AHK (as he referred to himself) or Mr. Kirchhofer (as everyone else referred to him) was the man in charge of WBEN Radio before there was a WBEN Radio.
His influence was key in the News’ purchase of the station in 1930. From 1927 until his retirement in 1967, Kirchhofer ran and expanded a News Empire that included The Buffalo Evening News and added WBEN Radio in 1930, in 1936 added WEBR Radio (then a News property), WBEN-FM in 1946, and WBEN-TV in 1948.
Despite his founding of four broadcast outlets, Kirchhofer was first and foremost a newspaper man. After joining the Buffalo Evening News in 1915, he opened the News’ Washington Bureau, and became a familiar figure to Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, all the while being Buffalo’s eyes and ears in the nation’s capital.
Realizing the potential for radio beyond selling newspapers, Kirchhofer developed a staff of radio writers and newsmen for WBEN and put the station on top to stay for decades.
The FM and television stations developed under Kirchhofer were not only Buffalo’s first, but among the first in the nation.
Even as much of the broadcasting world reflected the changes in society through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the staunch conservative content and dry delivery at the News Stations was a direct result of Kirchhofer’s editorial approach.
His News style book included a section titled, “avoid mentioning hideous creatures.” Rats and snakes became rodents and reptiles. Women weren’t “pregnant” but with child on the pages of The News, and “motherhood is not treated as a situation comedy.”
The approach made the News Stations “The Stations of Record” for generations.
Over the more than 15 years Bob Glacy spent at WGR Radio and later WGR-TV, he did just about everything from newscasts to disc jockey to hosting Ch.2’s TV Dance Party.
Later on WEBR, he hosted “Coffee Break” between 10 and noon from the fourth floor Civic Room of the downtown Sample Shop at 554 Main Street.
“Glacy will be seated in a glass studio shaped like a coffee-maker. Shoppers will be able to watch the broadcast and have coffee and rolls. Relaxed music will be geared to the housewife and home-bound office worker.”
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
As late as the 1940s, newspaper stories written about Buffalo’s Italian population were painted with wild strokes of exotic color.
“Off in a section of the city where the rays of the sun, on a bright day, glisten down upon dilapidated housetops and seek their way into narrow streets and by-ways with which the place abounds, are colonized a people in whose native land the skies are the fairest and bluest, and where the very breezes are filled with invigorating fragrance.” – The opening paragraph of “The Italian Colony in Buffalo,” The Buffalo Courier, 1898
Sprinkled throughout 50 years’ worth of these newspaper accountings of how and why Italians came to and flourished in Buffalo, are the facts – and the colorful descriptions – which make up this story.
A handful of Genoese were the first Italians to make Buffalo their home.
When Luigi Chiesa set up his home and birdcage store at Elm and Broadway in the mid-1840s, he didn’t know any English, and there wasn’t anyone in town who knew any Italian. But he quickly became a Buffalo backer.
“Chiesa became a self-appointed immigration agent for Uncle Sam,” reported the Buffalo Express in 1901, “and in his letters to friends in Italy were importunings to this great country, ‘God’s Country.’ ”
His name means “church” in Italian, so not long after arriving in Buffalo, he became well-known among longtime city residents as Louis Church. But to the slowly trickling in numbers of Italians, he was still Luigi and his home was the first hub of Buffalo’s Italian community.
John Roffo was among the first Italians to settle in the neighborhood that would come to be known as Little Italy near today’s Canalside. After arriving in 1847, he was a wine merchant and grocer on Canal Street, then opened a tavern on Erie Street.
Louis Onetto, who owned a macaroni manufacturing works on Broadway near Michigan for more than 50 years, came to Buffalo in 1866.
Those early sons of Italy were northern Genoese, but in the decades to come, the massive numbers came from southern Italian places like Sicily and Naples.
“The Sicilians far outnumber the other Italians in Buffalo,” reported The Express. “They are the dark-skinned, raven-haired, black-eyed Italians who are most numerous on Buffalo’s streets. They are the manufacturers of macaroni, the fruit hucksters, and the bootblacks.”
“The Italian Moses who led the Sicilians to the promised land of Buffalo was Frank Baroni,” reported The Express. He came to Buffalo from Valledolmo, Sicily, in 1882 and immediately wrote home encouraging people to find their way to Buffalo.
“The great majority of the Italian colony,” reported The Express in 1908, “are of the peasant and laboring class.” But not all.
Among the first 42 to heed Baroni’s call from Sicily was a destitute boy, Charles Borzilleri. Eventually, he was the first Italian to graduate from UB Medical School and became prominent not only in the Italian community but in Buffalo at large. He founded Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street and also spent several terms as the president of the Erie County Medical Society.
Those Italians moving to Buffalo settled in one of the oldest parts of Buffalo, displacing the Irish enclave near the Erie Canal and Buffalo Harbor around Canal Street and the Terrace. What was the center of this neighborhood is today covered by the Marine Drive Apartments near Canalside.
“Hemming in on one side by the water’s edge, and intersected on the other by the ponderous traffic of a steam railway, the locality offers few inducements to those who would establish homes within the boundary lines of Buffalo,” reported The Courier in 1898.
That’s why through the 1890s, more Italians began moving onto the other side of the canal as well, into what we would now describe as the West Side.
Long before City Hall was built, St. Anthony’s Church – now in the shadow of City Hall, was the primary place of worship for Buffalo’s Italian population. Italians began to move in from what is now City Hall north to what is now the Peace Bridge.
Right at the center of that newly Italian area was Front Avenue, which would be renamed Busti Avenue in honor of Buffalo’s first celebrated Italian in 1930.
It was the third attempt to name a street after Paulo Busti, an agent for the Holland Land Company. Like many of Holland’s executives, his name appeared as a street name on maps of early Buffalo. The original Busti Avenue was re-christened Genesee Street. The streets now known as Upper and Lower Terrace streets were once known as Busti Terrace, before Busti’s name was dropped off the map for a second time.
A 1930 breakdown said that there were about 20,000 Buffalonians who had been born in Italy, and another 45,000 who had at least one Italian-born parent, making Italians Buffalo’s third most numerous foreign-born residents, behind Germans and Poles.
Buffalo’s Italian community celebrated when, in 1958, the first one of their own was elected mayor. Frank A. Sedita – who grew up in the neighborhood behind City Hall, doing the jobs typical of grammar school-age Italian boys like shoeshine boy and newspaper hawker – was elected to three terms as Buffalo’s mayor.
With an influx of people speaking languages other than English in Buffalo during the 1910s and ’20s, civil service positions were created in Buffalo to provide city services to those who spoke Polish or Italian as their primary tongue.
Civil service tests were offered specifically to Polish and Italian speakers to become police officers, especially in neighborhoods where those were the primary languages spoken.
In 1928, the municipal civil service office offered tests for Italian and Polish speaking social welfare visitors, even as city fathers slashed the social welfare budget and questioned the ability of the City Hospital to continue helping patients who couldn’t pay for services.
There were also charges of politics and even “the blackhand” playing a role in the selection process.
In 1928, powerful Niagara District Councilman John C. Montana insisted on a budget change that created a position for an Italian speaking welfare visitor. He was then accused of manipulating the selection process and ignoring the civil service test rankings in making a hire.
Decades later, in 1957, Montana was picked up by state police straddling a barbed wire fence running away from the infamous Apalachin meeting of Mafia bosses. He eventually served jail time for conspiracy to obstruct justice, but was released after a judge decided there was no proof any crime was committed at Apalachin.
Even when selected legitimately, the foreign language positions weren’t popular with the rest of the population. After one test was offered in search of a Polish-speaking clerk, The News printed a letter in opposition to the practice. Knowing Polish, wrote one would-be test taker, shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a job.
“Our opinions are that the rules governing civil service examinations bar nobody from an examination for clerk or carrier if he be a fit person and capable of passing the examination.
“We say give every man his dues and if he be a Chinaman and he passes highest let him be appointed first man.”
Buffalo’s position as one of America’s largest and most sophisticated cities was strikingly on display with the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. The City of Light. Advanced transportation. The most modern manufacturing ideas put into practice. Many of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution were on display for the world to take in and enjoy in Buffalo.
But behind that picture of a flourishing city was an undeniable underbelly: Thousands of Buffalonians had no running water in their homes or access to bathing facilities.
It was universally acknowledged as a growing problem, but one without a clear solution.
“A great number of Buffalonians do not feel the need of public baths in the summer months,” wrote the Buffalo Courier in 1895, “because there are many much frequented bathing places along the lake and river fronts and along the numerous creeks in Buffalo.”
Buffalo, it was written, didn’t need bathing facilities, because people bathed in lakes, rivers, and creeks.
A day at the beach was more than just a day of sunshine and relaxation—it was a matter of hygiene. Resort beaches south of the city, places like Wanakah, Idlewood and Bennett Beach, were appropriate for women and children, but men and older boys would bathe wherever they could.
The foot of Court and Georgia streets — which once led from the West Side to the banks of Lake Erie — were popular spots, as were Squaw Island and the foot of Ferry Street.
One man was arrested trying to wash up in the Johnson Park fountain. “The Polish Boys,” wrote The Courier, frequented a bathing hole along Buffalo Creek near South Ogden and the railroad bridge of the Jammerthal area— now the northern East Side of Buffalo. One still-open quarrying area is along Amherst Street as it approaches Bailey Avenue coming from Main Street.
In 1895, Buffalo’s two public baths—one at the foot of S. Michigan Avenue, one at the foot of Porter Avenue – were “small box-like arrangements,” more or less “dilapidated, dirty, and disgraceful” sheds.
Street urchins and pickpockets would use the places, it was said, but no respectable boy or man would be seen there—where a nickel would provide use of a locker and a pair of “bathing pants.”
“Buffalo is deplorably, disgracefully deficient in public baths,” wrote the Courier. Especially during winter months, when bathing alternatives were needed, working men couldn’t afford the luxury of the widely available $1 Turkish baths.
City leaders took the health crisis and turned it into one of the nation’s first public welfare programs.
Buffalo Health Commissioner Wende called the bath houses in two of Buffalo’s most crowded tenement areas a long time in coming.
“While the luxury and benefit of public baths have reached their highest stage in Europe, it remained for Buffalo, an American city, in competing for the supremacy in the realization of the conditions desired by a cultured public, to establish a bath where the indigent, the fatigued, and the unclean could find shelter and care without money and without price.”
In 1897, a brick structure was built on the Terrace as a sanitary bathing facility for the men of Buffalo, particularly the mostly Irish immigrants of the First Ward and the Italian immigrants of The Hooks.
Soap and towels were provided to bathers free of charge. The facility was the first free, open bath house anywhere in the country, and put Buffalo on the cutting edge of health and sanitation.
In 1901, a second public bath house was built on Buffalo’s East Side at Woltz Avenue and Stanislaus Street.
This larger building had separate bathing facilities and waiting rooms for both men and women. While there were bathtubs for women and infants, men were offered showers. The idea of showering was brand new — so new, in fact, that a 1901 article in The Buffalo Express explained how a shower works.
“The bather stands erect in the shower, and the water falls down upon him. There is a depression in the floor, with perforations which carry away the water that has fallen.”
The interior of the shower area had stalls separated by wrought iron. Water was heated to approximately 100 degrees, and bathers were allowed 20 minutes in the showering and adjoining dressing rooms.
The buildings’ rules were written on the walls in English, Polish, Italian and German. They read:
No swearing or obscene language
No intoxicated person allowed in the building
Walls, furniture, and property must not be defaced or injured
Soiled clothing must be taken away by the bather
Towels must be returned to the keeper or matron
No bather may occupy an apartment longer than 20 minutes
There were also laundry facilities for underclothes to help further improve sanitation.
Dr. Wende said the free services, with more than 394,000 baths taken in the first four years, cost Buffalo taxpayers 3 cents per person per year, with most of that cost going toward the purchase of soap.
Well into the 1950s, these two bath houses, along with two more at Grant and Amherst and 249 William St., remained in demand providing as many as a million baths a year.
One slight modification was made as time went on — a new rule prevented singing in the showers.
“If we let people sing in our 52 showers,” said the keeper of Bath House No. 2 Stanley Molik, “we’d be in trouble for disturbing the peace of the neighborhood.
Today, it’s one of Buffalo’s newest waterfront spaces—RiverFest Park– nestled between Ohio Street and the Buffalo River, just across the water from Buffalo RiverWorks and the Labatt grain silos.
The Buffalo Evening News, May 26, 1899
At the tail end of the 19th century, Buffalo’s waterfront was rough and tumble. On this day in particular, it was the place where two immigrant groups clashed and “a race riot looked imminent.”
The unionized mostly Polish freight handlers at the New York Central Freight House on Ohio Street had joined the unionized mostly Irish grain shovelers in striking for better working conditions and in protest of contract abuses.
When the dock-working Poles came back to work, many were displeased to be working alongside mostly Italian non-union men. Management promised to dismiss the Italians, but when 150 showed up ready for work the next day, “within five minutes, a good sized riot was in progress.”
How the fight started seemed to be in question—The News’ account laid the blame at some of the 200 Poles who began accosting the Italians and calling them scabs. The Courier said the Italians may have started it when one of them threw an old tomato can into the group of Poles.
“Knives and revolvers were flourished,” reported The News, “and fists were freely used.”
Witnesses heard as many as 25 gunshots—one Polish man was shot in the back. An Italian man was slashed in the face. Five were arrested and charged with rioting.