The Kids Shows of Channel 4

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking at local children’s TV shows through the decades…

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 Buffalo’s first TV station, WBEN-TV Channel 4, brought Buffalo’s first 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.”

 

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.

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.

 

The Sounds of the Erie County Fair

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We spent this week listening in to the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

I Got it!

The sound of an over-modulated PA system, and a guy sitting on a stool grumbling out the numbers of I GOT IT! is a tradition at Western New York lawn fetes, carnivals, and of course the Erie County Fair.

I Got It!

I Got It! was created when a change in state law banned bingo from firehalls.
Orrin “Peck” Catlin took matters into his own hands, building the first eight “I Got It!” units in his Blasdell garage for use at the Big Tree Volunteer fire company.

It was enough like the game of chance bingo to be attractive to the ladies who lined up to play bingo, but also added an element of skill– making it a legal amusement.

That was more than 50 years ago, and we’ve been laying down our quarters to toss those little red rubber balls ever since.

Yelling I GOT IT!… one of the great sounds of the Erie County Fair.


Ramblin’ Lou Schriver

Local country music legend Ramblin’ Lou Schriver played the Erie County Fair for an unbelievable 51 straight years.

He started pickin’ at barn dances, and started entertaining on the radio in 1947, playing live and recorded music as a disc jockey.

Milk for Health sponsored Ramblin Lou’s wholesome family radio shows through eight different decades. He even played on stage sitting on a specially painted old-fashioned milk can.

That can, and Ramblin’ Lou’s “Nudie Suit,”with his famous blue jacket emblazoned with an image of Niagara Falls crafted out of sequins by famous County & Western tailor Nudie Cohn, has been one of the most popular displays at the Fair’s Heritage and History Center.

Elvis, Gene Autry, Hank Williams– all regularly wore suits crafted by Nudie Cohn.

Ramblin’ Lou Schriver died at the age of 86 in 2015, but he’s still at the fair in spirit, as the Ramblin’ Lou family band continues to perform daily at the Avenue of the Flags stage.


 

1975.

The Human Block Head (and other oddities)

The oddities shows were once very much a part of the fair.

Melvin Burkhart nails it 1978

Melvin Burhardt had a few different acts over the decades. He was “the man with the rubber neck” and spent some time with the Ripley’s Oddotorium as “The Two Faced Man.”

He could contort his face so that half was Happy Melvin– with a raised eyebrow and a smile, and the other half was sad Melvin– with a scrunched eyebrow and a scowl.

The James E. Strates Shows have provided the midway attractions for the Erie County Fair since the 1920s. When Burkhardt joined Strates in 1956, his act was one of 18 sideshows.

1939 article talks about Strates’ side shows.
Strates’ 8 Foot Man. 1958.

He was best known to Erie County Fair goers as one of many “Human Block Heads” who came through the fair. Through the years, there were dozens of people who learned the Nail Head trick of hammering nails, or ramming knives, right into their faces.

It’s not comfortable– but it’s also not actual hammering. You can see the trick explained all over the internet.

There were many acts through the years named Alligator Man or Alligator Boy or Alligator girl– those were people who suffered from ichthyosis, which causes profound scaling of the skin. Tall people with Marfan syndrome. Hairy people with Hypertrichosis.

The human oddities are gone from the fair and most circuses and fairs, in part because of our changing sensibilities, but also because most of what we once considered odd or freakish is not so much anymore– especially when YouTube is filled with great, scientific explanations for the tricks and diseases which people put on display during these shows.

Strates showbill, 1959

While they are gone and never to return, the oddities and sideshows are a part of the history of the fair that shouldn’t be forgotten.

1971.

Demolition Derby & Joie Chitwood

The Demolition Derby has been a final-weekend-of-the-fair tradition for generations.

1967 ad.

Billed through the years as “The 100 car Demolition Derby,” “The 200 car Demolition Derby,” and then later as “The World’s Largest Demolition Derby,”  through the 50s and 60s, ads in the sports section of the Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express goaded men on to join with headlines screaming, “WANTED MEN WITH IRON NERVES” and “WANTED… MEN WITH COURAGE TO DRIVE AUTOMOBILES HEAD ON AT 60 MPH CREATING A 120 MPH IMPACT.”

1953

For about as long as there’s been auto racing and auto thrill shows, motor mayhem has been a big part of The Erie County Fair. Joie Chitwood was the original stock car daredevil, and he and Erie County Fair staple for decades.

Joie Chitwood… The Demolition Derby… all kinds of automotive daring… a long standing part of the tradition at the Erie County Fair.


Chef Felix’s pizza truck

Chef Felix’s pizza truck was a fixture at the Erie County Fair for 34 years.

Felix Coniglio, in front of his truck at the Erie County Fair. Some of his pizza making equipment is on display inside the Fair’s Heritage & History Center at the Octagon Building.

Starting just after World War II, at a time when pizza was far more of an exotic treat than something you could find virtually everywhere. Felix Coniglio dished out whole pies and pizza by the slice as well.

And it was not only the smells of the pizzas cooked right in his truck that filled the midway, but it was his voice, too, coming from a speaker on the side of the truck.

Chef Felix Coniglio was selling pizza pies at the fair after he left the Navy following World War II up until he died in 1992.


Hear these and many other sounds of the Fair at the Erie County Fair’s Heritage & History Center.

Located inside the Fair’s 1885 Octagon Building, the Heritage & History Center opened during the 177th Fair to chronicle over 195 years of agriculture, food, competition and excitement that have come to symbolize the Erie County Fair to generations of Western New Yorkers. Exhibits were curated to showcase the inspiring traditions that have laid the foundation for the present-day Fair as well as reflect the progression of change in our society.

Read more from the Heritage & History Center from the man behind the museum, Marty Biniasz.

 

Sounds of the Fair: I Got It!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re celebrating the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

The sound of an over-modulated PA system, and a guy sitting on a stool grumbling out the numbers of I GOT IT! is a tradition at Western New York lawn fetes, carnivals, and of course the Erie County Fair.

I Got It!

I Got It! was created when a change in state law banned bingo from firehalls.
Orrin “Peck” Catlin took matters into his own hands, building the first eight “I Got It!” units in his Blasdell garage for use at the Big Tree Volunteer fire company.

It was enough like the game of chance bingo to be attractive to the ladies who lined up to play bingo, but also added an element of skill– making it a legal amusement.

That was more than 50 years ago, and we’ve been laying down our quarters to toss those little red rubber balls ever since.

Yelling I GOT IT!… one of the great sounds of the Erie County Fair.

Sounds of the Fair: Ramblin’ Lou Schriver

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re celebrating the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

Local country music legend Ramblin’ Lou Schriver played the Erie County Fair for an unbelievable 51 straight years.

He started pickin’ at barn dances, and started entertaining on the radio in 1947, playing live and recorded music as a disc jockey.

Milk for Health sponsored Ramblin Lou’s wholesome family radio shows through eight different decades. He even played on stage sitting on a specially painted old-fashioned milk can.

That can, and Ramblin’ Lou’s “Nudie Suit,”with his famous blue jacket emblazoned with an image of Niagara Falls crafted out of sequins by famous County & Western tailor Nudie Cohn, has been one of the most popular displays at the Fair’s Heritage and History Center.

Elvis, Gene Autry, Hank Williams– all regularly wore suits crafted by Nudie Cohn.

Ramblin’ Lou Schriver died at the age of 86 in 2015, but he’s still at the fair in spirit, as the Ramblin’ Lou family band continues to perform daily at the Avenue of the Flags stage.

1975.

Sounds of the Fair: The Human Block Head (and other oddities)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re celebrating the sounds of The Erie County Fair.

The oddities shows were once very much a part of the fair.

Melvin Burkhart nails it 1978

Melvin Burhardt had a few different acts over the decades. He was “the man with the rubber neck” and spent some time with the Ripley’s Oddotorium as “The Two Faced Man.”

He could contort his face so that half was Happy Melvin– with a raised eyebrow and a smile, and the other half was sad Melvin– with a scrunched eyebrow and a scowl.

The James E. Strates Shows have provided the midway attractions for the Erie County Fair since the 1920s. When Burkhardt joined Strates in 1956, his act was one of 18 sideshows.

1939 article talks about Strates’ side shows.
Strates’ 8 Foot Man. 1958.

He was best known to Erie County Fair goers as one of many “Human Block Heads” who came through the fair. Through the years, there were dozens of people who learned the Nail Head trick of hammering nails, or ramming knives, right into their faces.

It’s not comfortable– but it’s also not actual hammering. You can see the trick explained all over the internet.

There were many acts through the years named Alligator Man or Alligator Boy or Alligator girl– those were people who suffered from ichthyosis, which causes profound scaling of the skin. Tall people with Marfan syndrome. Hairy people with Hypertrichosis.

The human oddities are gone from the fair and most circuses and fairs, in part because of our changing sensibilities, but also because most of what we once considered odd or freakish is not so much anymore– especially when YouTube is filled with great, scientific explanations for the tricks and diseases which people put on display during these shows.

Strates showbill, 1959

While they are gone and never to return, the oddities and sideshows are a part of the history of the fair that shouldn’t be forgotten.

1971.

The Sounds of the Fair: Chef Felix’s pizza truck

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re celebrating the sounds of the Erie County Fair.

Chef Felix’s pizza truck was a fixture at the Erie County Fair for 34 years.

Felix Coniglio, in front of his truck at the Erie County Fair. Some of his pizza making equipment is on display inside the Fair’s Heritage & History Center at the Octagon Building.

Starting just after World War II, at a time when pizza was far more of an exotic treat than something you could find virtually everywhere. Felix Coniglio dished out whole pies and pizza by the slice as well.

And it was not only the smells of the pizzas cooked right in his truck that filled the midway, but it was his voice, too, coming from a speaker on the side of the truck.

Chef Felix Coniglio was selling pizza pies at the fair after he left the Navy following World War II up until he died in 1992.

Why Talking Proud was more than just a (cheesy) jingle…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“Talking Proud” was Buffalo’s anthem at a time when many of us didn’t feel so great about Buffalo.

When the song and campaign were released 1980, Bethlehem Steel, where more than 20-thousand men once worked, was winding down and the furnaces would soon go cold.

There was a billboard behind City Hall asking the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light.

MORE: Buffalo in the 80’s: Talking Proud 

Our region had spent a lot of time in National headlines as the epicenter of environmental disaster at Love Canal and the home of snowy death with Blizzard of ’77.

We needed something to hang our hats on.

It was easy to feel down about Buffalo, and over the last 40 years, most of us have said, “We’re Talking Proud!” ironically…  but having something, anything to rally around made a difference and gave us Buffalonians a sense of identity—

Even if we giggled a little as Terry Licata did he leaned back arm-swinging march through the streets of Buffalo.

This is a later follow up to the original Talking Proud television spot. These continued to air through the 1980s. The video is courtesy of  retrontario.com, whose webmaster Ed Conroy has posted hundreds of great Buffalo (and, as you might guess, Southern Ontario) television clips from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

More from the Retrontario YouTube Channel: youtube.com/user/Retrontario

The Jolly Little Baker on the label of Kaufman’s Rye Bread

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’ve been looking back at some of Buffalo’s favorite and best remembered commercial jingles.

So, do you remember where you’ll find the Jolly Little Baker?

That animated little baker spent time on Buffalo televisions from the 50s through the 70s.

As much as the unique, dense rye bread that still sparks life in the palates of Western New Yorkers, our yearning for Kaufman’s rye bread is tied to the fact that the taste is forever linked to that 18-second jingle, permanently implanted in the subconscious of generations of Buffalonians, which many of us could still sing on demand.

MORE: Torn-Down Tuesday: The Kaufman’s Rye Bread sign

Known of course for singing the “Jolly Little Baker” jingle, the pen-and-ink bread maker, wearing a bow tie and pleated chef’s toque was emblazoned on the cellophane wrappers of Kaufman’s various varieties of Rye, pumpernickel, and kaiser rolls.

1956.

The smiling chubby little guy would also appear on the pages of the Courier-Express and Buffalo Evening News offering recipes for “sandwiches of the week.”
These sandwiches of 60 years ago, featuring liverwurst, boiled tongue, and sardines aren’t all in line with most modern palettes, but show us what people were putting on their rye bread in 1957.

Sattler’s 998: The jingle that built a department store

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week, we’re taking a look at some of Buffalo’s iconic jingles, and there aren’t many more iconic than the one that ends with “9-9-8 Broadway!”

Sattler’s closed 36 years ago, yet we still know the address by heart. While the jingle indeed helped Buffalo remember that now iconic address, more than that, without the jingle– we might not have known Sattler’s at all.

Sattler’s from a 1954 ad.

Despite decades of heavy print advertising and growing from a single store front to an entire block across from the Broadway Market, Sattler’s couldn’t seem to bust through as much more than a neighborhood Broadway/Fillmore store.

Ad for Lanny & Ginger Grey’s studio, 1947

In 1941, Lanny and Ginger Grey– singers in New York City– wrote the first advertising jingle ever for a department store for Sattler’s. There were different versions, but they all ended in those five syllables that are permanently etched into the memories of generations of Buffalonians, “nine-nine-eight Broad-WAY!”

The radio singing commercials did something that years of print ads just could do. People from all over Buffalo, especially more elusive wealthy customers, started shopping 998, where they were buying everything from canaries to thuringer sausage to mink coats at Sattler’s.

In 1948, the Sattler’s store was completely rebuilt, complete with escalators and air conditioning. Sattler’s executives called called it “the store that jingles built.”

Those iconic jingles were filled Buffalo’s airwaves in 1950, playing 102 times a week on WBEN, WGR, WKBW, WEBR and WBNY.

Sattler’s was at the cutting edge of over-the-top, cutting edge, marketing and self-promotion.

It was tough to listen to the radio for any extended period of time without being reminded to “shop and save at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway!”

The favorite beers of Buffalo’s dads through the years

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re looking back at the beers your dad drank today.

The 1950s started with five local breweries in Buffalo, but by the time the decade ended, three of them–Buffalo’s Manru, Phoenix, and Beck breweries– had all closed.

Through the 50s, Carling’s Red Cap, Black Label, and Old Vienna beers from Canada were popular, and Goebel and Ballantine were two out-of-town cheap beers that sold well in WNY.

MORE: Buffalo in the 50s: The cheap beers Buffalo dads were drinking 65 years ago this week

In the 1960s, Iroquois and Simon Pure were still being made in Buffalo, and Rochester’s Genesee and Dunkirk’s Koch’s were other popular semi-local choices. Schmidt’s of Philadelphia was popular el-cheapo beer.

MORE: Buffalo in the 60s: Which beers were Buffalonians drinking 50 years ago?

As the 1970s rolled around, more Canadian beer prices came closer in line with US prices, and Labatt Blue beer and Labatt 50 Ale became more readily available and selling better, especially with the closure of Buffalo’s last two breweries.

MORE: Buffalo in the 70s: Labatt starts move as Buffalo’s most popular beer

Simon Pure closed in 1971 and Iroquois closed in 1972, but through the 70s,Dunkirk’s Fred Koch Brewery continued making those beers, along with their own popular Golden Anniversary Beer.

MORE: Buffalo in the 70s: Which beer did your dad drink?

Boy, I could go for a Genny now. 1980s.

By the end of the 70s, Genesee was Buffalo’s best selling beer, served in just about every shot and beer corner gin mill in the city.

By the 1990s, and ever since, Labatt Blue has been Buffalo’s best selling beer.