The quest for the perfect cup of coffee

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – America has been breathlessly anticipating every move I make in my quest for the perfect cup of coffee.

I’ve been drinking coffee regularly since second grade. That’s when, for maybe six months, my brother, sister and I would get up really early to drive my dad to work, so that my mom would have the car so she could drive to work. The early wake-up wasn’t the problem. It was winter, and the heat was broken on the ol’fudge brown 1980 AMC Spirit. The coffee kept us warm for the drive.

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This is not coffee creamer. Or maybe it is.

Since then, coffee has kept me warm and sane. I used to drink it with cream, but the two pots a day I’d drink at the radio station to keep me going when I was working full-time and going to school full-time eventually started to become black cups. That powered creamer always reminds me of the can of wax stuff we’d sprinkle on the shuffle bowling game at my dad’s bar when I was little. (He sold the bar to get that job we were driving him to…)

So I like black coffee. Coffee, not a bunch of syrupy flavors and whipped cream. I like coffee flavored coffee. Not Starbucks. Their “Pike’s Peak” blend makes me less homicidal than most, but usually if circumstance lands me at Starbucks, I’ll get tea.

Good Tim Hortons coffee is really good, but through the years, as the franchise has exploded, you get more and more skunkers. I think the skunkers come most from the practice of topping off a cup from a different pot. It’s worth the roll of the dice for a good one, though, on most days, and Tim Hortons is where I buy most coffee on the road.

I think I might like the robust, consistent taste of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee even better than Hortons, but those styrofoam cups taste pretty assy. Especially if the coffee is really hot, I mostly taste the mouthful of chemicals that just leached from the cup.

Since I began my own business and working from home a few months ago and lost access to endless free coffee in the work kitchen, I’ve been working on the easiest, cheapest, tastiest way to capture what’s good about a cup of coffee at home.

We have a Keurig, and I have to say, perhaps my all-time favorite cup of coffee comes from the Coffee Shop K-cup. The problem is the cost, which is 60¢-68¢ per cup. Fine for one, but if I have 4 or 5 cups, and it starts becoming a silly cost. There are cheaper K-cups, but I don’t like most of them, and I hate the rest.

I’ve tried the reusable Keurig baskets, but they taste plasticky pretty quick, and make an OK at best cup of coffee. I even tried cutting open a K-cup and putting the grounds in the reusable basket. Not even close. Next.

The standard Mr. Coffee type drip maker has been a part of my life since second grade. Bleech. That’s the taste I’m trying to avoid. Next.

I tried the French press, which makes a rich cup of coffee, but it lacks any bite. Great flavor, but no punch. Next.

Here I am perking at 5:50am.
Here I am perking at 5:50am.

But what’s next? We’ve had this old percolator which we last used during the October storm, and the coffee we made was terrible. Apparently, though, boiling the living hell out of the coffee for 10 or 15 minutes isn’t the way to do it.

Medium heat until it starts to perc, then low for 5 minutes. I found a cheap grinder that does the coarse grind needed for a percolator, and it turns out the cup that came with our rice cooker is just the right about of beans to be ground for 4 cups in the percolator. I’ve settled on Eight O’Clock 100% Colombian whole bean. 6¢ or so a cup.

So Van Miller was right when he used to read those Perkins spots with zeal, and he’d say, “Perk it up!” So that’s what I’m doing, Uncle Van.

It’s delicious, but there are drawbacks. It takes a while to brew, and with a stovetop percolator you have to watch it. You can’t heat the water too quickly, or it burns the coffee. And other people in the house all the sudden find your coffee delicious, which means you’re brewing more of it, more often.

But the percolator is it for now. Am I missing anything?  What say you?

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

Murph, you made me feel three inches tall

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – I just had a birthday. Now I’m 36. Whatever. Life and sitcoms prepare you to expect an inability to move a couch without a two day backache or to find gray hair sprouting in any number of places. These are the expected, time honored facets of “getting older.”

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“Murph, you are exactly three inches tall.”

I’m mostly fine with “not being a kid anymore.” Occasionally, things pop up I’m not ready for. But even then I’m fine… usually.

For all you kids out there, I want to warn you about a pop culture throat-punch I didn’t see coming.

A guy… a man… I was having a conversation with, had no recollection of the Bubble Boys. Like none. Zero. It’s not because he didn’t remember, it was because it was “before his time.”

 

He’s a professional in his early 20s, a big hockey fan, and when somehow it became hilariously appropriate for me to say, in a French accent, “Murph, you are exactly three inches tall,” nothin’ from this guy.

“Remember the Bud Light Bubble Boys?”

Still blank stare.

“The commercials ran in every break of every hockey game for years? Gretzky was in them eventually?”

The Gretzky mention was key. Any Gretzky mention lends gravitas to any statement. With a wincing I-think-you’re-crazy look coming back, I thought maybe now was the time to bail on the Bubble Boys, and just mention the time I sat next to Gretzky on the bench during practice at Marine Midland Arena for a few minutes.

Instead, my brain took another turn. “I think it was 1998 or 1999 when the first commercials came out. They were on for a few years, but the one with the blue guy saying he’s “jumping ship…. to the N… H… L,” and the red guy reminding him that he’s three inches tall, was one of the original ones.”

“Yeah, I didn’t start watching hockey until I was 12,” he says nonchalantly, like, of course, I should realize that a grown man with a beard was only 8 years old when these commercials came out, and couldn’t have possibly been watching games.

If the stupid Bud Light Bubble Boys hockey commercials are too old a pop culture reference to use in mixed company, then why would I ever want to talk to people again?

Now I know how Radio Robert, the Old Timer felt.

All this was amplified by the fact that that the “Murph, you are exactly three inches tall” spot is the only Bubble Boys commercial not on YouTube. It only exacerbates this feeling of disconnection with “today’s youth” that to show this guy what I’m talking about, I have to go to my VHS tapes.

Unless, of course, I’m just a doddering old man, and completely made up the whole thing in my head. Which is possible.

Please tell me you remember “Murph, you are exactly three inches tall.” Please?

This post originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

The Butcher and Preservation

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

I was saddened to hear of the death of Donald Palmer, forever etched in Buffalo’s memory as “The Butcher.” He will remain forever one of Buffalo’s sports and pop culture icons. Rest in Peace. -Steve Cichon 11/22/16

BUFFALO, NY – I love preservation and giving current context to Buffalo’s old stuff. My attic is a testament to my single handed efforts at saving our city’s past.

Sometimes, though, I’m frustrated that we don’t celebrate things as a city until they are moments from the wrecking ball.

The Bisons have been here forever. They aren’t going anywhere. They have beer and peanuts and baseball. And a giant TV screen. Do we have to wait to show them massive amounts of Buffalove until they decide to move to Carolina with Carborundum or Arizona with Teds?

It’s hard to believe that the Bisons just wrapped up the 26th season of baseball at PilotNorthAmericareDunnTireCocaColaJimmyGriffin (sorry if I left one out) Field.

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The Bisons’ Most Famous “Bat Boy”: The Butcher at War Memorial Stadium, “The Rockpile,” in 1986.

Also hard to believe: if any good Buffalonian were on Family Feud, and RichardDawsonRayCombsLouieAndersonTheGuyFrom-HomeImprovementJohnOHurleySteveHarvey (sorry if I left one out) asked, “Name a Bisons’ Bat Boy,” we’d all have an immediate number one answer.

No other baseball city in the country has a bat boy turned bat man who lasted through two baseball stadiums and became an icon like our Butcher, shown above in 1986 at War Memorial Stadium.

We love our Bills and Sabres, but our Bisons are a much more Buffalo organization at the heart of it.

Mayor Griffin’s brass ones built the ball park. He just started building it, and sending some of the bills to Albany. And they paid.

The most famous Bisons of the last few decades include the Butcher, Conehead, The Earl of Bud, Larry the peanut guy, and Irv from the 7th inning stretch.

For the record, that’s beer, beer, peanuts, and shouting obnoxious things in unison during Gary Glitter’s Rock’N Roll Part 2. There’s some genuine, real article Buffalove.

It’s too late now, but maybe next season we can get all hipster and act like we just unearthed this amazing gem that is soooo Buffalo that we need to go and look at it, and drink beer. It’s at Washington and Swan.

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers worked in grain mills or steel plants and nothing will bring them back. But guess what? They also watched the Bisons at Offerman Field.

And many of us went with our dads to the Rockpile. And the “new” ballpark.

It’s like preservation, without having to strap yourself to anything!

I love finding new-old stuff to rally behind, but I like the old-old stuff, too.

So, I hope I’m not alone in grabbing my Red&Blue/Green&Red/Blue&Orange/backtoRed&Blue (sorry if I left one out) Bisons gear, and looking forward to opening day at a home grown institution that screams Buffalo by screaming “WHO NEEDS A BEER…”

Charge!

Originally appeared on Trending Buffalo on September 3, 2013

Thomas J. Dolan, 1942 -2013. His admission of struggle changed my life

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Tom Dolan died this week. For the last 30 years, readers of the Buffalo News knew him as Thomas J. Dolan, News Staff Reporter.

I worked side-by-side with Tom a lot during the contentious Satish Mohan years as Amherst Supervisor.

Amherst was Tom’s regular beat for the News, and it was becoming mine for WBEN, as every meeting was seemingly an event.

Board members yelling at one another, threatening physical violence upon one another during meetings.

“Mr. Supervisor, someone had better shut their mouth or I’ll shut it for them.”

In a back office, I once saw a board member boiling to a point where it looked line he was inches away from a slugging another, only to see those two embarrassed apart by yet another board member. It didn’t get reported because it was about the tenth most interesting thing that happened that night in the zoo that was the Amherst Town Council for a few years.

Tom was unfazed by all that. He kept all his laptop components in separate ziplock bags. He showed up a few minutes before the meeting started, pulled his mouse and power adapter out of their baggies, and started to listen and write.

He’d get it all in the paper, stripped of nonsense, and without resorting to the wild sound bites and noisiness that came with reporting these meetings in the electronic media. He got it all in, like a pro, put on his tweed cap and went home.

It was easy to be overcome by the emotion of those meetings. Of course, it was only because of the emotion that I and other radio and TV reporters were there. Tom would get the taste of emotion, but more importantly, the facts of the meeting. The actual operation of government. The real news, not just the stuff of prurient interest.

He had a quiet passion that burned slowly, but intensely. He talked about the best kind of dogs, his beautiful Parkside home, the rewards of being divorced- but remarrying in the Catholic Church after years of work with to make it happen the right way.

He also talked about being at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, a watershed moment for American politics, activism, and freedom.

He was also a neighbor, living a few blocks away in Parkside. It was an honor to be able to tell the story of his home when he and his wife Marion were on the Parkside Tour of Homes.

I think it was sitting in his beautiful walnut-beamed dining room that he said something that stopped me in my tracks and really helped change my life.

After chatting about his home’s history, what he’d done to improve it, his favorite features and the like, I made a joke about how I was going to take five minutes to whip this into a story and get it in right under deadline.

“That’s the hardest thing for me to do,” he said.

What? Writing quickly? Deadlines?

“No, writing,” he said. Some of those late Amherst nights almost killed him, he said. “Writing is hard, a chore, and I don’t enjoy it.”

I couldn’t believe it. Here’s this guy, the world’s most perfect newspaper reporter. Perfect pieces. Dozens of awards, responsible for bringing to light sinking homes and parks scandals. And writing was hard for him. He had to fight through every time he sat in front of a keyboard, to the point he hated it.

Until that moment, I don’t think I thought about writing. I just did it. Fast and easy. It flowed, especially with a deadline looming. It might not be Hemingway, but I’d get it in.

I’ve thought a lot about Tom and that statement since that day.

An ability and facility with writing is a great gift I’ve always had, but it wasn’t until spending time with Tom Dolan that I realized it was a gift, and not handed out to all writers like magnetic schedules at a Bisons game.

And it wasn’t until I realized what a gift it is, to be able to write, that I could decide that is what I had to do with the rest of my life. To put that wonderful gift to good use.

The last time I saw Tom, he really wasn’t sure who I was. Ravages of Parkinson’s.

I told him about some of which I’ve written here, but I think the kind and warm tone may have given as much comfort as the actual words themselves.

We weren’t great friends, just acquaintances and neighbors who got along well and liked to chat.

It’s amazing the impact one can have on another life so accidentally. Here’s to the late Tom Dolan.

Thanks Tom.

Crayon Drawings in the Art of PR: You’re Leaving Money on the Table with “OK” Public Relations

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Many business owners and even many “public relations professionals” look at PR as a way to try to get for free that for which you’d normally pay, ie, advertising.

Politicians are masters at using public relations to create news and including themselves in news that would otherwise be reported without them. The author, kneeling, is among a throng of reporters talking to daredevil Nik Wallenda (right) and State Senator George Maziarz (left at microphone). (Eric Malinkowski Photo/Facebook)
Politicians are masters at using public relations to create news and including themselves in news that would otherwise be reported without them. The author, kneeling, is among a throng of reporters talking to daredevil Nik Wallenda (right) and State Senator George Maziarz (left at microphone). (Eric Malinkowski Photo/Facebook)

So when you open a new location, you send out a press release and hope some reporter does a story.

Or you start selling a new product line. Press release. Or you won an award. Press release.

While of course these are all examples of public relations best practices, and are examples of press releases I have personally written and sent, they are really the crayon drawings in the art of public relations.

These may or may not be good stories from a reporter’s or editor’s perspective, and are likely the sort of thing that get mentions when reporters are feeling the desperation of a deadline looming without an idea to run with.

Further, these examples are all self-serving stories. In most instances, the person who benefits the most from this information being disseminated is you.

Reporters are not stupid. They know you are looking for a free plug, and unless you and your PR professional have come up with a great story angle to dress up the fact you’re looking for a free commercial, reporters will do their best to avoid it if they can.

This sort of media outreach is a low percentage play. It’s worth doing, and worth doing right. But if it’s all you’re doing with PR, you’re leaving money on the table.

Is there something going on in your industry that consumers need to know about?

Is there a news item that effects your industry and could eventually hit the public?

When you start thinking along these lines, everyone’s focus is changed for the better.

Instead of being one of the cattle-call dozens of self-serving story pitches a reporter is assaulted with everyday, you’re now at least trying to help them help the public in some way.

From pariah to ally instantly. And maybe it becomes a story a reporter is inspired to tell instead of slogs through, which always makes for better results.

And the next time something comes up in your industry, maybe that reporter calls you for a quote.

Congratulations. You’ve gone from “business owner” to “expert.”

Of course, you were an expert all along, you just needed some better PR.

Its not always that simple, but public relations is like any other facet of business. It’s about building relationships.

I can help you become a reporter’s friend, not someone whose press release is deleted without reading.

What’s your story? You know where to find me to help you tell it.

Book About Two Who Lived For Kids, St Mark, to Benefit Parish School

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY –  They are called “Father” and “Sister” and it’s a case where they both really feel like members of hundreds of Central Park, Parkside, and North Buffalo families. It’s also a case of reciprocated love and concern.

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Msgr. Francis Braun and Sr. Jeanne Eberle each lead a part of St. Mark for three decades. Fr. Braun was Pastor of St. Mark Roman Catholic Church for 30 years, Sr. Jeanne was Principal at St. Mark School for 35 years. (Photo courtesy WNY Catholic)

Before each retired in the last few years, you had to go back to the 1970s to find someone else doing the jobs they loved, heading the St. Mark Parish and St. Mark School.

Though they approached their jobs with personalities almost as different as two human beings could be, Sr. Jeanne Eberle and Msgr. Francis Braun spent 30 years of ther lives selflessly and tirelessly giving their love and of themselves for the people of St. Mark, particularly the smallest ones.

For decades it was a common sight to see kindergarteners and first graders line up to give Sr. Jeanne a hug at the start or end of a school day, while the too-cool seventh and eighth graders walked on by, all with Fr. Braun watching closely, stationed on his own side of the hedge separating the rectory and the school.

It happened many times through the years, though, that the “too cool” kids became parents of St. Mark kids, once again willing participants in hugs for the woman who they know cared as much for their kids as they did themselves.

At Mass on Sunday, Msgr. Braun’s stories of days gone by, and his family made most of us feel like we were listening to stories of our own family. His grandfather the cop, the Crystal Beach boat, the firehouse around the corner, his Irish mom and German dad. We might still know Father’s family stories better than our own.

As the author of two books, including “The Complete History of Parkside,” Steve Cichon wants to write this story because these people are very special to him and the community.

“The history of St. Mark is rich and fascinating, and there are many wonderful stories to tell. From the stained glass depictions of events in the life of Jesus, to the thinly veiled anti-Catholic bigotry which lead to St. Mark being built at the corner of Woodward and Amherst, no one tells those stories better than Fr. Braun,” says Cichon.

“It’s only a natural extention, then, to also talk to Father about his life and times, and to record all of the great stories he shared about himself with us through the years. The same is true of Sr. Jeanne. It’s as much a genealogy project about two beloved family members as it is a book about our church. I’m blessed and honored to have so much support in writing and researching it.”

The hope is to have the work completed by the end of 2014, the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the current St. Mark church building.

If you have any photos, items, or stories pertaining to the history of St. Mark,
please contact Steve Cichon at steve@buffalostories.com

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The book is now available at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore.

Seriously, How Are you? Better now, Thanks!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – “How are you doing?”

It’s one of those phrases that we throw around. Most of the time, the words fall out of our mouths without even realizing what we’re saying. But even when we are really interested in how someone is doing, how interested are we, really?

I have learned through the years that there are some people of whom you can’t ask that question, because they will tell you, in painstaking detail, exactly how they are.

Even worse, is when you ask someone you love “How ya doin,” and you really want to know, but that person won’t share their pain or their joy with you.

When someone responds FINE because they don’t want to burden you with their troubles, or even worse, when they don’t want to seem too prideful and won’t share their jubilation… that hurts.

Having someone be willing to listen to what really vexes you is a great gift. Having someone trust you with their inner most thoughts is a great gift, too.

But what made me really think about all this, was a friend — closer to acquaintance than BFF– asking me with care and sincerity how I was doing. A blanket ask. Open ended.

Not overly concerned, or concerned for the sake of drama, just honestly interested in my well-being. No strings attached. Beautifully simple.

I was taken aback a bit. Here’s someone who doesn’t know, but cares about whatever it is.

Asking that question, and meaning it — for my benefit — is a big commitment.

It was wonderful. It was powerful. It was the sort of reaching out that I have to imagine happens less and less in an age where more and more communication and more “being a friend” is done through fingertips on the glass face of a smart phone. But there is was, honest to goodness, real human care and compassion.

Like everyone else, I have all kinds of troubles and concerns. Piles of nonsense vexing me. This to worry about, that to be angry at. All that was true at that moment as well.

But you know what? I answered, honestly, “I’m doing pretty damn good.”

Although I didn’t, I should have followed it up with, “Because you care.”

Thanks, friend.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

I’m Listening to Your Eyeballs… no matter what your mouth is saying

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Lately, I’ve been keeping a closer ear on people’s eyeballs.
We’ve all trained our mouths to be our servants.

They express what we want them to express. We chose and use our words, our tone, our volume very deliberately, if not consciously.

Quite often, for the sake of appearances, the sake of making it through life, our mouths don’t match what we feel at our core.

When your mouth starts matching your heart, chances of trouble greatly increase. Especially when for one reason or another, what’s in our hearts is something disruptive to the fabric of our life or being. What our heart truly wants may be even forbidden.

So these inner most thoughts aren’t allowed anywhere near the lips. The words are never spoken.

But, again, I lately find myself listening more and more closely to eyeballs. Most of us allow our eyes to say things we’d never let our mouths say.

We don’t even realize what we let our eyes say before its already all out there.

The thing about eyeballs is you don’t need much time. In less than one second, I can see down to your very soul. Thousands of words just poured out of those peepers, and there’s no pulling them back.

It’s often fast and accidental, but its done. And you both realize it. It’s a new reality, this hundred chapter conversation in a glance…

But for the same reason our mouths don’t say the words, we go on as if this pupil to pupil transfer of knowledge never happened. But it did. Instead of discussing with someone that we just stood naked in front of each other, we desperately search for something comfortable to talk about.

In spite of our basic elemental human desire to discuss this new extraordinary deep connection, at a time when real connections with people are so rare, we don’t dive in. We desperately grasp at anything else to talk about. “Wow, look at the rain.”

As much as we need these connections in our lives, I guess we need even more that it not get weird. To avoid the weird, I think many people have just tuned out eyeballs, for fear of making such a powerful connection. I think it’s part of the reason why people’s guards are down. I guess most folks just don’t need that in their day.

But listening to those eyeballs, I find life richer. Weirder but richer…. also more fulfilling and less fulfilling at the same time. Closer yet never more distant now. I’m sure I could say it all better in a half second glance.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Rest in Peace, Larry Felser… Memories of a great writer and great friend

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – It’s one of those opinionated days, and all of my opinions are on my friend Larry Felser today. Larry used to weave silly observations into gold in columns that started this way. I’m just writing down a bunch of memories of my old pal and sharing some great audio clips.

02-oct-1989-felser

For about a decade, I got paid to hang out with Larry Felser on Mondays for an hour. I produced his radio shows on WBEN and WNSA Radio. Larry was one of those special guys who was able to move comfortably among millionaire athletes and sports owners, and just as easily among 16 year old kids who worked in radio and loved hearing his stories. Well, at least this 16 year old kid.

My friendship was cemented with Larry the day his car broken down a few blocks from the station in the middle of the Elmwood/Hertel intersection. He called from a payphone saying he’d be late, so I drove down there, let him take my car to the station, and waited for Triple-A with his car. He mentioned that all the time, never forgot it. I think he may have even mentioned it the last time we spoke.

He was like that. Those were the kinds of stories he’d tell you about people. He could sum up a Hall of Famer by describing the time he had breakfast with him in a hotel lobby.

To know Larry Felser was to know the heyday of print journalism. He was a Buffalonian in the way we used to mean it. He was the smartest, best mannered lunch bucket guy, but he knew he was no better than the kid he went to Canisius with, who was working at the mill. And while Larry wasn’t throwing around 100 pound bags of feed, he was one of the hardest working guys I ever met. Even after he was “retired” from The News.

“Now here’s a guy….” as Larry would say, who just loved to talk and listen. Larry is the only person I’ve ever met who I could imagine, 1940’s movie style, get on the phone, and tell an editor, “Stop the presses! Have I got a Cracker Jack story for you!” He had that gutty old school newspaper man feel about him, even though he was at least a generation removed from working in that old, old school environment.

Some quick hit Larry memories::

“Fast as wood.” It was fast as wood, or skates like wood… This phrase was written by Larry about Dave Andreychuk, I believe. But I know for a fact it was one of Jim Kelley (the hockey writer)’s all-time favorite line, and as he repeated it so often, it’s become a favorite line among those of us who loved both Jim and Larry… namely Randy Bushover, John Demerle, and me.

Larry was one of the best storytellers around. His delivery was plodding, but he made up for it with his keen and scathing observation skills, and his ability to turn a phrase. The best stories, of course, came during the commercial breaks. I don’t remember what precipitated it, but one day Larry went on the most wonderful, colorful, captivating description of how he used to sneak off to “The Palace Burlesk,” and give a very vivid diatribe about why “Rosie La Rose” was the favorite dancer of him and his friends.

I remember word for word the 1940s slang phraseology used in that discussion of Ms. La Rose, and supplemental offerings she’d provide above and beyond the other entertainers at The Palace. For Larry’s sake, I’ll keep it to myself right now, but I’ll never forget it. In fact, I use the line often. In 1945, it was almost certainly vulgar. Today, it simply makes people laugh.

Another line I heard Larry say often, one which I almost always credit him when I use it.. “My most creative moments in front of a keyboard are when I write my expense accounts.”

I’m picturing Larry’s whole face smiling as he’d say that. Larry’s whole face smiled. It filled a room with warmth.

Toward the end of his career at the News, he grew a full beard. The line I heard him use on more than one occasion… “When I started growing the beard, I was going for Hemingway. It’s come out more like Box Car Willie.” He had the beard for quite a while before The News updated his photo.

One year, he gave me a book for Christmas, and told me that if I wanted to be able to picture what football used to be like in Buffalo in the 40s, that it was just like this book. I’ve read this book about the Baltimore Colts and their fans about 10 times. I wish I asked Larry which other books I should read.

One book I decided to read was Larry’s on the AFL. I bought it and took it with me on vacation one week, and loved it. Read it cover to cover very quickly, and I still can’t put into words what happened when I got to the last page. Larry went through a list of thank yous. NFL and AFL owners (all his friends). Hall of Fame players (all his friends). Some of the greatest sports writers of the 20th century (all his friends). Some of the great sports writers and broadcasters from Buffalo (all his friends). And me.

larrypage

I was just thunderstruck, and to this day, I don’t know what to say. While he has the ear of most of the most important people in sports; that Larry even knew the name of some chump kid from a radio station really shows something about the man. That he’d memorialize our friendship on the same page that he did with Lamar Hunt and Will McDonough is still beyond comprehension to me.

But Larry is beyond comprehension to me. I’m better at an awful lot of things for just having been in his presence. Thanks, Larry.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

It was 20 Years Ago Today: Two Decades in Radio Goes By in a Flash

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s nearly inconceivable to me, but it was twenty years ago today. The letter that started my career at WBEN.

wbenletter1993

Update, April 20, 2018: marks the start of my 25th year in radio, and I’m so happy that it’s at WECK… what we do there feels a lot like the old full-service radio I grew up with… good music, straight forward news, and happy on the radio.As a 15 year old high school sophomore, I would have been happy getting a job at Tops.

Running the board at WBEN, 1994.

But neither Tops nor Bells would hire someone under 16. My birthday wouldn’t come until the end of summer. I needed something to do for the vacation.

I’d been earning money for years already. Helping out at a used book shop. Helping a farmer down the street pick potatoes. Cleaning up cigarette butts and cutting curly fries at a nearby hot dog stand.

I liked working and I liked earning money.

But radio? Why not, I guess I thought.

I had always loved radio, and for the few years my dad’s job took us to Massachusetts, I had a friend whose dad worked in radio. We used to go to work with him when he was the Saturday morning jock on a big station in Boston.

As an 8 year old, my first real taste of living a life in radio came when I had to be ready for Mr. Bob to pick me up at 5am to head into WHDH. No problem. Loved every minute of it.

On those Saturday mornings, My friend Jarin and I would “do production” for the “station” we ran in his basement, made up of real, but cast-away decades-old radio equipment.

When my family moved back to Buffalo, and Jarin’s moved to Maryland, he gave me some of the castaway equipment, and I built a “radio station” of my own in my bedroom.

We’d each “do shows” on cassette and mail them back and forth to one another.

I was 7 or 8 years into that “radio career” when, during my “job search,” I was struck with an idea.

WBEN Control Room, 2004.

I have no idea from whence the thought of an internship came, but I loved radio, and wanted to work in radio, and that’s what I set out to do.

I opened the phone book, and called every radio station listed, asking for the station manager’s name.

When I say every radio station, I mean every single one. Buffalo. Springville. Lockport. Niagara Falls. Batavia. I just wanted to get in. Anywhere.

With those names in hand, I knew to whom I should address the letters I was about to write on our Tandy 1000EX computer. The one with 256k of memory.

It was quite a few 29 cent stamps.

The letter I wrote had to have been a classic 10th grader essay on my love for radio, and my knowledge of radio equipment, with, of course, some big words thrown in for good measure (because that’s how I’ve rolled for years now.)

So, somewhere between 15 and 20 of these letters went out. And I waited.

And waited.

At the mail box everyday, I’m sure I looked like Ralphie looking for that Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.

If you think about that scene in a Christmas Story, when Ralphie excitedly says “My ring!!” and runs in the house, syrupy violin music comes in to set the scene.

In my mind, that same hokey musical accompaniment plays when I opened the mailbox to find that gleaming white WBEN stationery staring at me, with my own name typewritten on the front.

It was providence. The station I listened to, the station I loved, was the only station to respond. At all. The only letter I got.

Its really almost unfathomable.

Think of some bad sitcom where a kid has a dream about pitching for the Yankees.

The focus is soft and fuzzy around the edges.

The kid’s sitting on the bench when Billy Martin, wearing a blue hat (but without a Yankees emblem) points at him and hands him the ball.

But, instead of the Yankees manager saying, “You’re in, kid!” in a dream, I got the real deal.

There really couldn’t have been anything better than getting a letter from Kevin Keenan inviting me to WBEN. And there was that letter, right there in my hands.

I’ll never forget that first day. Kevin looked like a 1993 radio newsman from central casting; white shirt, tie, suspenders.

We talked about WBEN, and I can’t imagine how hilarious it was to have a 15 year old know your programming inside out, talking about how my alarm clock was set for 6:23am, so I could wake up to the Osgood File.

He loved that I had called “Ask the Mayor” only a few days before, and had talked to him and Mayor Griffin about one of the big issues of the day: The debate over whether Jay Leno or David Letterman should replace Johnny Carson.

I showed him I knew how to put up a reel of tape, and how to bulk erase a cart.

On the tour around the station, I met sports man Rick Maloney, and sat in to watch a Craig Nigrelli/Helen Tederous newscast.

I was floored when Kevin offered me the chance to intern during the summer.

What a summer of triple bus transfers from Orchard Park to North Buffalo… And my dad acting as my radio chauffeur.

Eight or nine hour days, every day, all summer. I learned from everyone I met. Busted my hump with a smile. Loved every minute of it.

When I went to help set up WBEN’s remote at the Fair, Kevin gave me a WBEN t-shirt. I had earned it, and I loved it. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud to receive anything.

As I headed back to school, now a well-heeled Orchard Park High School junior, I was offered a weekend board operator job. Best of Limbaugh on Sundays.

Screw Tops. I was pulling in my $4.25 an hour working in radio. My heart is racing right now, thinking about the pride and satisfaction I felt.

I was living the Doogie Howser dream. And it’s continued from there.

That day in Kevin Keenan’s office 20 years ago today was my last job interview.

I’ve been tremendously blessed to have had so many mentors who’ve looked out for me, taught me their secrets, looked out for me, and allowed me to coattail along on their rides.

I feel a lot like a kid who went to bed waiting for one of those radio stations to respond to my letter, and woke up News Director at the radio station I really hoped would answer.

Everything I know about broadcasting, about radio, about TV, about journalism: I was taught either by direct instruction or by example from the tremendous people I’ve worked with at WBEN, Channel 4, and the Empire Sports Network.

Steve and Howard Simon, Empire Sports Network’s “Simoncast,” 2003.

I’d love to write about a few of the people, but it just wouldn;t be fair, because the list really has hundreds of names on it. I’m not sure how or why I’ve been so blessed, so lucky, to have so many amazing, talented people take an interest in my life and my career.

There’s not a single task I do every day that doesn’t carry along with it the embedded lessons of those people who’ve taken me in as an apprentice and son.

I’m like an orphan that was raised by the community. So much of any success I’ve had is because so many people own a piece of my success, but it couldn’t have happened without each on of them.

Twenty years of incredible luck and love. I’m not sure it’s fair that one person should be so blessed… But for two full decades now, I’ve been indescribably thankful, and mindful to never waste even a little bit of it.

Update, April 20, 2018: Today marks the start of my 25th year in radio, and I’m so happy that it’s at WECK… what we do here feels a lot like the old full-service radio I grew up with– good music, straight forward news, and happy on the radio. I wrote this five years ago about how lucky I’ve been to be able to live a dream… and it’s all still true.