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The Esso gas station and Deco restaurant have long been replaced by the buildings that are now home to KeyBank and M&T Bank.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.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford attends Mass at St. Stan’s

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

It was the Sunday before Election Day in 1976 – only a matter of hours before millions across the country would cast their vote for president. One of the two men whose name was on the ballot, President Gerald R. Ford, spent an hour or so in the first pew at St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr Church for 9 a.m. Mass.

President Gerald Ford waves to the crowd in front of the Statler Hilton Hotel.

The president was welcomed by children in traditional Polish garb on the steps of St. Stan’s, as Monsignor Chester Meloch welcomed him to the East Side landmark with the traditional gifts of bread and salt.

“President Ford gives recognition to the contributions of Polish and other immigrants to the goals of our country,” Meloch said, “and at the same time, the president acknowledges that Poland as well as other countries under foreign dictatorial domination have a God‐given right to freedom, self‐determination and self‐rule.”

President Ford on the steps of St. Stan’s Church.

A cold rain fell outside the church that day, but President Ford’s spirits were buoyed by the fact that he had battled from 30 points down in the polls to a virtual dead heat with Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter in the race for the White House.

President Ford speaks at the Statler, with Erie County Executive Ned Regan and Congressman Jack Kemp looking on.

In an address at the Statler Hilton Hotel, Ford invited his supporters to Washington in January for the inauguration. Ford would be there, but only to hand power over to Jimmy Carter.

President Gerald Ford shakes hands with the doorman in front of the Statler Hilton Hotel. Seen across the street are the Erlanger Theater and the Statler parking garage, neither of which still stands.

This film of President Ford’s visit was transferred from 16 mm film and digitized as a part of the Buffalo Stories Film Conservation Initiative.

Buffalo Bob Smith sings about Bells Markets

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Typically, when Buffalo Bob Smith enthusiastically shouted the question, “Say kids, what time is it?” the answer enthusiastically shouted back was, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”

That wasn’t the case in this series of Bells Markets TV ads from the early 1970s.

“It’s Bells Supermarket Time,” the peanut gallery shouted from the vegetable aisle at Bells.

Robert Schmidt was born in Buffalo and attended Fosdick-Masten Park High School (now City Honors School), and began a radio career on WGR and then WBEN with lifelong friend and early on-air partner Clint Buehlman.

Clint Buehlman and Buffalo Bob.

As Bob Smith, he moved to New York City radio in 1947, and when he started hosting a children’s television show shortly thereafter – adding the nod to his hometown to his stage name, becoming Buffalo Bob Smith.

The video shows three 30-second commercials which aired on Buffalo television in the early 1970s.

They were transferred from 16 mm film as a part of the Buffalo Stories Film Conservation Initiative.

From Jimmy Lyons to Sheela Allen, remembering Buffalo’s African-American broadcasting trailblazers

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Starting in 1948, Buffalo television for its first 18 years was a de facto — and in some cases, policy-driven — segregated medium.

WBEN-TV reporter Sheela Allen interviews Natalie Cole at the Buffalo airport, mid-1970s.

During World War II and the years immediately following the war, Buffalo’s black population grew quickly both in real numbers and as a percentage of the overall population.

Eventually, there were a small handful of radio shows that catered to African-American tastes and interests, in much the same way Buffalo’s Polish and Italian populations had their own radio shows.

In 1968, Courier-Express Radio & TV reporter Jack Allen wrote about the need for the training and development of media talent from local minority communities, pointing to Buffalo’s first media star of Western New York’s African-American community as an example of a success story.

Jimmy Lyons was born and raised in Buffalo and starting working in theaters and nightclubs as an entertainer at age 16. He went to West Virginia State College and UB, and he served as a lieutenant in the Army in Italy during World War II. In 1955, he joined WXRA Radio, then in Kenmore, with a rhythm and blues show called “The Lyons Den.” He moved to WWOL and then WUFO when that station signed on as “The Voice of the Negro Community” in 1961.

Allen called Lyons “a man of principle and talent who has the respect of the broadcasters who worked with him in this area” and “a respected native of Buffalo with a fine background of accomplishment, an intelligent viewpoint and capable broadcasting techniques, and a man who has long had his finger upon the pulse of the Negro community.”

Ernie Warlick, on a 1965 trading card.

But that was radio. There wasn’t a regularly scheduled black presenter or entertainer on television until Ernie Warlick joined the staff at WGR-TV Ch. 2 in 1966. At first, he was the station’s weekend sportscaster. A few months later, he became the station’s nightly 11 p.m. sports anchor.

Warlick was a fan favorite during his years as a tight end for the Buffalo Bills. On the field, he’s remembered as a target for a Jack Kemp touchdown pass in the 1965 AFL Championship Game.

Off the field, he was known as a gentle giant with a warm smile. His calm demeanor made him the obvious choice as the spokesman for the black players who voted to boycott the 1965 AFL All-Star game in New Orleans after they experienced racism in the city.

Being able to talk to the reporters in such a tension-filled situation, but also talking football with his customers at the two “Henry’s Hamburgers” stands he owned in Buffalo, gave Warlick the experience needed to be hired by WGR Radio for daily segments after his playing career had ended.

With those radio spots going well, Warlick began hosting “The Quarterback Club” on Channel 2, and eventually he anchored sports during the station’s newscasts and breaking Buffalo’s TV color barrier.

Shortly after Warlick joined the sports staff at Channel 2, Irv Weinstein hired John Winston for Eyewitness News at Channel 7.

Winston had spent years as a writer in medical research before joining the reporting staff at WKBW-TV, where he was Buffalo’s first black television news reporter.

He won several awards for his in-depth reporting on issues facing Buffalo’s African-American community in the years immediately following the 1967 protests of the oppression and living conditions of many in Buffalo’s black neighborhoods.

Winston left Channel 7 in 1977 to join the communications staff at the NFTA.

John Winston, reporting on WKBW-TV in the late 1960s.

When Chuck Lampkin first came to work at WBEN-TV in 1970, he was best known to many Buffalonians as a jazz drummer who’d accompanied such stars as Dizzy Gillespie on the road.

At Channel 4, he was in a rotation of news anchors, becoming the first black man to regularly anchor local TV newscasts in Western New York.

Before the term was in common usage, Lampkin was also the station’s consumer reporter. He’d take a cameraman — such as Mike Mombrea or Bill Cantwell — to the shop or office that had ripped off a viewer, and he’d usually get the problem resolved.

Chuck Lampkin, right, with John Corbett at the Channel 4 anchor desk in the mid-1970s.

Lampkin was in the anchor seat several times during one of the definitive events in Buffalo history, the Blizzard of ’77.

Sheela Allen was a television pioneer on two separate tracks — not only was she among the first women to work as a general assignment reporter, she was among the first African-Americans, as well. She was Buffalo’s first female African-American television news personality when she got to WBEN-TV Ch. 4 in 1972.

At Channel 2, June Bacon-Bercey was a science reporter for WGR-TV Channel 2, when she was drafted to take over evening weather anchor duties. Bacon-Bercey, who’d later receive her doctorate in meteorology, was both the first woman and the first African-American to earn the American Meteorological Society seal, crediting her worthiness as a broadcaster and as a scientist.

While African-Americans remain underrepresented as far as a population percentage in local television broadcasts, the black journalists who have worked in Buffalo often go on to more high-profile work.

Les Trent, who was an anchor and reporter at WGRZ-TV in the 1980s, is now a correspondent for Inside Edition.

Pam Oliver, who has been a network NFL and NBA sideline reporter for 25 years, was a reporter at Channel 4.

Jericka Duncan, who was also a reporter at Channel 4, is now regularly seen on the CBS Evening News, as a correspondent on the newscast anchored by Tonawanda native Jeff Glor.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Joe Byron’s anthems ring out at Sabres’ games

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Two months into the Buffalo Sabres’ first season in 1970, tenor Joe Byron got a phone call that would make him a Buffalo pop culture icon.

Tenor Joe Byron

The anthem singer wasn’t working out, and the Sabres asked if he was available.

It was a quick turnaround, and he never even had the chance to rehearse with organist Norm Wullen before he sang for the first time. His first night at Memorial Auditorium, he climbed up to Norm’s spot in the rafters – only to be told that he’d be singing from the penalty box.

He asked Norm to play some standard tunes on the organ on his way down, so he could get used to his playing, and their first rendition of “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” went off without a hitch.

For next 15 hockey seasons or so, most Sabres home games would start with public address announcer Milt Ellis asking everyone to stand and for men to remove their hats for the singing of the anthems by Byron, accompanied by Wullen on organ.

Just about every part of Byron’s game night experience speaks of a simpler time.

After singing the anthem, Byron would leave the penalty box, and try to find an open seat to watch the game. He never had a season ticket, and was never assigned a seat by the club. He’d wander the aisles, and on most occasions, a friendly fan would recognize him and invite him to sit.

Before kiss cams, applause meters and T-shirt guns, it was Byron who kept the fans going during breaks in the action.

On holidays or special occasions, Byron’s voice was the Aud’s entertainment between periods. Christmas carols during the holidays: “Auld Lang Syne” for New Year’s, something romantic on Valentine’s Day and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” for St. Patrick’s Day.

After a series of heart attacks, he began to slow down in the early 1980s and gave up singing at every game, and along with Wullen and Ellis, faded into our Sabres memories.

You can hear Wullen’s organ and Byron’s national anthem starting at 7:42 in the video below.

The early rock ‘n’ roll history of Buffalo’s WNIA 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.

Buffalo in the 50s: The Hound’s rock ‘n’ roll memory time

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When his voice came through the speaker on your radio, you knew you were hearing something you weren’t going to hear anywhere else. He was rock ‘n’ roll even before the phrase rock ‘n’ roll existed.

George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, broadcasting live in the mid 1950s. (From the Collection of Betty Shampoe)

Elvis Presley and George “Hound Dog”Lorenz, Memorial Auditorium, 1957. From the Collection of Betty Shampoe.

“The Ol’man,” as he often called himself on the air, was an unlikely hero of Buffalo teenagers, but for George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, it was about the music, and bringing rhythm and blues music — and rhythm and blues culture — to a wider audience.

“The Hound” was the Godfather of rock ‘n’ roll radio, not just in Buffalo but around the country.

As a teenager working at a gas station, his first radio job came as an actor in dramas in the late 1930s. He got the job “because of his ability in imitating various dialects,” the Courier-Express reported, adding that he’d “often been cast in the role of the slicker in the racketbusting plays.”

It went beyond the records. Events promoted by Lorenz usually included black and white artists playing together at a time in the mid-50s when that wasn’t always the case. Those audiences were also mixed racially.

A Hound Dog record hop, with both black and white teens in attendance. Betty Shampoe is seated on the stage to the left.

Lorenz worked at a handful of smaller Buffalo stations before being picked up by 50,000 watt WKBW Radio in 1955. It meant that his show, with its different approach to music and to the way human beings relate to one another, could be heard all over the eastern United States and Canada.

Ironically, the man who introduced Elvis at Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went rock ‘n’ roll full-time in 1958. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top-40 format, and was known to give the time and temperature at the beginning of his show, and told listeners to “set their clocks and thermometers, because that was the last time they were going to hear that for the next four hours.”

The Hound and the Three Suns. The late Betty Shampoe, who collected these photos is seated to the left.

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 rhythm and blues artists in Buffalo and to a syndicated audience around the country.

Billy Ward and His Dominoes, with George “Hound Dog” Lorenz and Betty Shampoe, seated right.

These photos are from the collection of Betty Shampoe, who worked with Lorenz.

Her grandson would love to hear from anyone who remembers “digging” any of the artists her grandma is pictured with here when they joined The Hound in Buffalo in the 1950s.

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.