Buffalo’s radio staff musicians

       By Steve Cichon

Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 

The WGR Staff Orchestra, featuring conductor David Cheskin, right. Announcer John Lascalles is at the microphone to the left.

The best known and most remembered musician of Buffalo’s radio staff musician era is probably Dave Cheskin.

He was a “one man wonder” during the Golden era of Buffalo radio in the 30s and 40s, serving as WGR’s Music Director, band leader, and conductor.

Trained at Juilliard and then a violinist for the NBC Orchestra for three years, Cheskin came to Buffalo as the music director for the Erlanger Theater, soon taking on the role of Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation Music Director in 1931.

Dave Cheskin

His live broadcasts, conducting the 18-piece WGR Orchestra, were among Buffalo’s most popular radio programs of the day.

At one point, Cheskin was also conducting 18 network shows a week— including “Buffalo Presents”— heard all over the country on NBC and CBS as performed live in the WGR-WKBW studios.

WGR live broadcast with Dave Cheskin conducting.

Cheskin was tapped as the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Pops Conductor through the war years, and spent more than 30 years leading one of Buffalo’s premier dance bands.

The WGR Orchestra

The members of Cheskin’s bands and orchestras also move on to their own high-profile radio gigs as well.

Harold Austin, known for leading the bands at the Crystal Beach Ballroom and on the Crystal Beach boat “The Canadiana,” as well as in the Dellwood Ballroom during WEBR’s Hi-Teen Show, started his musical career as a musician in Dave Cheskin’s WGR Orchestra.

Through the years, hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians waited at the foot of Main Street to board The Canadiana. Once aboard, the sound of Harold Austin’s Orchestra filled the ship in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Violinist Max Miller was a featured star for many years with the WGR Orchestra, until he was named WBEN’s Musical Director.

Max Miller, conductor, WBEN Orchestra

Miller was nine years old, the first time he played the violin on Buffalo radio. After graduating from Buffalo’s East High School, he played regularly as a part of the Shea’s Buffalo orchestra.

Max Miller, center with violin, leads the WBEN Orchestra.

Miller took over the reigns at WBEN from Bob Armstrong, the trombone and cello player who’d lead the WBEN-NBC Orchestra for most of the 1930s.

Bob Armstrong’s Hotel Statler Orchestra in 1941 (above) was mostly the same group heard on WBEN at the time.

Vera Holly and Herman “Tiny” Schwartz were the featured vocalists, sitting at the front of the stage.

The musicians included, in the front row, Charlie Wullen, leader Bob Armstrong, Bill Jors, John Porejko, Stan Zureck, John McFadden, and Bill Wullen. In the second row, Pat Vastola, Dan Brittain, Hank Krompart, and Andy Dengos, with Ed Rydel and Tom Sist at the top of the bandstand.

The Federal Theater Jubilee Singers on WEBR in 1938. From left to right, Ruth Malone, Grant Johnson, Martha Boynkin, Robert Edwards, Harriett Baull, and Godfrey Tottin. The group was unit of the Depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project. They travelled the city to portray the origin of Negro spirituals and jubilee music.
The winners of WEBR’s 1940 “Barbershop Harmony” contest were James Davies, Daniel Colley, Crawford Anderson, and Donald Rowley.

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

Dancing, swimming, and of course the rides: Highlights of a trip to Crystal Beach

By Steve Cichon

If you’re over 40 and grew up in Buffalo, chances are pretty good you didn’t need an ad in the newspaper to entice you to beg for a trip to Crystal Beach. Yet from Memorial Day to Labor Day, from the 1940s to the 1980s, those ads were there, almost every day.

Here’s a look back at a few of those ads.


The “100 thrilling midway amusements” were among the most highly touted aspects of a visit to Crystal Beach during the years of World War II, but even more than the rides– in bold letters, bathing and dancing were the kind of fun that must have spoke to the throngs of WNYers who’d make the regular trip to Canada.

Today, we make that trip across the Peace Bridge– and some did it that way in 1944, too. But the “extra special, grand” way to get to Crystal Beach was a 50¢ ride across the Lake aboard the Steamer Canadiana.

This was no mere boat ride. Hopping aboard the Crystal Beach boat at the foot of Main Street (in a spot behind Key Bank Center in today’s geography) was where the party started, lead by live music by such popular Buffalo bands as Harold Austin’s Orchestra (who was also very popular at The Dellwood Ballroom during Bob Wells’ Hi Teen dance program on WEBR Radio.)

When it came to dancing to live music on the rollicking waves of  Lake Erie, getting there (and back home) really was half the fun of going to Crystal Beach when you took the Canadiana.


The excitement of 5-cent rides at Crystal Beach was almost too much to bear. You paid per ride at Crystal Beach back then, and hearing that 24 rides cost only a nickel sounded like just about the most fabulous way anyone could think of to spend the last few days of summer.

That is, of course, until you read the small print — and realized your roll of nickels might not take you as far as you thought.

Nickel Day applied to 24 of the parks “riding devices.” The best rides were still cheaper than usual — but only half-price. The Comet, the Giant Coaster, the Wild Mouse, Magic Carpet, The Roto-Jet, Scrambler, Auto Scooter, The Old Mill, even roller skating — those more popular thrill-inducing rides were going to cost you more than just 5 cents.

But at least the bathhouse and beach equipment rates were also at half price, too.


Buffalo’s most fondly remembered amusement park broke down exactly what made the place great in this ad published July 1, 1975– likely prompting some last minute begging to do what came only naturally to generations of Buffalonians– spend our nation’s birthday in a foreign country eating sugar waffles and drinking loganberry.

The Comet Coaster— towering 105 feet– one of the top 10 in the world.

24 major adult rides— featuring the twirling TWISTER, the fantastic FLITZER, the mighty MONSTER, and the swinging CHAIR-O-PLANE.

12 rides for the kids— try the all new AUTO SKOOTER and GLASS HOUSE.

And… Dr. Miracles’ Wondercade, the Shootin’ Shack, Cafe International.

Swimming— 1/4 mile of clean, patrolled beach and sparkling water.

Free Picnic Grove— Covered sheltering for 3,500 people.

Games, Bingo & Souvenir Boutique

No admission charge— Ride what you like, like what you ride. 60 ways to be alive in ’75.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Juvenile delinquency and the Crystal Beach Boat Riot

By Steve Cichon

Out driving the day after the infamous Crystal Beach Boat Riot, this group of accused juvenile delinquents may have just picked the wrong day to cruise Buffalo’s West Side with a switchblade in their car.

Buffalo News archives

The summer of 1956 was one of conflict in Buffalo and with Buffalo youth across the lake in Fort Erie. When the Crystal Beach Amusement Park opened on Memorial Day, the day ended with nine youths under arrest, and another six in the hospital with minor injuries. Those arrested and those injured were both black and white.

Two days later, the final ride of the day back to Buffalo aboard the Canadiana—“The Crystal Beach Boat”—was marred by what many who were there remember as rowdy teens getting “extra-rowdy.” In common memory, it was “The Crystal Beach Boat Riot,” or “The Crystal Beach Boat Race Riot.”

Stormy weather meant cramped conditions for passengers crowded into the covered areas of the boat during the 9:15 p.m. run. Tensions already high from the fight in the park a few days earlier boiled over.

Many of those involved said it had more to do with neighborhood or school pride than race, but the resulting breakdown was the same: White youths fighting black youths and black youths fighting white youths. Kids of both races with no previous records of misbehavior at school or with the police got caught up in the melee. Investigations by the FBI and a panel established by Mayor Steven Pankow showed that early newspaper reports of “a nightmare of flashing knives and sobbing passengers” didn’t paint the full picture.

What in retrospect was Buffalo’s earliest manifestation of the civil unrest and racial tensions that were to come during the civil rights movement of the 1960s was at the time downplayed as less about race and more about juvenile delinquency. Three black youths were arrested, but city fathers and the black community called it an unfortunate isolated incident, attributable to hooliganism among the young rather than racial tension.

Police vowed to stop the violence and quell the rowdy behavior of Buffalo’s young thugs and troublemakers.

Within 24 hours of the Canadiana riot, the boys pictured above were taken to the Niagara Street Police Station after a switchblade was found in the car they were riding in—they were all charged with possession of the single knife.

While civic leaders downplayed the role of race in the problems of that summer, race relations in Buffalo were permanently harmed. The riot aboard the Canadiana was also the final straw for steamer service which was already struggling with increased competition from cars and buses. The summer of 1956 was the last season for the boat which, since 1910, had carried 18 million passengers between Buffalo and Crystal Beach.

Buffalo in the ’40s: SharkGirl marks the spot where steamers left from Buffalo

By Steve Cichon

The Canadiana, and its trips to Crystal Beach from the foot of Main Street are well remembered around Western New York.

Perhaps not as well remembered were the luxury steamers that would pick up passengers right around the spot where people now pose with “SharkGirl,” and take them across the Great Lakes to places like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago.

Shark Girl currently sits on the site of Memorial Auditorium, number 4 in this 1940s photo. There’s a passenger ship docked at the current site of the Naval Park. A generation earlier, the docks extended up the Commercial Slip– which was filled in by the time this photo was taken, but was re-watered as a part of the development of Canalside. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Both of these ads were in The Buffalo Evening News in July, 1940, and both offer Buffalonians the chance to travel via the Great Lakes.

Remembering Crystal Beach!

By Steve Cichon

suckerguyBuffalo, NY – Whether you drove across the Peace Bridge… or you drove down to the foot of Main Street to hop on “The Crystal Beach Boat” (as the Canadiana was known by most for most of its existence)…

Whether it was the dime dances, the clear blue water, the suckers and waffles, or one of the half-dozen roller coasters over the years that drew you there….

If you grew up in Buffalo between 1883 and 1989…. there’s little doubt that you spent some time at “Buffalo’s Coney Island,” Crystal Beach, Ontario.

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