Van Miller spent the 60s as the play-by play voice of the Bills and one of Ch.4’s top sportscasters, but he was also one of WBEN Radio’s most popular personalities as well. Van hikes the ball to Jack Kemp
Van interviews radio comedy legend Jack Benny (above) and Hollywood beauty Jayne Mansfield (below).
Ch.4 had an ever-changing team of news, sports, and weather announcers.
In 1964, Tom Jolls was the weatherman on the Ch.4 newscasts anchored by Chuck Healy leading into Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News.
Ward Fenton, Bill Peters, Martha Torge, Mike Mearian, and Tom Jolls recording “The Life of FDR.”
Before he made Dustmop come to life and made the phrase “Back to you, Irv,” part of Buffalo’s lexicon, Tom Jolls was celebrated as the host of Kaleidoscope on WBEN Radio. The program was filled with daily musical themes and dramatic productions often written and produced by Jolls—including the one shown above.
“I would commend Mr. Jolls for his show, its freshness, variety, presentation and the obvious effort which goes into the program. Mr. Jolls always makes Kaleidoscope sound like fun day after day,” wrote one Toronto critic.
Virgil Booth, as a host and news reporter, brought nature to Ch.4 viewers.
During the station’s first 11 years on the air, Chuck Poth was a familiar face to Ch.2 viewers as one of the station’s most visible newscasters.
The South Buffalo native attended OLV grammar school and Baker-Victory High in Lackawanna. After serving in the Army during World War II, Poth held a string of jobs at WUSJ Lockport, WJJL Niagara Falls, WBNY, and then the short-lived WBUF-TV.
After working at WGR-TV from 1954-1966, he worked in politics, writing speeches for Robert Kennedy, then running for county legislature and congressional seats, before working in Buffalo City Hall during the Griffin administration.
By 1964, Roy Kerns (above) and Frank Dill (below) were familiar faces in Buffalo, both having been on Ch.2 since the station signed on a decade earlier. They were seen anchoring news and weather leading into NBC’s Huntley/Brinkley Report.
After retiring from the Buffalo Bills, Ernie Warlick became the first Black member of a Buffalo TV anchor team when he became a sportscaster at Ch.2. While his duties generally included interviewing sports figures like Bills quarterback Tom Flores (below), they also included some news duty—like chatting with Mayor Frank Sedita during a bus strike (above).
Skating champion Peggy Fleming chats with photographers Roy Russell from The Buffalo Evening News, Don Keller (Yearke) from Ch.7, and Paul Maze from Ch.4.
The press covers the Dome Stadium controversy. At the table: reporters Jim Fagan, WKBW; Allan Bruce, UPI; Jim McLaughlin, WYSL; Milt Young, WBEN-TV, Ray Finch, WBEN-TV. Dick Teetsel, Ch.2 sits in back, and Don Yearke shoots film for Ch.7.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Riding a wave started with a change to a personality driven Top-40 format in 1958, KB dominated Buffalo radio for most of the next two decades.
Sold by station founder Doc Churchill to national broadcasting powerhouse Capital Cities, the wealthy corporate backing of KB’s monstrous 50,000-watt signal helped lead to the evolution of one of the finest examples of a full-service Top-40 station that ever existed.
Eventually grabbing as much as 50% of the market share, KB quickly blew all of the much smaller Top-40 competitors out of the water. Half of the audience was listening to KB. Never before, and never since, has a radio station been so dominant in Buffalo.
Left to right: Don Keller (Yearke), Tom Shannon, Doug James, Wayne Stitt, Jay Nelson, Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, Dan Neaverth, Tom Saunders
The station’s base of homegrown talent sprinkled with some of the most talented people from around the country, helped build an unprecedented following for KB in Buffalo and around the country.
The first of those homegrown talents to leave a legacy was the great Tom Shannon, South Buffalo’s breaker of hearts and as smooth a disc jockey as Buffalo, Detroit, Denver, LA, or anywhere else has ever known.
Tom Shannon, in the WKBW air studio
Easy to listen to, debonair and literally the boy next door, the handsome and ultra-cool Shannon was a graduate of Holy Family grammar school and Bishop Ryan High.
As if owning nights on KB and driving a Corvette convertible wasn’t enough, there was the night Swedish sex-symbol Ann-Margret was in Buffalo on a promotional tour, and hopped in Tommy’s sports car for a date at the trendy Candy Cane Lounge, downtown next door to the Market Arcade.
That was the same nightclub where Shannon met the group that would ultimately become known as “The Rockin’ Rebels,” who would take “Wild Weekend,” their instrumental version of the Tommy Shannon Show theme song, to the national record charts.
At KB, he started as a weekend jock and fill-in guy, and didn’t even rank high enough to get his own theme song. It’s part of the KB magic that his self-produced, garage-band sounding musical opening touting “Top tunes, news and weather, so glad we could get together, on the, Tom Shannon Show” could become a nationwide Top Ten hit.
Shannon was at Fort Dix doing a hitch in the Army when he heard his song come on the radio and almost couldn’t believe it.
Tom Shannon sits in the WGR studio, holding a copy of the Rockin Rebels’ Wild Weekend album.
“It was so exciting to be a part of Buffalo radio back then,” Tom Shannon said in 1996. “Sometimes the disc jockeys were more popular than the rock stars.”
He was bigger than life hosting the night shift on KB, and Buffalo’s teens couldn’t get enough of Tommy. In 1961, tickets to his “Buffalo Bandstand” TV show on Ch.7 were being counterfeited and new procedures had to be put in place after the number of kids on the dance floor swelled out of control.
While a deejay at KB, Shannon hosted Buffalo Bandstand on Ch.7. When he later moved to WGR Radio, he hosted Hit or Miss on Ch.2.
Tom Shannon hosts a WKBW Record Hop, with Paul Simon, left.
Tom Shannon appeared in a series of 1964 print ads for Queen-O.
After spending the 60s and the 70s moving around the country and around radio dials, Shannon was back in Buffalo for his 30th grammar school reunion at Holy Family on South Park at Tifft when he stopped by his old home, WKBW.
A week of fill-in work lead to a three year stay towards the end of KB’s run as one of Buffalo’s most dominant radio stations. After spending time as a host on the Shop at Home cable TV network, Tommy made it back for one more turn at the air chair in Buffalo hosting afternoon drive on Oldies 104 during the 1990s and 2000s.
From 1960’s “WKBW 6-midnight platter and chatter show” host, to 1997’s deejay with “a warm conversational tone and knowledge of music and performers,” Tom Shannon has been one of the leading voices of Buffalo’s baby boomers through every stage of life.
Joey Reynolds, WKBW
If there was a way to “one up” having your theme song land on the national charts, the guy who eventually followed Shannon in KB’s evening slot probably found it.
Joey Reynolds, KB’s night man through the mid-’60s, got The Four Seasons to sing their No. 1 hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry” with the lyrics changed to “The Joey Reynolds Show.” What a show!
Another local guy, Reynolds grew up in Buffalo’s Seneca-Babcock neighborhood playing radio announcer at the neighborhood Boys Club, and was every bit of a shock jock 20 years before the term was created for Don Imus and Howard Stern.
Joey Reynolds interviews Bobby Sherman on Ch.7’s Joey Reynolds Show.
He started a boisterous on-air feud with The Beatles and refused to play their records or even say their name, calling them “the four norks from England.” The feud lasted until there was money in it for him– he helped promote the local band The Buffalo Beatles.
Reynolds’ bombastic and over-the-top style earned him a following complete with membership cards for the “Royal Order of the Night People.” That audience extended far beyond Buffalo and Western New York. Despite working at a station 300 miles away in Buffalo, he was one of the most popular radio personalities in Baltimore, with thousands of listeners of KB’s strong signal mixed with Reynolds’ big mouth.
Reynolds’ eventual exit from WKBW is one of the most fabled in the legends of radio.
As the 1966 Variety Club Telethon aired on Ch.7, Reynolds felt slighted for being slotted to host the overnight portion of the big event.
One of many memorable stunts orchestrated by Reynolds involved him grabbing Fred Klestine as a tag-team partner to take on the tough, mean Gallagher Brothers in a wrestling match at the Aud.
In his memoir “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella … But Don’t Get a Mouthful of Rain,” Reynolds admits to having had a few drinks before going on radio and giving TV star Frank Gorshin a hard time in an interview about the fundraiser.
Reynolds then insinuated another TV star and telethon guest host – Forrest Tucker of “F Troop” – was a drunk and had a case of booze in his dressing room.
One of the station managers took the episode personally – especially after Reynolds goaded him and made a joke about his bald head.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Joey put the writing on the door.
Rather than waiting to be fired, Reynolds, in an all-time display of brassiness, nailed his shoes to the station manager’s door with a note saying “FILL THESE” attached.
Joey Reynolds, Tommy Shannon and Danny Neaverth all grew up in South Buffalo. Reynolds and Neaverth knew each other from St. Monica’s, the Babcock Street Boys Club and Timon High School. When teamed up on KB, the cross-talk between Neaverth’s afternoon show and Reynolds’ evening wrap was the subject of homeroom and lunch table discussion at every Western New York high school the next day, but was also the talk of water coolers and coffee break tables at businesses as well.
Beyonce. Bono. Cher. Some personalities are so renowned and celebrated just one name will do. Such is Buffalo’s Danny.
Danny Neaverth is perhaps Buffalo’s greatest pop culture star. He’s remembered most for peeking at us through the hole in the record behind the microphones of upstart WBNY radio in the 1950s as Daffy Dan, then WGR Radio, and then 26 years at WKBW Radio — with most of those years as Buffalo’s morning man. Tag on a dozen more years at WHTT, and a few more at KB again, and Danny moved our fannies on the radio for half a century.
But it wasn’t just radio — Neaverth was also a TV weatherman on Ch.7 and later Ch.2.
He was the public address announcer for the NBA Braves and the NFL Bills.
A few of his moonlighting gigs dovetailed more closely with his work as a disc jockey and radio host.
Danny signs hands at a Thruway Plaza record hop.
He was a concert promoter and recording artist (who could forget “Rats in My Room,” even if they tried?).
Of course, his face and voice were everywhere for Bells Supermarkets and dozens of other Western New York businesses through the years. His work in the community for dozens of causes and charities over the last 60 years has been unmatched.
In the ’70s and ’80s, it was difficult to spend a day in Buffalo and not somehow be graced by the voice, smile and personality of “Clean Dan Neaverth,” a true Buffalonian who never forgot his Seneca Street South Buffalo roots and proudly plied his trade among fellow Buffalonians proud to call him one of us.
Danny took over mornings from Stan Roberts.
Stan Roberts at the KB mic.
Stan first woke up Buffalonians at WKBW from 1962-70, and then at WGR from 1972-82. He became “the first major Buffalo morning man to make the move to the FM band” when he joined WBUF-FM in 1982. After seven years at WBUF, Stan took WBUF mornings to the number one spot in the ratings— and the very next day, he jumped back to AM, hosting afternoon drive and working in sales at WBEN.
As WGR’s morning man, he narrated “Great Sabre Highlights” on the flip side of the very successful record single, Donna McDaniels’ “We’re Gonna Win That Cup.” Stan also wrote at least two joke books, including “Sabres Knock-Knocks.”
Stan still hasn’t lived down the early 80s Royalite television commercial where he put a lampshade on his head, and in the late 80s, when, as the Bills PA announcer, he had to implore fans to “please stay off the field” while they stormed the Rich Stadium field, taking down the goalposts to celebrate the Bills’ clinching the AFC East in 1990.
The warm friendly voice of Fred Klestine felt like a cup of cocoa near the fire.
Fred Klestine, right, visits Xavier’s Meats at the Broadway Market
“An institution in Western New York,” his radio career when he was working at Lackawanna’s Bethlehem Steel, and a manager at Lackawanna’s WWOL heard his voice and told him to audition. Deejay was considerably easier than working in a blast furnace, and Fred spent the next 40 years keeping Buffalo company.
In the 50s, Klestine worked at WWOL and WBNY, before his long famous run at KB Radio. He was later heard on WADV-FM, and then on WBUF-FM through most of the 80s.
Then there was Pulse Beat News. Irv Weinstein was the news director and spiritual leader of the KB’s news staff.
“In terms of style, I was sometimes asked who my idol was in radio, and that was an easy one: Paul Harvey,” said Irv in an interview for the book Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman. “Paul Harvey was not fast-paced, but he had a pace of delivering the news that was compelling. I like to think I was Paul Harvey only a lot faster.”
Faster, with flagrant, more outrageous writing. In the early rock ’n’ roll days of KB Radio and Pulsebeat News, the pace and the shocking style of writing and delivery made Irv’s later Eyewitness News persona seem comatose.
Irv Weinstein, WKBW Radio News Director
“A Top-40 news guy; fast paced,” said Irv. “Over time I developed a writing style that had sizzle and alliteration, and the type of thing to grab the audience. I learned along the way, that before you can get people to listen to you, you have to catch their attention. One way to do that is in your writing– make it compelling. Sometimes it was overboard, frankly, but it was ok. It did the job.”
It was the perfect comingling of man and circumstance that put Irv in the position to really invent the style of newscasting he made famous in Buffalo– one that was copied around the country.
Henry Brach had been a drug store owner before working in radio, and there’s something about that which just seems to fit. Unlike nearly every other KB Pulsebeat News man, Brach’s voice didn’t boom into radio speakers. His cool, understated style fit in just as well at KB, making him the favorite of listeners and a long line of America’s most talented all-time disc jockeys, who were merciless in mocking the newsman.
Henry Brach in the KB studio.
Jim Fagan was a disc jockey and newsman at WBTA in Batavia, where he’s shown here, before heading to WKBW for a three-decade career.
Jim Fagan’s voice was one of the threads that tied together the various eras at KB. During the 27-and-a-half years that he was a newsman at WKBW Radio, he saw many come and go, but from JFK to Reagan, his was one of the voices that reported on it over KB.
His strong voice punched out the KB Pulsebeat News sound perfectly in those early years, and mellowed as the rest of the station did right up to the very end. Fagan was among the final employees when corporate owners pulled the plug on the local news and music on KB and replaced it with syndicated programming.
John Zach was born into radio. His father was a radio pioneer, having built the first “wireless set” in the city’s Kaisertown neighborhood. After attending St. Casimir grammar school and PS 69, he learned about the technical aspects of radio at Seneca Vocational High School– but John’s path into broadcasting was lined with guitar pics rather than vacuum tubes.
As the leader of “John Zach and The Fury’s,” he played record hops with Danny Neaverth, who worked with Zach and helped him develop his on-air sound.
After spending time as a disc jockey in Georgia, Zach returned to Buffalo and was hired by Irv Weinstein for an overnight news job at WKBW in 1960. He spent most of the next five decades informing Buffalo’s radio audience, come hell or high snowbanks. Twice during the Blizzard of ’77, John Zach came in by snow mobile to anchor the news during the Danny Neaverth Show.
As KB Radio’s News Director for most of the 80s, a survey found that John Zach was Buffalo’s most recognizable radio news personality.
With long stops at WKBW and WGR under his belt, Zach joined WBEN in 1998 and spent 18 years with Susan Rose co-anchoring Buffalo’s most listened to radio news program, Buffalo’s Early News.
John Zach spent time as a disc jockey and news man in Georgia before spending nearly 27 years at WKBW Radio.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Ch.7’s Main Street studios on a snowy night in the late 50s.
WBNY’s bright red “News from Where It Happens” cruiser, with “Flash Mike and the Mike Patrol.”
Chuck Healy goes over prizes like a case of Squirt and TV dinners on Strikes, Spares, and Misses on Ch.4.
Henry Brach (with dark glasses) broadcasting live from Sattler’s with WBNY deejay Mark Edwards.
Engineers Harold Smith and Leroy Fiedler in the WKBW master control room in the mid-1950s.
WBUF-TV weather personalities Joy Wilson and Mac McGarrity share a laugh.
The Kenneth Baumler family won a 1959 Studebaker Lark in WBNY’s “Lark Hunt” contest, sponsored by Buffalo’s six-area Studebaker dealers.
Bill Mazer called Bisons games on WKBW before moving to WGR. This team photo, with Mazer superimposed in the top right corner, was taken at Offermann Field in the early 50s. The Bisons moved to War Memorial Stadium in 1960.
WBEN’s staff announcers in the late 50s included, standing, Jack Ogilvie, Lou Douglas, Van Miller, Ken Philips, Gene Kelly, Virgil Booth, Carl Erickson, and Bernie Sadler. Steve Geer, Harry Webb and Mike Mearian are among those seated.
WKBW’s team of disc jockeys, about 1960.
Bob Diamond was a utility man on WKBW, at various times holding down the overnight shift, weekends, the farm report, and production work from the late-50s through the mid-60s.
As a member of the boys’ choir singing on WGR starting in 1926, Ed Tucholka’s first announcing job was on the PA at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway—talking about the bargains of the day, paging mothers of lost children and generally keeping things moving without benefit of a script.
Soon, his deep rich voice would be heard on WEBR, and in over 20 years there, he hosted the wartime “Noon Day Review” highlighting local GIs and as well as Uncle Ed’s Children’s Hour.
After stops at WWOL and WHLD, Tucholka moved to the WBEN stations in 1966 and oversaw WBEN-FM, always reflecting simple dignity and elegance he presented on the radio for nearly 70 years.
WBEN Operator/Engineer Tom Whalen gets ready to cue up albums for Clint Buehlman.
News anchor John Corbett looks over news scripts hot off the typewriter of Fran Lucca in the Ch.4 newsroom.
WBEN’s Sports team: Dick Rifenburg, Chuck Healy, Van Miller, and Ralph Hubbell. When injury ended Rifenburg’s professional football career with the Detroit Lions, the former All-American Michigan wide receiver turned to broadcasting and spent nearly 30 years at WBEN Radio and TV.
Officially, they were Memorial Auditorium and War Memorial Stadium, but to Buffalonians they were the Aud and the Rockpile, and they were the great WPA-built stone homes of Buffalo’s greatest diversions: football, hockey, boxing, basketball, and wrestling.
The men in this photo and their compatriots across the radio and TV dials helped bring those diversions closer. Maybe more than in other cities, Buffalo’s sports guys have always been among the most popular broadcasters, as they seemed like one of us while helping to bring us closer to heroes on the court, on the field, in the ring, and on the ice through their work.
With the smooth melodious voice of a classic announcer, Ward Fenton joined WBEN as a radio news man in 1941. After serving in World War II, he returned to the station and was named chief announcer in 1947. He was also heard as the announcer on the NBC network program Mr. IQ, which originated from Shea’s Buffalo Theater for a national audience.
His fluency in French, German, and Italian made him a natural for decades’ worth of announcing classical music programs, especially on WBEN-FM.
When Ch.4 signed on, he was the station’s weekend weatherman, and by the 1960s, was regularly seen in front of the weather map in living rooms all over Western New York, with his forecasts sponsored by the Charles R. Turner Company. His segments were bookended with a memorable film clip showing trucks at the Turner’s company garages. At the beginning of the weather segment, the trucks headed out onto the street, and then after the weather forecast, the same film ran in reverse, with the trucks appearing to back into the garage.
Fenton became Ch.4’s Chief Announcer in 1967, and retired in 1975.
Harry Webb anchors a WBEN-TV newscast sponsored by Esso, and interviews Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy on a visit to Buffalo in 1958.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The fight over who would get the license to operate Buffalo’s final VHF station was a protracted one, with several years of hostile exchanges between Dr. Clinton Churchill’s WKBW group, a group including the Courier-Express, and the owners of WWOL Radio.
Rev. Clinton Churchill’s start in broadcasting came in 1924 when he brought his church choir to perform on WGR Radio in 1924. “A bushel basket” full of mail came in, filled with letters asking for more religious programming— and the checks and cash needed to help make that happen. Churchill is shown here with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita.
Once the WKBW-TV group was granted the license, the four months it took them to begin broadcasting was the fastest a US TV station had ever gone from approval to programming.
On November 30, 1958, Buffalo once again became a three-station market after Ch. 59 and Ch.17 both stopped broadcasting, and Ch. 7 joined Ch.2 and Ch.4.
The brief sign-on ceremony was hosted by Rick Azar, who introduced Dr. Churchill and several area religious leaders, before introducing the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Ch.2 had the elves and Ch.7 had “KB Bunny.”
An ABC affiliate from the moment the station signed on, Ch.7 went on the air with “a compact staff of three announcers.” Stan Barron moved over from WKBW Radio. Both Roger Lund and Rick Azar had been at WBUF-TV, which went dark only weeks before Ch.7 began broadcasting.
The sign-on of Ch.7 ushered in another new era in Buffalo TV. All three stations were now available on every television without the need for special equipment– and each of the broadcast networks now had a local station to air its programming.
“Competition Keen,” read the sub-headline in a piece by J. Don Schlaerth. “Now that three VHF television stations can be received in Buffalo, the keenest programming and advertising competition that has ever existed in this market will begin. It should mean better network and local services for area viewers.”
On November 30, 1958 Rick Azar was the announcer who signed on WKBW-TV. Six years later, he’d be joined by Irv Weinstein and Tom Jolls two years after that– to form the troika that would dominate Buffalo television until the turn of the century.
WKBW’s first newscaster, Roger Lund started in radio in 1935 as an actor at WGR, was chief announcer at WXRA from 1949-54, and after a year in TV in Elmira, joined WBUF-TV as a news anchor and weather man for two years until the station went dark. He served in the Marine Corps in World War II and Korea.
Stan Barron, WKBW-TV Sports Director, 1958
Stan Barron might best be remembered for his nightly “Free Form Sports” shows on WBEN, but that was the final act in a long career in sports and broadcasting in Buffalo. He came to Buffalo in 1952 and spent nine years at WKBW Radio and TV, working as 1520’s morning “Clock Watcher,” and Ch.7’s first sports director.
Through the years, he called the action for the Bills, the Griffs, and the hockey Bisons, but baseball was always his favorite. In 1956, he was instrumental in helping to bring community ownership to the Buffalo Bisons. Then in 1979, he was one of the leading voices to help bring professional baseball back to Buffalo after a ten-year absence.
Stan joined WBEN in 1967 and was a part of the Bills play-by-play team with Van Miller, Chuck Healy, and Dick Rifenburg. Barron was the “every man” of the group— not an accomplished athlete like Healy or Rife, not a polished, impeccably dressed announcer like Van. His gritty voice and common-sense opinions— always willing to tell you when he thought a team “looked like a bunch of donkeys”— felt like it could have just as easily come from the next bar stool than from the radio.
Stan Barron with Buffalo’s National Champion Cyclist Edith Ann Johnson.
Decades after the station first signed on, Bob Costello, Marty Stetter, Bill Hiller, Rick Azar, Norm Schultz, Jack Cook and Steve Zappia were all original employees still working at the station.
Shortly after first signing on, WKBW-TV’s “News Central” anchor team was Dave Thomas, weather; Bill Gregory, news; and Rick Azar, sports.
Irv Weinstein reports from South Buffalo’s Republic Steel.
Though his primary duties were as WKBW Radio News Director, Ch.7 viewers would catch occasional glimpses of Irv Weinstein’s reporting on Ch.7 before he moved over to TV full-time in 1964.
Ch. 7’s Don Keller interviews Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Manch. He signed on WNIA as the first Tommy Thomas in 1956, moving to KB as Dick Biondi’s newsman. As Don Keller, the Farm Feller, he delivered agricultural news on WKBW Radio and Ch.7. After being sent to his first fire with a wind-up camera and being told by News Director Hal Youngblood to “point it at the flames,” his role evolved into Buffalo’s first modern street reporter– gathering and presenting news and interviews. Later known by his real name Don Yearke, he went on to serve as Ch.4’s Chief Photographer through the 80s and 90s.
Bow-tied Paul Thompson, like Yearke, was an early Ch.7 cameraman, who was often seen on-camera conducting interviews.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
A young program director with a big mouth, big ideas, and a big appetite for promotion rock ‘n’ rolled his way into Buffalo in 1957, and Dick Lawrence permanently etched his taste for music and in-your-face radio into the taste and expectations of Buffalonians.
Even if they came along kicking and screaming. Buffalo’s newspaper radio critics reflected the feelings of most Western New Yorkers past the age of 16, with regards to the new sounds coming out of their radios.
Sturgis Hedrick of the Buffalo Evening News recalled Lawrence on the pages of the paper as “the energetic young man who brought the raucous, jangling—and alas, moderately successful—sound of ‘modern radio’ to Buffalo.”
The original WBNY Top-40 line-up included Lawrence, who appeared on the air as Felix with his pet parrot Fernando.
“A sound of hoopla and noisy disc jockeys went into full swing night and day,” said the Courier-Express’ Jack Allen. “Most 15-minute newscasts, a tradition at the station, were dropped and Gene Korzelius’ sportscasts were reduced. The fast-paced schedule eventually also did away with the Grosvenor Library Classical Music Show…The top-40 format with the rock ‘n’ roll beat was in to stay.”
The theme is pretty clear. It was also echoed by J. Don Schlaerth.
“Station WBNY, described as ‘the friendly voice of Buffalo’ seems to have given in to the noisy bounce of rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley to ‘keep up with 1957 musical tastes.’ Not long ago semi-classical music and standard favorites predominated on WBNY. Then there was no room for an Elvis.”
Henry Brach was a newsman and deejay at WBNY and as ‘BNY’s news director, gave Danny Neaverth his first job in Buffalo radio. He moved over to KB and spent more than 20 years there as the station’s gruff uncle and the butt of the jokes of untold numbers of disc jockeys.
If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.
Daffy Dan Neaverth, WBNY. Neaverth left WBNY for WKBW, inspiring the rath of Dick Lawrence—who made firing Neaverth one of his first acts when he became boss at KB. Neaverth went to work at WGR until returning to 1520 for a 26-year run at the station.
It was fast tempo music, fast tempo talk, fast tempo musical station IDs. It was also the only programming on the station. Rock ‘n’ roll could be heard elsewhere on the dial, but nowhere else was it the only music a station played.
Love it or hate it, the tiny 250-watt station– which could barely be heard outside of the city’s boundaries– was the talk of Western New York.
Other radio stations hated more than radio critics and parents of teens combined.
Four months into Dick Lawrence’s reign at WBNY, WGR announced that it is no longer in the rock ‘n’ roll business.
“Radio station WGR, after taking an impartial music survey among local housewives, has decided to go off the ‘hot’ music path into the relaxing realm of ‘good music,’” reported The Courier-Express. “It will let other Buffalo stations divide the rock ‘n roll spoils.”
The survey named Perry Como as favorite male vocalist followed by Pat Boone and Bing Crosby.
The next day, the paper printed reactions from local radio programmers and called Lawrence’s response “violent.”
“I’ve seen this policy tried before,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t work and I’ll be a pallbearer at their funeral.”
WGR went to the extreme, but most other stations had some rock music at some point during the day. The only station that didn’t, was WBEN.
“The changing styles in music have never affected the WBEN program policy of providing music, news, drama and public service for all members of the family,” a station official told the Courier-Express.
Other radio stations might not have embraced the music, but after six months, they were beginning to lose revenue. 50,000-watt WKBW Radio was losing to a 250-watt station.
WKBW General Manager Al Anscombe told the Courier-Express that the sound being put out by Dick Lawrence was “slightly wacky” – but the trends were there. KB could die on the vine, or go all in.
And did KB go all in. The station owned by a preacher with call letters standing for “Well-Known Bible Witness” hired away the young programmer and promoter who sent a donkey around downtown Buffalo wearing a sign that said, “Everybody is listening to the new WBNY but me, and you know what I am!”
Lawrence christened KB as Futursonic Radio, rock ‘n’ roll had a new home on Buffalo’s radio dial, and KB would begin a dominance that would last a generation.
Within a year of the change to a Top-40 format on July 4, 1958, WKBW Radio was taking out full-page ads in Buffalo’s newspapers touting their status as Buffalo’s most listened to radio station.
One of the most famous disc jockeys to spin tunes on WBNY only lasted about a month at the station– but would go on to a legendary career in syndicated radio and voice work.
Before he became the voice of “American Top 40” and Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo,” Casey Kasem was “Casey at the Mic” on WBNY in 1960. Shortly before his arrival, he set a record at WJW in Cleveland for what he called “world’s longest on-air kiss,” after laying an 85-second smooch on starlet Diana Trask.
Much later, Kasem would admit to “screwing around too much” during his short time in Buffalo. He’d land in San Francisco, and was well on his way to forever having his feet in the ground while reaching for the stars.
Early group shot of The Even Newer WKBW Futursonic disc jockeys, including Jim Taylor, Ted Hackett, Tom Shannon, Don Keller, Dick Braun, Gene Nelson, Bob Diamond, and Russ Syracuse.
Dick Biondi at a record hop in 1960, just before leaving KB for Chicago.
Dick Biondi was the first nighttime voice of the rock ‘n’ roll era on WKBW.
He referred to himself as “a screamer,” and often told the story about how he was fired from KB because he was too loud. He also claimed to have been fired from KB because he played an Elvis song that wasn’t approved.
What really happened: he told listeners that one of KB’s managers was driving down Main Street in an Impala convertible. “If you see him,” he said, “Throw a rock!”
Someone did—through the boss’ windshield. Maybe he was too loud.
Dan Neaverth, WKBW
Irv Weinstein joined the WKBW Radio news staff in 1958, ultimately becoming the station’s news director. He was responsible for creating a news sound that reflected the music and personalities on the station. He walked across the parking lot to become Ch.7’s news anchor in 1964.
When WNIA officially signed on in 1956, the station was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”
More than just Top-40, the record library at the Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.
But there was still plenty of room for rock ‘n’ roll. From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier-Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”
In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”
WNIA signed-on in 1956, and doubled its power in 1962.
While the power changed, what didn’t was the disc jockey’s names. For more than two decades, when you turned on the radio in the morning, the deejay identified himself as Tommy Thomas— even though it might have been a different guy with a different voice calling himself Tommy Thomas the day before.
Just like with Guy King at WWOL, station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.
He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.
WNIA saw itself as a more staid (and cheaper!) version of WKBW. KB wasn’t mentioned by name in one 1963 ad, but anyone reading it would have known what was being implied.
“As far as wild banshee, screaming announcers, wild nonsense gimmicks and promos… NEVER on WNIA.”
At 1080am, WINE was perhaps the least remembered of the handful of radio stations which tried to break in on the Rhythm music scene in late 1950s Buffalo.
“WXRA has changed their call letters along with their programming,” wrote Danny McBride in his column in the Blasdell Herald in 1957. “The new call is WINE, along with crazy sounds like the new WBNY.”
The WINE call letters didn’t last very long. In 1960, WINE became WYSL at 1080am.
1080am was then sold to WUFO, and the WYSL call letters moved to 1400am, displacing the old WBNY.
Before WXRA became WINE, Tommy Shannon had his first radio job there.
Hernando was the morning man at WXRA, and stayed on at WINE. The mic flag in this photo was edited from saying WXRA to WINE.
Hernando went on to do the all-night show on WGR, after the station “gave up” on giving up rock ‘n’ roll.
Greyt Scott appeared on other Buffalo stations as Charlie Griggs. Tap Taplin had been a regular on WEBR for at least a decade before moving to WINE, and Jimmy Lyons was Buffalo’s first full-time, regularly featured African-American deejay.
The WINE mobile unit—a Volkswagen van—always turning heads.
Disc jockeys joined forces to raise money for charity at a game at the Bishop Timon gym in 1959. Standing: Charlie Griggs (Greyt Scott) WINE, Rog Christian WBNY, Tom Shannon WKBW, Terry Mann WWOL, Dan Neaverth WGR, Danny McBride WEBR, Jack Kelly WKBW, Rick Bennett WWOL. Sitting: Bud Stiker (Jerry Jack) WNIA, Dick Carr WBNY, and Don Fortune WBNY.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon