Giant responsibility: Herbeck feels the weight of generations with recognition

By Steve Cichon

BUFFALO, NY – This one will be a little different on Friday.

Buffalo News Investigative Reporters Lou Michel (left) and Dan Herbeck (right) are being honored by the Buffalo History Museum as "Giants of Buffalo" for their work in journalism with the Buffalo News. Together, they wrote "American Terrorist," the biography of Niagara County native and admitted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh his role in the 1995 bombing in an exclusive jailhouse interview with Michel. (Buffalo News photos)
Buffalo News Investigative Reporters Lou Michel (left) and Dan Herbeck (right) are being honored by the Buffalo History Museum as “Giants of Buffalo” for their work in journalism with the Buffalo News. Together, they wrote “American Terrorist,” the biography of Niagara County native and admitted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh his role in the 1995 bombing in an exclusive jailhouse interview with Michel.
(Buffalo News photos)

Audiences at the “Giants of Buffalo” series at the Buffalo History Museum have been treated to spectacular trips down memory lane.

Danny Neaverth, Sandy Beach, Stan Roberts, Shane Brother Shane, and Joey Reynolds gave a glimpse of what it was like inside what was “the most happening spot” in Western New York 50 years ago– WKBW Radio.

Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls shared their unlikely formula for success in television news, what it meant for them personally, and how it almost certainly couldn’t happen the same way now.

This Friday, when he and Lou Michel take to the stage, Dan Herbeck wants people to understand that when he’s talking about working hard at chasing good stories– and telling those stories in meaningful and relevant ways– he isn’t talking about some bygone “glory days” era of journalism.

“Professional journalists are still needed,” says Herbeck. Maybe now more than ever. What passes for “news” in many circles in 2014 is actually blogging and talking about news that was unearthed through the grind-it-out determination of a journalist–probably a print journalist– somewhere else along the way.

Because readers don’t have to buy a physical newspaper anymore, Herbeck is concerned that people don’t value the work that goes into putting a story a few clicks away. “People have the false impression that ‘it’s easy to get news,” says the 36 year Buffalo News veteran. “It’s not easy to get news. There are people at the front end (of those clicks), people who work hard to get a story.”

Herbeck says he learned and expanded his story-telling skills as he watched and worked with dozens of other story tellers. He wrote a book with Michel, but the veteran scribe says he spent even more time working side-by-side with longtime News reporter Mike Beebe. “It got to a point where we could read each others’ thoughts,” says Herbeck of Beebe, who retired in 2010 after three decades with the Buffalo News.

It’s Beebe and other dogged newspaper men like Gene Warner and Lee Coppola who Herbeck will have on his mind as he is honored as a “giant” in journalism. “They’ve scrambled and scratched and stumbled their way to good stories over the years. I take it as a real honor that they picked us to do this,” says the semi-retired journalist, taking a break from the weeks-long pursuit of another story. “I feel like we’re representing the hundreds and hundreds of newspaper reporters over the last 200 years here in Buffalo.”

Along with Lou Michel, Dan Herbeck says he stands honored and ready to represent “the likes of Mark Twain and beyond.”


Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77: Newspaper, radio & TV broadcasts bring the storm back to life…

By Steve Cichon

BUFFALO, NY – It was the benchmark storm by which we measure all storms in Western New York. In killing 29 of our Western New York neighbors and cutting us off from the world (and heat, and food) for a week, this storm also gave Buffalo a greater dose of respect for the power and cruelty of what winter can bring; it’s a lesson that has become a part of our DNA. While we scoff at snow and predictions of snow, deep down, we know what’s possible.

We haven’t had an event like the Blizzard of ’77 since, and we are nearly certain to never repeat it.

While we’ve been hit with weather that had elements of that watershed snow storm– a blizzard in 1985, 7 feet of snow in 2000, The October Surprise storm– we as a people and a society learned from that first one and each successive one. Our civil authorities, police, fire, road crews, public weather forecasters, commercial forecasters– everyone is ready to make sure that we remain safe during potentially deadly winter weather events.

This page is being published as the snow is beginning to fall during “Winter Storm Vulcan,” which has prompted the National Weather Service to issue a Blizzard Warning for Western New York. We don’t use the “b-word” lightly here. While it’s the second blizzard warning of this unusually snowy and extremely cold winter of 2013-14, this winter marks the first blizzard warnings in 20 years.

With today’s snowfall in mind, if Jimmy Griffin were with us today, he might modify that famous advice he gave during the Blizzard of ’85. Sure, he’d still encourage us to stay home and grab a six-pack, but he might also encourage us to enjoy some time online, remember some long-gone names, faces and names, and remember that it could be much worse that what we’re experiencing today.

From the Audio Vault…

For this tremendous collection we are indebted to longtime radio enthusiast Tom Taber, who spent the night of January 29, 1977, tuning around the radio dial at his home in Albion, NY. Much of the audio is scratchy and fades in and out, but I think that helps paint a better picture of sitting in your bedrooom, playing with the radio while watching the snow pile up outside the window.

Reformatted & Updated pages from finding a new home at
Reformatted & Updated pages from finding a new home at

Niagara’s Talk Pioneer: John Michael, CKTB/St. Catharines & CJRN, Niagara Falls, Ontario

By Steve Cichon

Known for being both smart and a smart-aleck, his often raw evaluations of the truth often put him at odds with the management and even the Canadian Government, but never with his loyal listeners.

John Michael
John Michael

CKTB’s John Michael was one of of kind, with as big an audience in Buffalo as he had in the Niagara Region.

Western New Yorkers embrace and appreciate our proximity to Canada in a variety of different ways. We drink Tim Hortons, Molson, and Labatt, we love hockey, we remember our summers at Crystal Beach, we enjoy world class Toronto being an hour away.

Of course, Canadian broadcasting has long been a part of who we are in Buffalo, too. From Mr. Dressup and Uncle Bobby, to Hockey Night in Canada and spending weekend afternoons trying to figure out curling, we are, for all intents and purposes, part Canadian.

Aside from being able to pull $7 in Canadian change out of the seats of my car at any moment, I like to think my inner Canadian runs a little deeper with my long term appreciation of Canadian AM radio.

I remember Rick Jeanneret as a morning DJ on CJRN in Niagara Falls and loved listening to the CBC on 740AM (The CBC, now on 99.1FM, can be a little crunchy in “clean” stereo.)

One of my all-time favorites—regardless of nationality– bounced across the border at 610AM.

Listening to John Michael’s mid-morning talk show on CKTB in the early 2000s was one of my great joys as a fan of good radio.

He was smart, a smart ass, funny, opinionated, a great showman, and a great broadcaster. What a wonderful, rarely-found set of skills and characteristics. It was the timeless sort of show that, as a long time broadcaster and broadcasting manager, I’m sure dozens of producers and program directors and consultants “tried to make better.” But the show was him. That’s what made it great.

He could trip over himself being respectful to an elderly sounding woman, while making a dirty joke at her expense at the same time. And you bought both the respect and the humour–(well, it is Canadian humor, so I’ll add the U).

I loved hearing about his family, his garden, his life. He told a great story once about how, as a young DJ in Niagara Falls in the 1960s, he made a joke about the Mafia and the infamous Apalachian meeting, mentioning a few of the alleged Mafiosos who were collared by name.

He had no idea that one of the guys he mentioned lived only a few minutes from the studio, across the gorge in Lewiston, and was well-respected (and maybe feared?) among the many of the station’s sponsors. He was urged to apologize for the comments.

In the 1980s, he was fired by CJRN after the station was censured when Michael made “generalizations about native peoples,” and said, in part, “what these people forget; and this is what annoys me, is that these people believe that the world revolves around their own penises and it does not.”

From his obituary in the St. Catharines Standard:

“On a few occasions, he was reprimanded by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for comments made about groups such as native peoples and French-Canadians.

In a September 2003 interview with The Standard, Michael said “there’s just certain people and certain groups in the world today that if they don’t agree with you, they want you fired.”

Michael told the reporter he was actually shy and felt “hurt” when listeners personally attacked him.

He said his gruff radio personality is part of an on-air “schtick” developed over the years. His purpose was also to entertain, Michael said.”

Here in Buffalo, during a radio station clean out, I was given a box containing some contents of John Otto’s desk drawers from the time right before he died.

I was excited to find among the several cassettes, was one of the John Otto show with guest John Michael… talking about the bum steer of what amounted to the Canadian Government getting him fired. Listen to that late 80’s program, and two others from 2004 before from the links above.

Reformatted & Updated pages from finding a new home at
Reformatted & Updated pages from finding a new home at

The late, great B-kwik Food Stores

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – In the 1950s, grocery shopping was done primarily at what we’d now consider small-to-medium-sized grocery stores like A&P, Park Edge, Mohican, Red & White– along with small neighborhood corner stores, many of which had been in operation for decades.

As the suburb helped create the supermarket to replace the smaller stores, many of the more successful smaller scale operators became players in the Buffalo supermarket business. The owners of Super Duper, Bells, and Tops all had years of grocery experience before opening the larger stores.   The same is true of Wegmans, which didn’t come to Buffalo until the late ’70s.

The only Buffalo name to last is Tops. Tops Friendly Markets grew into a Western New York institution by expanding through franchising, first with Tops Markets, then with B-kwik markets, then with Wilson Farms stores, bringing three different levels of grocery service to Western New York.

Tops had only been on the scene for 6 years early in 1969, when Niagara Frontier Services took out a full page ad in the Courier-Express, looking for new franchisees, and bragging about the new stores that had been built in the previous few months.
These are the photos of the Tops, B-kwik, and Hy-Top Pharmacy stores which were built in the second half of 1968, along with the brief franchising pitch.
B-kwik Delavan Ave at Humber

B-kwik Main St, Delavan NY

B-kwik Delevan Ave
B-kwik Delavan Ave at Humber



B-kwik, Ensminger Rd, Tonawanda


B-kwik, Seneca St. This store was on the corner of Kingston Street. It moved to the current Tops location several years later when B-kwik took over several area “Food Arena” stores.


B-kwik, Walden Avenue, Buffalo


B-kwik William St, Buffalo


Hy-Top Pharmacy, Main Place Mall


Hy-Top Pharmacy, Maple at North Forest


Tops, Chalmers Ave, Buffalo. Across the street from the Central Plaza


Tops, Clinton Street, Cheektowaga. Current site of Consumers’ Beverage


Tops, Lockport-Olcott Rd. Currently Family Dollar, across the street from current Tops.


Tops, Maple at North Forest. Was VIX, now vacant.


Tops, Medina, NY

NFS nfsgrowing pitch
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Worst. Sports Card. Ever.

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – They just look dumb. The 1970-71 Topps basketball cards look stupid for a few reasons.

DonMayThese cards are “tall boys,” which is good news if you’re talking about Old Milwaukee, but just looks dumb for a sports card. When Topps jumped back into basketball cards in 69-70, they decided that longer cards– to mirror the stretch physiques of basketball players– might make them more interesting.

Also, the outfits are weird. Legend says a clause in the players’ union contract said that players couldn’t profit from images of themselves wearing the team name or logo.

The solution is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen. Players wore their jerseys backwards. Or their shoot-around warmup gear (sometimes backwards.) Or they wore plain jerseys. Or they wore white t-shirts.

The team name does not appear on cards, either. Just Boston, no Celtics. Just Baltimore, no Bullets. Just Cincinnati, no Royals.

My interest in these very odd offerings is in the first basketball cards marked Buffalo (but not Braves.) 1970-71 was the year the NHL and the NBA expanded to include Buffalo, and that makes the cards only weirder for Buffalonians.

There is no Braves feel to any of these first Braves cards. The photos are not only of guys wearing backwards jerseys, they are all wearing the backwards jerseys of other teams.

Dick Garrett, coming off a rookie of the performance for the Lakers before being taken by the Braves in the expansion draft, is wearing a crisp white t-shirt.

Worst ever sports card. Nate Bowman 1970-71 Topps Basketball. He only has 1.5 armpits.
Worst ever sports card. Nate Bowman 1970-71 Topps Basketball. He only has 1.5 armpits.

But perhaps the worst sports card of all time has bothered and intrigued me since I bought it for 25¢ almost 30 years ago.

Nate Bowman played one season for the Buffalo Braves. He came here from the 69-70 champion Knicks, but you already knew that, because he’s wearing a backwards Knicks shirt.

While you’re looking at that shirt, look at the armpit on the right side of the card. It might be easier to be judgmental about terrible photo edits in this modern day where Photoshop flawlessly fixes anything, but holy freakin’ cow. Half of dude’s torso is missing.

It looks a lot like the guy who was editing the cards was working on this one right before lunch, and when he came back, he accidentally put it on the done pile.

How could someone only give a guy half an armpit and think that’s ok?

Worst. Sports Card. Ever…. among plenty of bad 1970-71 Buffalo (Braves) Topps cards.

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The Barcalounger: Buffalo-made laziness & sloth

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Maybe the same grandmother who always called the living room “the parlor” also referred generically to any recliner as a “Barcalounger.” The big comfy chair was originally built here in Buffalo, as a product of the Barcalo Manufacturing Company on Louisana Street.

During World War I, the company bragged that their forgings were battle tested (see below.) For years, they made tools, beds, and lounge chairs in the Old First Ward until the late 1960s when the company filed for bankruptcy.

The name lives on, on chairs produced elsewhere, but when– with the pull of a handle– a man can go from a seated position to a relaxing nap position, he can thank hard working men from the Ward for blazing a new trail in family room sloth.

1952 Barcalounger ad
The Barcalo Manufacturing plant in 1918.
The Barcalo Manufacturing plant in 1918.
Buffalo-made Barcalounger, 1952
Buffalo-made Barcalounger, 1952
Encouraging children to use hammers.
Encouraging children to use hammers.

Encouraging abandoning your child in a Buffalo-made cage, 1910s.
Encouraging abandoning your child in a Buffalo-made cage, 1910s.

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Wild & Vicious 1960s Cheektowaga Street Gangs

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Seriously.  In September, 1960, Western New York faced a new kind of problem, namely Cheektowaga street hoodlums.

“Let this serve as a warning to other rowdies… we’ll throw them in the pot.”

This story originally appeared on

Four Buffalo-themed Valentine’s Day cards

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Cards designed by Steve Cichon, whose heart is always filled with Buffalove even when it’s the other kinda love.


roll up the rim







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Happy Birthday, Roby…

By Steve Cichon | | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – For many, February 12 is the day we honor Abraham Lincoln. Let ’em. For me, February 12 a date set aside for celebrating a different kind of statesman on his birthday.

Mike Robitaille first came to Buffalo 45 years ago as a member of the 1969-70 AHL Buffalo Bisons. He’d return a few years later as a Sabre, and a few years after being traded to Vancouver, he’d return as a broadcaster.

Sometime during the handful of years I worked with him at WNSA Radio and Empire Sports Network, I started to save the audio clips of all the amazing things he’d say. A couple of times, I compiled them for playback on his birthday, and here are a few of those put together for a several minute Best of Roby MegaMix.

I especially love hearing the great laugh of the late Jim Kelley throughout this piece… RIP Jim.

Mike is one of the great talents ever to grace Buffalo radio and television. His persona and personality are unique, and no one works harder at putting together what you see on the air, and making it look flawless, than does Mike.

He’s very humble about it, and if you press him, he’s just as likely to start talking about the sacrifices his family  made for him and his career as being the youngest of a large family in Midland, Ontario. Some guys want you to see how hard they work, but Mike works hard so you can’t see the work he’s put in.

Sabres hockey will be lacking when he retires at the end of the year.

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Even Old Buffalo Looking New: Ch.4’s 1960’s Buffalove

       By Steve Cichon

BUFFALO, NY – My friend Libby wrote something the other day which made me think. She was talking about the cold and the gray and the snow, and how we don’t even realize how the darkness of it all creeps into our personality.

“Honestly do not even realize I am depressed, until the sun comes out and everything is sunshiny and I feel the depression lift!”


I read this amidst my going through my collection of old radio and TV trade magazines. In the late 50s and early 60s, these magazines were filled with ads from local radio and TV stations looking to appeal to national advertisers. They talk about how great the station is, but also how wonderful the city and it’s people are– a great place to sell your stuff.

There are plenty of great ads from Buffalo stations. It’s like a Buffalo version of the wacky creative efforts you might see from the guys on Mad Men.


I’ve used these old magazines as a resource for years. Decades even. This time, however, the feeling was different, and Libby’s exaltation helped me put my finger on what made some of these ads better than they were the last time I looked.

These ads look better and more interesting, because there is hope and brightness in Buffalo like we haven’t seen here since the late 50s.

These ads, from 1958 and 1964, show WBEN-TV’s excitement for Buffalo and what is to come, and are meant to showcase the “just-over-the-horizon New Buffalo” that was on it’s way.

These ads feel fresh and great, because while there was a 60 year lag, that New Buffalo really is just around the corner this time.


When we were filled with gloom and darkness about our city, we would look and read these, and point to the empty, rotting grain elevators as a vestige of a vanished industry.

We’d look closely on the Skyway image, and see the beams marked with the logo of Bethlehem Steel. It was a bridge built to get 15,000 men from the city to their jobs in a plant that’s been cold for 30 years.


We imagine what Buffalo would have looked like if we didn’t build highways and downtown office buildings for 2 million expected Western New Yorkers, and we lament the buildings that were lost because too much of downtown was torn down too quickly for the wrong reasons.

But now, with the sun out here for the first time in generations, we look at these images and see progress and what’s to come. We now recreate under the Skyway, with promise of more to come. Grain elevators and malt houses are becoming the avant-garde, up-and-coming spaces that the next generation of Buffalonians realize are incredibly unique to us alone, as moves are made to re-imagine and re-purpose what makes us unique.


And with cranes and scaffolds up in dozens of places around the city, the thought of “new building” isn’t necessarily followed by “oh no.”

As the sun shines, and us Buffalonians feel the depression about our city lift, we’re beginning to figure out how to make our dynamic past, part of our dynamic future.

And we’re getting excited about seeing how the same ol’stuff starts to look different with some sunshine on it, warming the face and the soul.