By Steve Cichonsteve@buffalostories.com@stevebuffalo
The essence of Buffalo Stories is defining and celebrating the people, places, and things that make Buffalo… Buffalo.
That’s Buffalo’s pop culture heritage-– and that’s what you’ll find as you scroll through these stories or search the collected works of one of WNY’s most prolific pop culture historians of the last decade for something specific…
I saw news on Facebook today that Manny Ciulla has died.
Manny’s on Seneca Street was the kind of institution we need more of… run by the kind of man we need more of.
After my ol’man’s bar closed, Manny’s was the only ginmill where dad’d feel comfortable, because Mr. Manny was more than just a guy who pushed drinks over the bar– he cared about his customers and the people of the Seneca Street community like family.
“Mrs. Manny” made great pizzas and burgers, but Manny’s was a clearly a tavern. Still, when I’d stop in as a 12 or 13 year old and ordered a Birch Beer at the bar, there was nothing untoward about it– and I know Mr. Manny loved it, and he’d talk to me like he talked to my dad or my uncles.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone who knew Mr. Manny who didn’t love him. Just like Tony Scaccia at Tony the Barber and Gerry Maciuba at The Paperback Trading Post, Manny was one of those Seneca Street shopkeepers who made Seneca Street– where both grandmas lived– feel like home to a kid who moved seven times before sixth grade.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.