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

Buffalo in the ’30s: Benny Goodman swings into Western New York

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

 

Bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman was known as the “King of Swing.”

In 1938, his band was the most popular in the world, and his brand of swing jazz helped pave the way for nearly every form of popular music that has followed since.

Goodman and his orchestra played in Buffalo twice in 1938.

A month after Goodman played the first jazz or popular music concert ever at Carnegie Hall, he was at the Connecticut Street Armory.

The newspapers were filled with sponsors trying to associate with one of the early mass-media pop music stars. Buffalo-brewed Stein’s Beer took out ads reminding people that it was the exclusive drink at the armory. Goodman’s appearance in the sixth-floor record department at JN Adam was advertised for days in advance.

 

Benny Goodman plays at Glen Park, Williamsville, in 1938.

A brass band and a caravan of several hundred fans — “Goodmaniacs,” according to The News — escorted Goodman from the New York Central Terminal to his room at the Statler.

Rod Reed wrote up Goodman’s appearance in The News the next day.

Benny Goodman and his orchestra are playing in a Detroit theater today after giving the Jitter bugs a delirious night in the 174th Armory, winding up at 1:30 this morning. I am no good at sizing up a crowd and never believe what promoters say, but the consensus of my staff of estimators is that there were between 5,000 and 6,000 people drawn out on a rainy night to watch the gum-chewing (drummer Gene) Krupa, the hammer-pounding (vibraphone playing Lionel) Hampton and the clarinet-clicking Goodman in action.

If the orchestra’s principals are not suffering from writers’ cramp today, it is only because they have long been used to the arduous business of writing their names.

A swell swing night it was.

Goodman was back six months later in July, this time at Williamsville’s Glen park, where the first half-hour of the show was beamed around the country as a part of a national network broadcast.

Mr. Goodman will do his WKBW 9:30 killer-diller, ripper-dipper, whooper-dooper, floy-doy direct from Williamsville’s Glen Park, where he will play for dancing, jeeping, trucking, kicking, hopping, howling and listening from 9 to question mark.

Watching Benny Goodman perform at Glen Park, 1938.

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. 


 

Buffalo in the ’40s: When downtown Buffalo had a ‘flashcast’ news crawl

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The WGR-sponsored ribbon message board was installed just below the roof line of the Western Savings Bank in 1949. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1940s America, the frenzied commercialism, hot-burning bulbs and pulsating neon of Times Square ignited a sense of wonder and excitement over what an American city could be.

Buffalo had its share of the lights – Main Street near Chippewa was aglow with what was described as “Buffalo’s great white way,” and the greatest display of dazzling and flashing marquees and signs between New York and Chicago.

One lighting element Buffalo didn’t have – until 1949 – was a flashcast news sign.

A flashcast news sign was installed at Main and Court streets, sponsored by WGR.

WGR Radio was the sign’s sponsor, which meant in red neon, those call letters brightly bookended the revolving ribbon of news headlines at Main and Court streets from atop the Western Savings Bank building. Visible from the WGR studios across Lafayette Square in the Rand Building, the scroll was controlled from WGR’s newsroom.

A 1949 poster advertising the flashcast news sign.

While the sign was promoted as Times Square coming to Buffalo, the event to throw the switch on the sign, hosted by Mayor Bernard Dowd, was called a “Hollywood premiere-type event.”

A few months after the first messages started streaming across the lights, a News story talking about improvements being made downtown mentioned the sign. “Here is a group of men at Main and Court streets, looking up at the Flashcast. They’re squinting a little to read the moving electric words in the sunlight.”

By the time WGR Radio’s studios had moved to the building behind Channel 4 at 2065 Elmwood Ave. in 1959, the sign had gone dark. It had been completely removed by 1962 when construction was started on a new $4.5 million, 12-story Western Savings headquarters next door.

At the time of its demolition in 1964, the Western Savings Bank, which had been in operation for 92 years, was Buffalo’s oldest continuously used banking building.

In 1981, Western merged with longtime rival Buffalo Savings Bank, and eventually became Goldome Savings Bank.

Goldome grew too quickly and went under during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. In 1991, Goldome’s assets were split between KeyBank – which entered the Buffalo market after Empire of America succumbed to the S&L crisis – and another bank in 1989.

The flashcast news sign was removed from the Western Savings Bank building by 1962.

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!

 

Remembering Jackson Armstrong

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Yo LEEEEEEEADER, Jackson Armstrong, died ten years ago today, March 22, 2008.

Jack from inside the white NUMBER 1 WKBW Album (Buffalo Stories archives)

Today we remember radio’s original motormouth, who spent time at a string of many of the biggest radio stations around the country.

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)

Here in Buffalo, we remember him from his time doing evenings at WKBW in the early 70s and then afternoons when KB was playing oldies again starting in 2003.

Here’s some classic Jack Armstrong on KB:

Jack and the Beatles (Buffalo Stories archives)
A southern boy, Jack sometimes needed help during Buffalo winters. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Cowboy Jack Armstrong.

Van Miller on Cookie Gilchrist’s ear muffs

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Having worked with Van Miller on Bills broadcasts on the radio and then as his producer at Channel 4, I spent a lot of time listening to his stories.

Van Miller and John Murphy at Rich Stadium, 1985 (Buffalo Stories archives)

Van was a tremendous storyteller, and always delighted any crowd gathered around him with his ability to spin a tale about almost anything and make it interesting.

One of his favorites was “The Cookie Gilchrist earmuff story.” Ask people who’ve spent time around Van– Paul Peck, Brian Blessing, John Murphy… and they probably know the story as Van told it by heart as well as Van knew it himself.

The story goes, Cookie Gilchrist wasn’t really happy with the amount of money The Bills were paying him, so he was always looking for a way to make an extra buck. One time, he decided to buy a load of earmuffs and sell them as “Cookie Gilchrist earmuffs” at The Rockpile one Sunday.

Cookie Gilchrist at the Rockpile. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Well,” Van would say with a smile, “It happened to be one of the hottest December days on record, and the sun blazing at kickoff– he only sold about three pairs of earmuffs!”

It’s a classic Van story, quick and neat, and leaves the listener smiling.

The problem is, while there’s probably some basis in truth— Van was always more about telling a good story than about getting all the facts straight.

In a quick internet search, I found three different reports of Van telling the story. The temperature at kickoff was either 69, 57, or 60 degrees depending on which version you read. The number of pairs of earmuffs he had changed too– 5,000 in one telling; 3,000 in another; 15,000 another time.

The point is, there were probably earmuffs. Beyond that, it’s tough to tell where the colorful imagination of Uncle Van took over.

There’s another version of the story told to writer Scott Pitoniak by longtime Bills trainer Ed Abramowski. Published in 2007, Abe’s version is Cookie was trying to sell the earmuffs for the 1964 AFL Championship Game at War Memorial, but the headgear wound up getting caught in customs when Gilchrist tried to bring them to Buffalo from his home in Toronto.

The only contemporary earmuff story I could find was in the Ottawa Journal a few days after the Bills won that 1964 AFL Championship Game.

A reporter asked Cookie about the autographed earmuffs he said would be sold at the game. “I ran into problems there, and didn’t sell them.”– Ottawa Journal, December 28, 1964

That game was played December 26, 1964. It was a mild day with some rain and a high around 45.

Van Miller’s story is the only reason I know that Cookie Gilchrist ever tried to sell earmuffs, and that really makes me smile. Knowing the real story about how and why makes me smile, too.

Cookie Gilchrist & Larry Felser

This video clip is about one of the toughest guys to ever wear a Buffalo on his helmet: Cookie Gilchrist.. but for me, it's also abotu the guy who taught me everything I know about Cookie– Larry Felser. Again, It's a great story about Cookie, but my favorite part is the very end… when Larry Felser lays it all out there finishing the story in grand style… with that devilish look in his eye and big grin on his face. He was one of the best storytellers I've ever known, and one of the most genuine souls. Rest in Peace, ol'pal.

Posted by Steve Cichon on Wednesday, April 4, 2018