The pioneering women of broadcast journalism in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Our week long look at the women who had pioneering roles in Buffalo radio and TV continues, with a look at the first women of television news in Buffalo.

1962

From the earliest days, there were relatively few women on Buffalo TV– and even fewer in what we’d now consider journalism roles.

In 1962, the Courier-Express reported that WKBW Radio publicist Joan Marshall was about to become Buffalo’s first “lady newscaster” on TV. Doris Jones did the weather on Channel 2.

The first stand-out woman on the air with real news chops was the late Liz Dribben on Channel 7.

Liz Dribben, Eyewitness News.

She’d anchor morning newscasts before co-hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes. She left Buffalo and became a CBS News writer and producer, working with Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite among others.

Susan King, WGR-TV 2. She was the lead anchor on the 6 and 11 newscasts on Channel 2 for several months after Ron Hunter left but before Rich Kellman was hired.
Rich Kellman and Sheila Murphy

Channel 2’s Susan King was Buffalo’s first full-time woman journalist on TV when she joined the Ron Hunter Report in 1972.  She anchored the 6 o’clock news after Hunter left, and before Rich Kellman arrived. She’s now the dean of the UNC School of Journalism.

When King moved on from Buffalo, she was followed by Shelia Murphy at Channel 2, who co-anchored with Kellman before moving onto politics.

Carol Crissey (later Jasen) broke the 31 year streak of men on the Channel 4 anchor desk when she anchored with John Beard and then Bob Koop. Carol joined Marie Rice who had started at 4 two years earlier as a tough street-reporting journalist at Channel 4.

Carol Jasen was at WIVB for 23 years, Marie Rice 27 years.

Channel 4 staff, 1979. Top row: Gary Gunther, Larry Hunter, Marie Rice, Allen Costantini. Middle Row: Kevin O’Connell, Carol Crissey (Jasen), John Beard, Van Miller. Bottom Row: Brian Blessing, Sandy White, Rich Newberg, Suzi Makai

Susan Banks began her Buffalo career on Eyewitness News in 1977. She’d go on to anchor at Channel 2 and Channel 7 before retiring from TV news 29 years later.

These ladies are just a few of the pioneering women of Television journalism in Buffalo.

The women of early TV in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at the women who were the first to make their presence felt in what has traditionally been the male-dominated broadcasting industry.

Today– the women who were the first to grace Buffalo television screens.

Television came to Buffalo with Channel 4 in 1948, and the only women prominently featured in the ceremonial sign on of the station were the chorus girls from the Town Casino.

The Town Casino chorus girls were the only women featured on Channel 4’s sign-on in 1948.

Some of the pioneering women in Buffalo TV were the same women who pioneered in Buffalo radio.

Sally Work was called “the dean of women commentators” by the Buffalo Evening News. She’d already been on the radio for 15 years by the time she took her act to the new medium of TV. When Channel 2 signed on, Helen Neville took her radio act to TV as well.

Sally Work, left, and Mildred Miller, right, judge a doll contest in 1954.

Of course, there were those who made their first mark in TV as well.

Starting in 1952, a beloved and strong woman made her debut on Channel 4.

Viewers watched Mildred Miller and her husband Bill cook and interview celebrities for 20 years on “Meet the Millers.

Mildred and Bill Miller.

Doris Jones was first seen as a commercial model on Channel 4 when she was still in high school. She’d eventually host a women’s show on Channel 7, and become Buffalo’s first female staff announcer and weathercaster on Channel 2.

Paula Drew was the spokesperson for Niagara Frontier’s dairy farmers, and as Buffalo’s milk maid, she did weather forecasts wrapped around milk commercials. She was later the voice of Tops Friendly Markets.

While Paula Drew was at Tops, it was Joey at Super Duper in the 70s and 80s.

Super Duper’s Joey Heinz.

Kevin O’Connell makes Buffalo Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Kevin O’Connell

A Buffalo legend hung up his sweater vest after a quarter of a century last night.

Kevin O’Connell is certainly one of the people that makes Buffalo Buffalo.

“I’m not saying goodbye, just, ‘I’ll see you down the road,'” said O’Connell in a recorded message which aired during Channel 2’s 6pm newscast. He’s been the weather anchor on that show and the station’s lead weather personality for 25 years.

But Buffalo’s known O’Connell a lot longer than that. His media career started as a teen disc jockey at WYSL in the mid-60s, he eventually was the station’s program director.

He eventually made his way to WBEN Radio, where he hosted middays on the radio and was Channel 4’s main weather man during the Blizzard of 1977.

Among the innovations he brought to the Channel 4 weathercast was “Weather with A Beat.” He also hosted Channel 4’s “Disco Step-By-Step” show from Club 747 on Genesee Street.

In the recorded “goodbye” piece, O’Connell said that it was his final appearance on Channel 2, and that he wasn’t retiring, but that he did want viewers to know what he’s truly appreciated in his time at WGRZ-TV.

“Thank you very, very much for your loyalty and your viewership, and your comments both good and constructive,” O’Connell said. “The thing I think I’m most proud of– the millions of dollars that we were able to raise for charity. Not the Emmys or the Golden Mic awards, or the Edward R Murrow plaques, it’s the difference that we made together in our community.”

O’Connell is a 2007 inductee in the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.


Oct. 22, 1974: WYSL DJ Kevin O’Connell gets a promotion

He’s been known for decades as the grandfatherly weatherman on Channel 2.  But before that, Kevin O’Connell was a news anchor on Channel 4, and even before that, he made “Weather with a (disco) beat” a part of WBEN-TV weather forecasts in the 1970s.

Aside from the decade he spent in Los Angeles as a local TV weatherman and national game show host, O’Connell has spent most of the last 50 years on Buffalo airwaves.

Before joining the staff at Channel 4, the son of Buffalo’s city comptroller had worked around Buffalo’s radio dial as a rock’n’roll personality on stations such as WYSL, WEBR and WBEN. Forty years ago today, the ’70s mop-headed O’Connell was promoted to program supervisor at 1400 AM, where he was also playing the hits as a disc jockey.


MORE:

Buffalo in the ’60s: The Gorskis and O’Connells; generations in the Buffalo limelight

The Pioneering Women of Buffalo Radio

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking back at Pioneering Women in Buffalo Broadcasting.

Pioneering Women of Buffalo Radio

In the earliest days of radio in Buffalo, it was unusual to hear a female voice that wasn’t singing.

And when you did hear a woman coming through your speaker in the 30s, 40s, or 50s, she was usually talking about cooking or discussing “women’s issues.”

Among the earliest women announcers:

“Amanda,” whose real name was Dorothy Shank, hosted a show on WEBR, sponsored by AM&A’s.

MORE: WEBR’s “Today with Amanda” with tips from AM&A’s, 1951

 

World War II changed things briefly, but not a lot.

A memo from the executive offices at The Buffalo Evening News warned it’s radio broadcasters to NOT mention the name of a new female announcer– that despite the fact that Vera Holly was a very popular singer on the station for a decade.

Vera Holly was a singer, emcee, and announcer on WBEN in the 1930s and 1940s.

She had been a long-time regular on WBEN’s “International House Party” and had received top billing on the show, but wasn’t allowed to identify herself for the nearly six months she was reading station breaks and newscasts on WBEN.

A CBS gig on “The Jerry Lester Show” landed her in front of the same microphone as the biggest star of 1943– Frank Sinatra.

“I had a great kick working on the same show as Frank,” Holly told The Buffalo Evening News. “Confidentially, he really is cute. And much nicer than I expected.”

When she was picked up for a network show in 1946, she was called “one of the most promising young stars of radio. Holly went on to announce her own network programs on Mutual, CBS, and ABC.

Beverly, WKBW. 1978

Even as late as the 70s, women disc jockeys were an oddity.  A disc jockey known on the air only as “Beverly” was WKBW Radio’s first woman disc jockey, hosting overnights in the mid-70s.

As Beverly Burke, she went on to replace Oprah Winfrey in a local TV news anchoring job in Baltimore.

She’s also anchored TV news in Washington and Los Angeles.

Making Buffalo Buffalo: Bob Wells

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Among the things that make Buffalo… Buffalo is Bob Wells.

Bob Wells at the WEBR RCA-44, where his theme song was Gloria Wood’s “Teen Time.”

Bob Wells was the host of one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the post-war era– the Hi Teen show ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.

What kind of music did you hear on Hi-Teen?.

“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Channel 2’s Rich Kellman during a late 70s interview.

Wells popularity with Buffalo’s youngest radio fans overlapped the rock ‘n’ roll era, but not by much.

Long after Hi-Teen was little more than a memory, Western New Yorkers continued to hear Bob Wells’ voice as the voice of Your Host restaurants.

WATCH: A Bob Wells-voiced Your Host commercial from 1977:

Bob Wells… and the Hi Teen Show.. just one of the things that makes Buffalo… Buffalo

Sandy Beach celebrates 50 years in Buffalo Radio

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

A very famous local radio personality– whose name we won’t mention because he works at another station– is celebrating 50 years in Buffalo Radio this week.

He came to Buffalo with his famous laugh in 1968. His laugh is famous, so are his jokes and his political opinions, which again, he’s been sharing for 50 years now.

Stan Roberts,Dan Neaverth, Sandy Beach.

But if you were around when the Timeless Favorites we play on WECK were the top hits on KB Radio, you remember our guy as a big-time rock ‘n’ roll DJ.

The KB jocks: Sandy Beach, Don Berns, Jack Armstrong (standing). Casey Piotrowski, Jack Sheridan, Danny Neaverth, Bob McRae (sitting) From the KB 1 Brown album. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Before he came to Buffalo, he even interviewed the Beatles– George Harrison, anyway.

Danny Neaverth, Shane Brother Shane, and Sandy Beach in the WBEN studio. Steve Cichon photo.

So, if you happen to run into a guy whose name rhymes with Randy Peach– who does a show 300 kilohertz south of WECK– wish him a happy 50th anniversary in Buffalo.


From the archives:

Photos and sounds with Sandy at WKBW in the 60s & 70s: Buffalo’s 1520 WKBW Radio: WNY’s great contribution to 20th century pop culture

Watch Sandy in the Majic 102 studios with Don Postles in 1989: Buffalo Morning Radio around the dial in 1989


Sandy Beach with Steve Cichon, 2008. I did the news on Sandy’s show for years, and found him to be one of the most genuine and loyal co-workers and friends I’ve made in my 25 years in radio.

Sandy Beach

beach.jpg (10242 bytes)

Beach has made a career of straddling the line of the conservative tastes of Buffalo, and has never let office or city hall politics get in the way of a good show. It’s that desire for great radio, no matter the cost, that has allowed Sandy to be a Buffalo radio fixture for 35 years with only a few interruptions.

Sandy came to WKBW from Hartford in 1968. Within 6 years, according to a 1972 interview, 2002 BBP Hall of Famer Jeff Kaye said that Sandy had “worked every shift on KB except morning drive, and improved the ratings in each part.”

His quick wit and infectious laugh have been a part of Western New York ever since at KB, WNYS, Majic 102, and now afternoon drive on WBEN.

A native of Lunenberg, Massachusetts (hence his long time sign off, “Good Night Lunenberg….Wherever you are”), Sandy’s made his impact for over a third of a century in Buffalo radio as a jock, in programming, and now in as a talker, and always as a wise-guy friend just a dial twist away.

Written by Steve Cichon in 2003 went Sandy was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame. 


 

It’s a May heatwave, but doesn’t that beat snow?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We hit 91 degrees on May 30, and even the most summer-loving of us saw our patience– and our antiperspirant– tested.

So, here are a few thoughts to try to cool things down– or at least make you a little more thankful for the heat.

It was actually the last week of May in 1942 when Bing Crosby recorded the famous version of White Christmas, so maybe he was dealing with the heat that day, just like we are this week?

June 10, 1980. Sweaters at the pool as snow falls in Buffalo.

As we’re dealing with this sometimes unbearable heat, it’s worth thinking about that it could be snow.

Really, you ask? But yes, the date for Buffalo’s latest snow fall is enough to send a chill down your spine on a blazing hot late May day.

It happened in 1980. It’s an outlier to be sure, but we had snow during the afternoon hours of June 10, 1980.

It’s the only time in the nearly 150 years of weather statistics being kept in Buffalo that we had snow in June, but history shows, it is possible.

The news of snow on June 10, 1980 only garnered little blurbs in both The News and the Courier-Express– and not even a headline! Read the coverage in the Buffalo Evening News and the Courier-Express on Buffalo’s latest snowfall on record:

And of course, it was just three years ago (2015) that it was into August before the largest piles of snow– left over from the Snowvember storm of 2014– were still there outside the Buffalo Central Terminal.

The glacier-like piles were showcased by Channel 2’s Dave McKinley in a story that gained national attention as the July sun roasted in Buffalo.

So, of course, know it could always be worse in the Buffalo weather department.

Wrestling at The Aud: from The Hulk to Gorgeous George

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hulk Hogan is going to be in Buffalo this weekend, and had some nice things to say about Buffalo Wrestling and the fans here. Steve Cichon has more from the Hulk and wrestling’s glory days in Buffalo.

Hulk Hogan is making an appearance at the Nickel City Con at the Convention Center this weekend, and he spoke with Mark Ciemcioch at The Buffalo News about his times in Buffalo.

He has great memories of wrestling in Buffalo, and like so many of us, Hulk Hogan has great memories of Memorial Auditorium.

Hogan traveled to Buffalo many times during his career, even having knee surgery here. He particularly enjoyed working the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium before it closed in 1996.

“I had some great matches in there,” Hogan said. “I’d hit people with a punch in the middle of that ring, and it sounded like a cannon would go off. The whole crowd would go along with it, (chanting) ‘Boom, boom!’ It’s a great wrestling crowd, a great city and a (I have) lot of fond memories of Buffalo.”

Hulk Hogan on ‘Hulkamaniacs,’ Buffalo and his biggest comeback yet

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo– to big Friday Night sell out crowds through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows), and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered his flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!'”

See some photos of Gorgeous George and read more about his career:
Buffalo in the ’50s: ‘Gorgeous George’ arrives in Buffalo, perfumes his room
Buffalo in the ’50s: Gorgeous George brings showmanship to the Aud

Harv Moore & Brandy: The Boy Next Door makes a hit record

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Disc Jockeys are known for telling a lot of stories and taking credit for things, but in the case of WECK’s Harv Moore, he doesn’t have to take credit for a hit song we all know because the band is the ready to give him all the credit in the world.

“Brandy” was a big hit for Looking Glass in 1972.

The New Jersey bar band had recorded an album for Epic Records and the first single released from the album flopped.

Eliot Lurie was a member of Looking Glass and the group’s primary songwriter.

After that miserable showing of the group’s first release, he didn’t think there was any chance for his “Brandy.”

“That probably would have been the end of if, had it not been for a disc jockey in Washington, DC named Harv Moore,” Lurie told “The Tennessean in 2016.

Hear the full interview with Eliot Lurie of Looking Glass

Harv Moore was the morning mayor on WPGC in Washington DC from 1963-1975.

Harv at WPGC in 1971.

A promoter for Epic stopped by the WPGC studios with a test pressing of the Brandy single.

“I listened to it and said, ‘Wow, this is a smash. A home run.'”

Harv started playing it once an hour on his show, and then the station, and then all of Washington loved the song– and it was bound for number one on the Billboard charts.

Hear Harv on WPGC from the Cruisin’ series

“After two weeks, they told us the record would be number one, and it was,” said Lurie.

It’s not often in a career– even a 60 year career like Harv’s– to be able to play a part in making a hit.

“I always felt I had a pretty good ear for music, hearing new stuff. It was a big thrill to see that go to number one in Billboard Magazine, it was a nationwide hit,” said Harv. “I got a nice gold record from Epic Records for it.”

Just a few years later, in 1975, Harv followed his boss at WPGC to WYSL in Buffalo, and he’s been here ever since.

Harv Moore, WECK, 2018

“Buffalo’s my home,” said Harv, getting ready to play another song, sitting behind the mic at WECK.

 

Happy Birthday, Tom Donahue!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re celebrating my WECK Coffee Club cohort Tom Donahue’s birthday today…

Tom Donahue, some time before this morning.

Of course, I do that with a look back into the Buffalo Stories archives!