On WBEN’s 90th birthday, the station’s longest-serving announcer is still on the air…

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

WBEN signed on the air September 8, 1930—90 years ago today.

The station’s birthday is important to me because the station has played such an important role in my life as a listener, employee, and now alumni of the station.

I first walked into the station as a 15-year-old intern, and would spend the next five years working my way up through the producer ranks up to what was the highest profile producer job in radio—producer of Buffalo Bills Football with Van Miller and John Murphy. I also met and worked alongside the woman who’d become my wife during those days on Elmwood Avenue.

Five years later, I returned to the station, this time in the newsroom—and over the next decade I worked my way up to news director.

Through all my years in media, I always took special pleasure in being able to share my passion for Buffalo and Buffalo Broadcasting with the listeners of WBEN, and the station’s birthday, I’ve dipped into the archives to share some of the stories I wrote and produced about WBEN and the people we all listened to at 930am.

Steve Cichon- WBEN celebrates 80 years-1
Steve Cichon- WBEN celebrates 80 years-2
Steve Cichon- WBEN at the Aud-1
Steve Cichon- WBEN at the Aud-2
Steve Cichon- WBEN at the Statler-1
Steve Cichon- WBEN at the Statler-2
Steve Cichon- WBEN says Goodbye to Barbara Burns-1
Steve Cichon- WBEN says Goodbye to Barbara Burns-2
Steve Cichon- Brian Meyer inducted into Broadcast Hall of Fame-1
Steve Cichon- Brian Meyer inducted into Broadcast Hall of Fame-2
Steve Cichon- Remembering WBEN on 9/11 ten years later-1
Steve Cichon- Remembering WBEN on 9/11 ten years later-2
Steve Cichon- John Zach celebrates 50 years in Broadcasting-1
Steve Cichon- John Zach celebrates 50 years in Broadcasting-2
Steve Cichon- John Zach covers Martin Luther King-1
Steve Cichon- John Zach covers Martin Luther King-2
Steve Cichon- John Zach lived the Jersey Boys-1
Steve Cichon- John Zach lived the Jersey Boys-2

WBEN’s longest serving announcer

The 90th anniversary of WBEN’s first sign-on brings to mind many of the stable and authoritative voices which have unflappably informed Buffalo over those decades at 930am.

The longest tenured of those voices remains a daily fixture.

From her early days of airborne traffic reporting from the Skyview 930 helicopter to the last two decades as morning drive host, Susan Rose has been a steady, unwavering, and professional voice on WBEN and a clear connection to the great news voices of generations past.

Susan Rose with current co-host Brian Mazurowski

Rose is not your typical “radio star.” She’s never wanted to be. It’s exactly that which makes her a fit in the pantheon of WBEN greats.

“A superb anchor,” wrote Buffalo News critic Anthony Violanti. “Reads the news with journalistic style and skill.”

After graduating from Buffalo State College and starting her radio news career at Lockport’s WLVL, Rose joined WBEN in 1985.

WBEN Newsteam 1988: Brian Meyer, Ed Little, Susan Rose, Tim Wenger, Monica Wilson, Mark Leitner

Her blue-collar approach to journalism combined with 35 years of continuous, daily broadcasting on the station puts her in the same rarified company as past WBEN greats, many of whom she regularly worked with across the decades.

Mark Leitner and Ed Little were WBEN stalwarts and frequent Rose co-anchors through the 80s and 90s.

Rose was hired to join the WBEN news team by legendary news director Jim McLaughlin.

The legendary Lou Douglas was at WBEN for 30 years before retiring, overlapping a couple years with Rose.

After three decades at WKBW, John Zach spent another 18 years at WBEN, including 16 years co-anchoring “Buffalo’s Early News” with Rose.

John Zach & Susan Rose, WBEN, 2002.

While she doesn’t have that booming voice— once considered the most important hallmark of the then all-male radio news profession— Rose’s even and reliable presence has been featured on the station longer than any broadcaster, including Clint Buehlman, who hosted mornings at WBEN for 34 years.

Perhaps that’s part of the secret why Rose’s approach and sound is still as upbeat and fresh as the day she walked through the studio doors 35 years ago.

Rose’s husband, Tim Wenger, was her co-anchor on evening drive news program “Buffalo’s Evening News” in the early 90s.

She doesn’t project her personality into the news. Through her career—rather than stand out in front— she has allowed her writing, editing, news judgement, and steady on-air presence to support the team.

It’s even fair to say Rose avoids the spotlight— but it’s also fair to say when crisis strikes in Buffalo, there aren’t many voices on the airwaves today which bring credibility and calm like hers can.

A recent WBEN bio said “it was always her dream job to work for the number one news station in Buffalo.”

She’s taken it one step further to personify it.

The Marv Levy voicemail prank, c.1994

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Today’s Marv Levy’s 95th birthday, and I was reminded by Greg Bauch on Twitter about a tape editing prank I did 25+ years ago.

Marv Levy: why do these people keep calling me?

Marv left a message for Howard Simon on the WBEN Sports voicemail along the lines of… “Hi Howard, it’s Marv Levy with the Bills, please give me a call back at 648-1800. Thanks.”

I edited out the “Howard” and left that on dozens of other people’s voicemails and answering machines. At least one friend forwarded it on to other people’s voicemails as well.

Listen to the actual message below:

The editing isn’t perfect, but it was also done before the days of digital editing. This was done with a grease pencil, a razor blade and Scotch tape– which, if I do say so myself, makes it even more incredible.

More on Marv Levy: http://blog.buffalostories.com/at-bills-vs-new-england-in-1994-patriots-fan-heckles-marv-levy/

Read more about Greg Bauch: WGR’s Biggest Loss Since Shane

Jacobi’s, Abbott near Ridge, 1966

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

South Buffalo has been a Buffalo pizza hot spot for decades.

Some of the first pies served up in that part of the world were served over the counter of The Plaza Pizzeria in LB Smith Plaza on Abbott Road near Ridge.

In 1966, Plaza Pizzeria moved to a stand alone building on the other side of Ridge Road and was renamed Jacobi’s.

It was the first pizza many in Lackwanna and South Buffalo ever tasted.

Buffalo officially becomes 716 on Sept. 29, 1960

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

It took months to phase in the use of three-digit area code 716 for direct dialing across all of the Buffalo area, but quietly, a switch was flipped on Sept. 29, 1960 — and telephone users in Buffalo, Akron, Alden, Amherst, Boston, parts of Cheektowaga, Derby, East Aurora, Eden, Holland, Lackawanna, North Collins, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, Wanakah, West Seneca and Williamsville were all able to use direct dial service for long-distance calls.

Until that date, Western New Yorkers had to call the operator to be connected long distance.

Folks in Angola, Clarence, Grand Island, Hamburg and Lancaster had to wait a few more weeks, but soon, they too, were officially part of the “716.”

As a part of the move to direct dialing, the old exchange names for phone numbers were replaced with numbers. In Buffalo, the Amherst exchange became TF-2, and eventually 832. Grant became TT-4, eventually 884. Evergreen in Tonawanda became NX-4, which a few years later evolved into 694.

This list, as printed in the Courier-Express, was clipped and left near phones for years.

In November 1960, the work was complete.

“Through the wizardry of electronic marvels, the 244,000 customers of the New York Telephone Co. in the Buffalo area will be able their own long-distance telephone numbers starting precisely at 2:01 AM Sunday,” reported The News a few days before the final switch.

Our identity as members of the 716 tie into that day, when people gushed about the jet-age ability to simply pick up the phone and call any of the 60 million phones in the U.S. and Canada without the help of any other human beings.

Little Richard plays Buffalo at the Zanzibar, 1956

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandpa’s wall of 8-packs… and other warmly remembered childhood oddities

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Doing ’80s research is dangerous for me. Any time frame earlier is “history,” and I love it… but it’s hard to be clinical when every turned page of a 70s or 80s Courier-Express or Buffalo Evening News is dripping with images and ideas that leave me drowning in nostalgia.

I could write a short book about when the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every Buffalo grocery store was filled with Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola in tall, thin glass bottles.

Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles. Those eight packs were always on sale, and even when they weren’t, it was the cheapest way to buy the name brand.

That’s why Gramps loved ’em.

Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house. When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.

If Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, she was the first thing you’d see when that door swung open, sitting at the head of the table, with a cup of coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.

When you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right, if Gramps wasn’t working (which was a lot– he still had three jobs when I was little), he was sitting in that comfy chair right just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.

Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.

“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent. I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?

“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask, and immediately piss off my ol’man.

Royal Crown: the definitive “big name” cola of Polonia.

“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.

Ignoring my ol’man completely, Gramps would give an inventory.

“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”

The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway on the way to the kitchen.

Now I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became-my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.

In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about his hallway filled with pop.

When I say filled, I mean the entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.

It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein.

There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.

Now Gramps had ten kids, but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time. And even for ten kids– hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house… well, it was one of many things that made Gramps a true Buffalo original.

I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…

But Gramps really didn’t drink. He wouldn’t want a beer, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.

He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”

You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.

“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”

Cheap little donuts bring priceless warm memories

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

What a smile this brings.

Ran into this image in a 1980 Tops ad this morning.

Once every great while there was a peanut stick around, but if you were to say “donut” the me as a kid, this box of Tops brand donuts is what would have come to mind.

These were a highly anticipated, special treat in our house growing up.

When this ad ran, you can see they came sugar, plain, or a mix. While (obviously) the powdered sugar was my favorite, a plain one was just fine too.

The high-riding good times came to a screeching halt when, a few years later, they started adding cinnamon powered donuts into the mix.

That row always sat there as the last in the box, even growing a little stale sometimes before I could bring myself to wolf down a few– so they wouldn’t have to be thrown out.

Even a disappointing donut deserves a fate better than the trash.

Reflections from the Cichon Archives during Pandemic organizing

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Among the 5 or 6 big projects I’m working on to keep myself from going (any more) crazy during this lockdown, is organizing and straightening up the Cichon Archives, which fills the third floor of the Cichon Estate.

I’ll share some of the interesting things I find as I find them.

The Iconic Memorex Cassette

Though I have far fewer now, through the years, I’ve had hundreds of these 90-minute Memorex cassette tapes.

For much of the early 90s, a ten-pack was $9.99 at Media Play, and I invested most of those Media Play Gift Certificates I’d get for birthdays and Christmas into these tapes.

Many of those cassettes I bought went right back out the door– creating mix tapes and recording “radio shows” for my friends in my bedroom radio station.

Hundreds of others went to recording the actual radio shows, hundreds of hours of which I’ve digitized through the years, first to CD and then to mp3.

The digitized wing of the Cichon Audio Archive is more than 600GB with more than 120,000 audio files. There are still hundreds of hours of cassettes, reels, transcription discs, DATs, and mini discs left to be digitized– it always comes in spurts.

Sorting through a pile of these cassettes today, it was like I saw them for the first time– even though thousands of them have slipped through my hands since this design was introduced in 1987.

As a child of the 80s, I love 80s design—but mostly the retro-look meant to inspire the 50s or 60s.

This design, however, is purely pop 80s.

If Max Headroom or that MTV astronaut was going to use a cassette tape, it would be the 90-minute Memorex cassette, with angular shapes in bright blues, pinks, and yellows.

LB Smith Plaza/Abbott Rd. Plaza, 1976

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

An emailer asked what the name of the deli in the Abbott Rd. Plaza was back in the day….

That was Columbia Foods.

While looking that up, I also came across the list of Abbott Road Plaza merchants in 1976.

Good times at Abbott & Ridge!

Where did the name “The Valley” come from?

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The Valley is a traditionally working class, industrial neighborhood between the First Ward and South Buffalo, bounded by the Buffalo River, Van Rensselaer Street, and the I-190.

Leaving the Valley on Van Rensselaer Street heading toward the Hydraulics neighborhood, during thr Larkin Warehouse fire in 1954.

My dad always referred to the neighborhood where he grew up as “The Valley,” always talking about having to cross a bridge to get in or out of The Valley. That was definitely true in the 60s, and is still pretty much true now—but the delineation was even greater before they ripped out all of the old steel truss bridges and eliminated the ones on Smith and Van Rensselaer in the early 1990s.

My guess, in talking with folks from the neighborhood, that the name “The Valley” was coined sometime in the 50s, that seems to be the generation that started referring to that name.

The city didn’t use the name in any of its planning or urban renewal programs in the 50s and 60s, and I haven’t been able to find a reference to the name in print in the Courier-Express or the Evening News until the time when the Community Association was organized in the late 60s.

One would have to assume, however, that the name was in some kind of familiar use leading up to naming a community association after it. My grandfather, who was born in what is now considered “The Valley” in 1926, and lived there for 40 years, didn’t refer to “The Valley,” but usually “the neighborhood.”

My great-grandparents came to Poland to “The Valley” in 1913.

After living on Elk, Fulton, and Perry, they bought 608 Fulton St. in 1922. My great grandfather worked at Schoellkopf Chemical/National Aniline for more than 40 years.

His son, my grandfather– who worked more than 40 years at National Aniline/Buffalo Color– lived in his parents’ house and then bought one across the street (from his brother-in-law’s family) at 617 Fulton, where my dad grew up.

My dad’s family moved to Seneca Street in 1966. Dad later owned the bar at Elk and Smith in the late 70s/early 80s.