from the 1940s through the 1970s.