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.

 

Buffalo in the ’40s: Clint Buehlman & Buffalo Bob Smith

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

They were two of Buffalo’s favorite up-and-coming announcers and emcees during the 1930s on the Buffalo Broadcasting Corp.’s WGR Radio.

When The Buffalo Evening News wanted to wrestle away WGR’s top rating for its own station, WBEN, it was Clinton Buehlman (left) and Smilin’ Bob Smith (right) they hired.

Buehly and Smith, along with Johnny Eisenberger (who was later better known as Forgetful the Elf), were lifelong friends who grew up together on Buffalo’s East Side. When they were brought to WBEN from WGR in 1943, Buehlman hosted the early morning show and Smith did mid-mornings.

In between their own programs, they co-hosted “Early Date at Hengerer’s,” live from the downtown department store.

Early Date at Hengerer's, WBEN. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“Early Date” at Hengerer’s, WBEN. (Buffalo Stories archives)

While Buehlman’s pace was fast and his persona was slapstick, Smilin’ Bob was more laidback and homespun. He caught the ear of NBC executives in New York City looking to build a team for the network’s Big Apple flagship station.

Bob Smith, WBEN. Buffalo News archives

Bob Smith, WBEN. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Shortly after Smith left WBEN for the New York’s WEAF Radio in 1946, longtime News and Courier-Express radio critic Jim Trantor wrote:

“Buffalo’s Smilin’ Bob Smith, who’s become one of NBC’s  fair-haired  boys  on the  New York scene … is going great guns at the head of a television show for youngsters down there and looks to have just about the rosiest future imaginable.”

The show, of course, was Howdy Doody, and Smith was destined to become one of the great early stars of television.

Buffalo in the ’60s: Clint Buehlman’s Thanksgiving

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Clint Buehlman spent 46 years on Buffalo radio. From 1931 until 1977, “Yours Truly” Buehly’s voice came across Western New York’s airwaves daily, checking Arthur Mometer for the temperature, helping commuters through traffic, and letting kids know when school was cancelled.

Buffalo News archives

Nearly 40 years after Buehlman’s retirement, the day he’s remembered and talked about most by his generations of audiences is Thanksgiving Day.

In 1987, when “Your AM-MC, CB” came back to WBEN after a decade of forced retirement for an interview with then-WBEN (now WHTT) morning man Bill Lacy, Lacy said Thanksgiving time was, by far, the time of year when the phones rang with thoughts of Buehlman the most — and they were mostly thoughts about Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

Buehly made it a Western New York tradition to play Waring’s version of “Grandma’s Thanksgiving” every year, and it remains a song takes many Buffalonians back to the old kitchen radio and a much simpler time.

In 1977, upon reaching the age of 65, Buehlman was forced to retire from the early morning seat he had occupied on WBEN since 1943. Here’s a look back at his career at the time of his retirement.

WBEN 1973- Clint Buehlman, The Buffalo Braves, and more….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo


Originally Posted: February, 2008

Just unearthed! Recordings of entire days of WBEN Radio… Unheard since the days they were broadcast over 35 years ago! Names like Clint Buehlman, Van Miller and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Read on!

WBEN AM/FM/TV, 1960

So where did these tapes come from? In 1995, Lin Television performed a massive cleanout of the 2077 Elmwood Avenue building they had just purchased as a part of their buying WIVB-TV.

Among the “treasures” I found dumpster diving, was a box of Reel-to-Rel tapes that appeared to be WBEN Radio Logger tapes from the early 70s. Many of the reels were blank… But even those with the audio intact were nearly useless… The tapes were recorded at 15/32 IPS. That is very slow, and at the time the tapes were rescued, the only way to hear the tapes properly involved about 4 hours of work for an hour of final product. For 13 years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to play these tapes back… And now… thanks to a new reel deck.. and some new digital audio editing programs, viola!

The audio quality is not the best… Its warbly sometimes… And it jumps quite a bit… And These logger tapes were in the Engineering Shop because there were problems with the recording…. But what is really amazing. Imagine your grandparents listening to WBEN all day… That’s what you get here. Things were slow to change at WBEN. Clint Buehlman’s Show in 1973 was not really all that different from the show in 1953. Van Miller is in great voice and cadence calling Buffalo Braves basketball. As far as I know, these are the only complete recordings of Braves basketball in tact.

Below, you’ll find exactly what and who is on these tapes… and some brief cuts from each.

Clint Buehlman

One of the most often asked questions to this website is, “What was the name of Clint Buehlman’s theme song?” The answer is, there were dozens of light airy instrumentals that were used to open each hour of the Buehlman show, after newsman Jack Ogilvie introduced Your AM-MC after each newscast. Listen below for several such opens, along with other snippets from the Buehly.

 

Newsman Jack Ogilvie (right) and AM-MC Clint Buehlman spent mornings together for over a quarter of a century starting in 1951 and ending in 1977.

Buffalo Braves Basketball

As Van Miller’s one time producer in both radio and TV, I can tell you I don’t know that he ever sounded better than behind the mic courtside at the Aud during Braves games, as shown to the left with Dr Jack Ramsey, standing.

Another of those popular questions is Do you have any Braves Games? Apparently, the answer has been yes for quite a long time… only they’ve been stuck on tapes I couldn’t play. But now, I have at least three Braves games in their entirety.

Braves vs Lakers: December 19, 1973
Kareem Abdul Jabbar visits Memorial Auditorium

Braves vs Bucks: February 2, 1973
Wilt Chamberlain visits Memorial Auditorium

 

Van Miller interviews Fred Hilton and Randy Smith in the WBEN studios circa 1972.

 


Some Highlights from WBEN Friday December 28, 1973

WBEN’s Al Fox interviews a cow.
Dick Rifenburg (l) and Clint Buehlman (r) receive an Award for Ski Coverage.
Ward Fenton
Dick Rifenburg
Jack Ogilvie
Ken Philips
Lou Douglas
Lou Douglas in Studio A
Stan Barron showing some kids around the studio.

Some Highlights from WBEN March 15, 1973

 

 


Random Highlights from WBEN 1973

 

Ed Tucholka at the WBEN-FM automation center.
Virgil Booth on the Channel 4 set.
Marty Gleason at the Editors Desk.
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