Early 50s Radio in Buffalo

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


As Clint Buehlman celebrated 20 years as Buffalo’s top morning man in 1952, the team that would be a part of his show for the next 25 years was in place.

Clint Buehlman, early 1950s.

Western New Yorkers began waking up to the news of Jack Ogilvie in 1952. He’d been WBEN’s evening newscaster and a jack-of-all-trades at WJTN in Jamestown.

Jack Ogilvie in WBEN’s Statler Hotel Studios, late 1940s.

Buehly’s “Mr. Operator,” Tom Whalen (below) started on the early shift working the Buehlman show in 1948, arriving each day by 4:30 to make sure the studio was ready for Buffalo’s AM-MC when his show began at 6am.

Tom Whalen

Through most of the 1950s, Buehlman’s show was Buffalo’s most listened to radio program, surpassing even nighttime family shows like Jack Benny, Lux Radio Theater, Fibber McGee & Molly and Dragnet.

During the afternoon hours, WEBR’s Bob Wells was most popular, but his ratings didn’t even approach Buehlman’s. 

1953 ad.

That didn’t stop WEBR’s owner, The Buffalo Courier-Express, to run stories with headlines like one on 1952 exclaiming “Bob Wells’ WEBR Program Rated City’s Most Popular,” before explaining in the story that the show was “the most popular weekday radio show in Buffalo during the greater part of the afternoon.”

It’s bizarre because it was unnecessary. Even in the moment, Wells was one of the most beloved personalities in the history of Buffalo media as the host of the extraordinarily popular and generation-defining “Hi-Teen” program on WEBR. 

Dancers pack the Dellwood Ballroom dance floor for a mid-50’s Hi-Teen broadcast.

Sammy Davis, Jr. signs autographs while Bob Wells looks on smiling after a performance on the Hi-Teen Show. The program was a known stop for many of the country’s top performing artists, who’d gladly give the kids a thrill on a Saturday afternoon before heading to a gig.

Hi-Teen one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the era nestled between the end of World War II and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Ch.2’s Rich Kellman during a late 1970s interview.

Toronto’s Bluebops on the Hi-Teen stage.

Hi-Teen ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.

Wells had been the Assistant Director of Music for Batavia Schools when WEBR General Manager Cy King asked him to produce a live show to help combat juvenile delinquency.

That was January, 1946— and America’s record hop was born with the first edition of Wells’ show. With the help of the Harold Austin Orchestra keeping the beat, Hi-Teen went on to serve as an inspiration for shows like American Bandstand. The tenth anniversary show, live from The Aud in 1956 attracted 10,000 teens to Memorial Auditorium.

Bob Wells, WEBR

After WEBR, Wells landed at WGR Radio and TV, hosting shows on Ch.2 like Pick-A-Polka, The Yankee Doodle Room (live from AM&A’s), and the Money Movie. Even after he was no longer a full-time on-air personality, he could still be seen doing weather on Ch.7’s weekend newscasts. He also spent more than 20 years as the radio and television voice of Your Host restaurants.

The stars that Wells missed during the day often wound up on Ed Little’s nighttime show on WEBR.

From boy actor to announcer to disc jockey to newsman, Ed Little’s 62-year radio career didn’t leave much undone.

Discovered by WEBR’s Al Zink as an actor in 1938 as a kid actor with a grown-up voice, Ed moved to announcing at WHLD and then WGR in 1942, eventually putting those skills to use for the US Army during World War II.

He’d fly along on bombing missions in the Pacific, recording live descriptions of what he was seeing to be played back over NBC on radios across America.

When he returned home from war, he joined the staff at WBEN, before moving over to WEBR in 1949.

Among other duties there, Ed was the host of a show that broadcast live from the Town Casino, with interviews and interactions with many of the day’s biggest stars, who’d stop by the booth to say hello.

In the 60s, he was the newsman on Joey Reynolds’ KB Radio show. In the 80s and 90s, his was one of the voices that distinguished WBEN as Buffalo’s home for radio news.

Ed’s was the last live voice broadcast from the Elmwood Avenue WBEN studios that were the station’s home from 1960-2000.

Buffalo lounge piano legend Jackie Jocko appeared regularly on WEBR in the early 1950s along with his partner drummer Joe Peters.

WEBR’s “Amanda” interviews an AM&A’s buyer on her midday shopping and fashion tips show at the WEBR-970 studios, 23 North Street, in 1951.

“Amanda” was actually Dorothy Shank, president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio & Television. She later worked in marketing for AM&A’s, had a show on Ch.4, and was a host on WJJL in Niagara Falls through the 1980s. She was 81 when she died in 1989.

Another piece of Western New York history in the photo: in the middle, between the microphone and the telephone, the 1950’s equivalent of a Tim Horton’s cup– a glass “to go” coffee cup/milk bottle from Buffalo’s ubiquitous Deco Restaurants (there were more than 50 Deco locations around WNY when they were most popular.)

Amanda with Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson.

Warren Michael Kelly, occasionally known as Warren Mike or Warren Kelly, was one of WGR’s top on-air talents during his two separate stints there in the 50s.

The Bennett High grad was a newsman at WBNY before serving in the Army during World War II.

After the war, he was Clint Buehlman’s newsman at WBEN and spent time in Detroit before coming back to Buffalo to host mornings on WGR. Later, he’d also be seen anchoring newscasts on Ch.2.

He moved on to management and sales, and was General Manager of WYSL and WPHD-FM.

Through the late 40s and early 50s, John Lascalles was WGR’s “Man About Midnight.” Nicknamed “Ol’Bones,” Lascalles would eventually move to mornings on WGR. He was also a familiar face in the early days of Ch.2, as one of the many “Atlantic Weathermen.” With the gas station as a sponsor, the man announcing the weather would wear the snappy uniform of an Atlantic gas station attendant while delivering the forecast.

Frank Dill spent a decade at WGR and Ch.2, from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. He was born in Williamsville, but grew up as a sports fanatic near Washington, DC. Like most of his WGR co-workers, Dill was seen and heard in a wide-ranging number of on-air jobs.

On the radio, he was a disc jockey and one of the play-by-play voices of the baseball Bisons. When Ch.2 first signed on, he was a part of the station’s original announcing staff as the host of “Sports Corner,” the game show “Tune-O,” and co-host of “Yankee Doodle” with Bob Wells.

Dill left Buffalo for San Francisco in 1963. When he retired after 34 years there, the paper called him “nice guy Frank Dill — an oasis of easygoing banter and chuckling good humor.”

WGR’s news men of the 1950s were widely talented beyond news.

Jack Mahl was born in Tonawanda and served in the Army during World War II. He came home to work at WKBW and WGR Radio, eventually spending time at Ch.2 as another of the The Atlantic Weathermen. Through the 70s and 80s, he could be heard up and down Buffalo’s radio dial reading news, most notably on WEBR.

David Getman spent a decade as a newsman and Special Events Director for WGR before moving on to public relations roles with the March of Dimes and Buffalo Mayor Chester Kowal.

Phil Soisson came to WGR from WBEN in 1952, and remained a steady news and sports voice on WGR through the 50s and 60s. He was the radio voice of the baseball and hockey Bisons, and anchored news and sports on Ch.2. He was also part of the original Sabres play-by-play team with Ted Darling in 1970.

John Gill started working in radio as an actor in dramas in 1937, and was on the news desk at WGR Radio and then WGR-TV through the 40s, 50s and 60s. He moved to WEBR, where he was one of the main voices of the news-centric 970 format of the late 70s.

Gill was a newsman’s newsman. “In 20 years of news reporting for WGR,” he said in 1958, “you learn that an analysis of news is vitally important. To paraphrase, every fire isn’t a conflagration, nor is every storm a holocaust. It’s the highly experienced men on our news staff that accurately describe the news when and as it actually happens.”

John Otto would join WGR’s news team in the mid ‘50s, after starting as a newsman and disc jockey at WBNY in 1951. He, by the way, was another Atlantic Weatherman.  

Otto stands for a promo shoot on the roof of the Lafayette Hotel.

“Helen Neville possesses one of those rare personalities that sparkles with friendliness and enthusiasm. She has friends and devotees from practically every walk of life.”

Neville’s broadcasting career began at WGR & WKBW in 1943, and was heard through the 1940s on WKBW’s “Modern Kitchen.”

Through the 50s, she regularly broadcast on WGR from her home at 1119 Delaware Avenue, interviewing people about the civic and social happenings around Buffalo.

On Ch.2, she hosted “Two For Lunch” (which later became “Two For Breakfast” when the time slot changed) for the first six years the station was on the air, 1954-1960.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.