WBEN- The Buffalo Evening News Station

       By Steve Cichon

Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 

The Buffalo Evening News promotes its radio coverage in a booklet promoting its radio station, WBEN, in 1931.

The Buffalo Evening News had been a pioneer in the field of wireless communications, from wireless telegraph station WBL which operated from The News headquarters, to setting up the radio relay of election results on “radio’s birthday” in 1920.

Decorated in green and white, an early WBEN studio on the 18th floor of the Statler Hotel, 1930.

“A new voice of the city is on the air, bespeaking new hopes and hoping to fulfill new opportunities for the entire Niagara Frontier,” read the opening sentence of the story in The News, celebrating the initial broadcast of WBEN on September 8, 1930.

WBEN’s first announcers in 1930 were, standing, William Cook, Merwin Morrison, and Bob White (also known as Chief Announcer Gorson Higham.) Seated are Edward Obrist and Louis Kaiser.

“Through the magic of radio, it expects to become an increasingly powerful factor for knowledge, for culture, for good citizenship.”

The voice of announcer Merwin Morrison was the first to be heard on WBEN, but that first broadcast was opened with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed immediately by “the Maple Leaf Forever,” which was then the national anthem of Canada.

Even by 1932, there were still enough Buffalo homes without radios that the Shea’s theaters around the city were open to broadcast WBEN’s returns of the Presidential election between President Herbert Hoover and New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.
WBEN’s Blue and White Trio was a salon group that played music during the dinner hour in the station’s earliest years. Shown in 1931 is director and pianist Karl Koch, violinist Charles Coumont, and cellist Frank Kuhn. Above, they are shown inside Buffalo’s Elmwood Music Hall. Below, musicians at the WBEN studios.
Buffalo Mayor (and Broadway Market butcher) Charles Roesch stands before the WBEN microphone at the Elmwood Music Hall to open Buffalo’s Centennial celebration in 1932.

Buffalo Evening News Managing Editor Alfred H. Kirchhofer gave an address welcoming the listening audience to WBEN on behalf of the paper on that first day.

It was Kirchhofer, who would eventually serve as President of WBEN, who was more instrumental than anyone else in the paper’s move to start operating a radio station, and then later to develop FM and television broadcasting stations as well.

“We can promise you that we will be our own most severe critics and that nothing shall interfere with the rapid development of a station that will be a credit to Buffalo and a joy to the listener,” said Kirchhofer over the air that first night.

For the next 47 years, through the auspices of its newspaper owner, WBEN would be Buffalo’s most thoroughly marketed and photographed radio (and later TV) station, as is evidenced on the pages of this volume.

WBEN broadcasting from the Buffalo River in 1936, with technician Earnest Roy, Buffalo Fire Captain Daniel J. Mahoney, announcer Lou Kaiser, and pilot Patrick J. Mulland. The men are aboard the fire boat “W.S. Grattan,” which was renamed “Edward M. Cotter” in 1954.
Joe Wesp, WBEN’s Ironic Reporter, spent much of the 1930s travelling to out-of-the-way places around Western New York and broadcasting live from those places. In 1936, his travels took him to Gowanda, where he spoke with 71-year-old Frank Davis in front of Gulley’s drug store.
Earl Sheridan and Jack Doherty came to WBEN in 1935 as the Jack & Earl, The Minutemen from WYXZ in Detroit. Starting before the sun, they “broadcast popular songs, time signals, piano duets and comedy.” WBEN tried a long line of morning announcers in the 1930s, none of whom could put a dent in the popularity of WGR’s Clint Buehlman.
When Clint Buehlman first stepped to the mic as a newly hired junior announcer for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation in 1931, he made waves with his silly programs where he was known as the station’s “Chief Nutcracker.” By then, the 20-year-old was already a radio vet, having acted on WGR dramas through the 1920s. He literally grew up and grew old with Buffalo radio and its listeners. Over his 46-year professional career, Buehlman became known for his little songs about driving in the rain and school closings. He’d start waking up Buffalo with WGR’s Musical Clock show in 1932 and though he moved to WBEN in 1943, he’d continue hosting a morning radio show without interruption until 1977.
WBEN’s first transmitter facility in Martinsville.

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

The Buffalo Evening News building, 200 Main Street

       By Steve Cichon

1880 map

The year that the map we’ve been plotting out was published was also the year The Buffalo Evening News was founded by Edward H. Butler with headquarters at 200 Main St.

A few successful years later, a much-lauded News headquarters building was built a few doors down at 216-218 Main St. The spot is at the northern tip of the One Seneca Tower footprint, just south of Seneca Street.

The News headquarters, 1940s.

The building was The News’ headquarters for 77 years.

The passerby might not have noticed anything extraordinary outside the building, save perhaps the founder’s daughter-in-law’s Rolls-Royce parked on the sidewalk in front of the building. Mrs. Kate Robinson Butler served as president of The News and later publisher after her husband’s death in 1956.

Her car pulled right up to the front door was a sign to the staff that the publisher was in the building. In her 90s, she was still a force at The News until her death in 1974.

Longtime News reporter, editor and columnist Jeff Simon remembers first setting foot in the building as a copyboy in 1964.

“That marble counter on the first floor and all of the brass atop of it was impressive,” said Simon. “You knew you’d walked into a serious place. I loved the old building as a copyboy. My favorite place in it was the ugliest and most unsavory – the sports department on the mezzanine floor between one and two.”

If you were impressed by the Rolls-Royce and the marble, the inverse was true on that sports mezzanine. Simon’s memories of the place make it sound like a film noir version of a newsroom, starting with the fact that it was the only place in the whole building where men could smoke at their desks.

“With the low ceilings the place was dense with cigarette and cigar smoke. You’re lucky if you could see two feet in front of you. On the floor – even in the early ’60s –there were spittoons. And they were used.”

When downtown progress pushed The News out of its longtime home, Mrs. Butler said cost wasn’t an option as she wanted a showpiece building designed and crafted in honor of her late husband’s memory. She wasn’t well enough to step inside the building that still serves as News headquarters at One News Plaza, but was able to take a car ride around the grounds as the structure neared completion, giving her seal of approval.

One News Plaza opened in 1973. Mrs. Butler died the following year.

Mrs. Kate Butler, with other News executives in the control room at WBEN-TV, Channel 4. Mrs. Butler was president of the Buffalo Evening News as well as The News’ radio and TV stations, WBEN-AM/FM/TV.