From Hamburg WKBW flips the switch on rock ‘n’ roll history

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hamburg’s biggest contribution to the early history of rock ‘n’ roll might be more technical than musical, but it was from the 50,000 watts worth of radio waves flying out of Big Tree Rd. that Western New York and much of the east coast and Canada were introduced to the format.

The WKBW-WGR Transmitter facility on Big Tree Rd. as it looked when opened in July, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation opened its transmitter and tower facilities on Big Tree Rd. in July, 1941. The facility cost $350,000– $5.7 million in 2017 dollars—and was described as “truly a showplace of electric marvels.”


A technician adjusts the audio driver tubes of WKBW’s transmitter. 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

When the building first opened, a series of telephone lines carried programs from the Rand Building studios of WGR and WKBW to Hamburg for broadcast.

Live from the WGR/WKBW studios inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW’s mainstays were the network programs of CBS with stars like Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Kate Smith. WGR carried Mutual Network shows like “The Lone Ranger” and talent like Milton Berle.

WGR/WKBW Sports reporter Ralph Hubbell at the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone, and RCA 74-B. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The local talent included Billy Keaton, Ralph Hubbell, and WGR Orchestra leader David Cheskin. Before Howdy Doody came along, Bob Smith hosted “The Cheer Up Gang” every morning, and before spending 35 years on WBEN, Clinton Buehlman hosted “WGR Musical Clock.”

Clint Buehlman behind the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphone of WGR. (Buffalo Stories archives)

After spending time at a few smaller stations, in the mid-1950s, George “Hound Dog” Lorenz took his rhythm and blues program featuring the music which would soon be known as rock ‘n’ roll to 50,000 watt WKBW Radio. The powerful signal allowed “The Hound” to introduce the evolving music genre to the entire northeastern United States.

Live from the streets of downtown Buffalo on WKBW, 1941. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WKBW would eventually be known as “one of America’s two great radio stations.” The voices of Stan Roberts, Tom Shannon, Irv Weinstein, Danny Neaverth, Joey Reynolds, Jack Armstrong, and so many others were sent out over the four and later six towers in our backyard.

The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation newsroom of WGR & WKBW inside the Rand Building. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Today, WWKB Radio and WGR Radio still transmit from Big Tree Rd. Both stations are owned by Entercom Communiucations, which is in the middle of a $1.7 billion merger with CBS Radio.

 

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.