We Buffalonians don’t bowl anywhere near as much as we used to, but just like we still consider ourselves a blue-collar town (even though most of the blue-collar jobs have been gone for decades) we still sentimentally feel a link to the game our parents and grandparents enjoyed over pitchers of beer in leagues all across the city.
While for many bowling was a game that was as much about smoking and drinking and socializing as it was about rolling a ball down the lane, it was also serious business in Buffalo.
There was a time when Channels 2, 4, and 7 all aired local bowling shows– and Channel 4 had two shows– “Beat The Champ” with men bowlers and “Strikes, Spares, and Misses” with lady bowlers. WBEN-TV’s Chuck Healy was in homes six days a week for two decades as Buffalo’s bowling emcee as host of those programs. This 1971 ad describes “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” which aired daily at 7:30pm, as “Buffalo’s most popular show.”
When local TV bowling was at its zenith in the 1950s, even radio stations promoted their coverage of the sport. Ed Little, who spent 62 years working in radio, most of them in his hometown of Buffalo, read the bowling scores on WEBR Radio before he took the drive down Main Street to host live broadcasts with the stars performing at the Town Casino.
Buffalo’s best bowlers became celebrities– well known from their exploits as televised. Nin Angelo, Allie Brandt, Phyllis Notaro, and scores of others became some of Buffalo’s best known athletes.
Sixty years later, families still beam with pride when relating the stories of their family’s greatest athletes, even when an elder has to explain most of the fuzzy details. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of “Beat the Champ.”
We live in an era where we’re watching the numbers of Western New York bowlers and bowling alleys dwindle rapidly. But five or six decades ago, it wasn’t just bowling alleys that were plentiful: The sports pages of The Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express were regularly filled with ads for the all the accouterments of bowling.
Bowling was big, and judging by the pages of the city’s newspapers, there was big money to be made as well. The run up to league time in 1960 saw no fewer than five decent-sized ads for custom bowling shirts…. because it wasn’t just about your score, it was about looking good at the social event of the week at your neighborhood bowling alley.
The many Faces of Ed Little By Steve Cichon November, 2004
ED LITTLE spent an astonishing 62 years on radio, nearly all of it in Buffalo and Rochester. His awe-inspiring career took root in 1938 when he stepped in front of the microphone at WEBR as a child actor with a grown-up voice. Later he played many parts on stage and on the air with the UCLA Campus Theater troupe.
During World War II, Little carried a wire recorder aboard B-29 bombing missions over Japan and delivered the play-by-play description for later playback on NBC.
Joining WEBR as a music personality post-war, he soon became host of the late-night Town Casino broadcast, interviewing every megastar of the 1950s—from Danny Thomas and Tony Bennett to Johnnie Ray and Rosemary Clooney—at that storied nightclub.
During 1958-64 he lit up the night airwaves at KFMB San Diego, then returned to Buffalo for an eye-opening career shift—becoming the newsman during Joey Reynolds’ nighttime romp on WKBW.
Following 14 years as the afternoon news anchor at WBBF Rochester, Little in 1981 joined the news team at WBEN, where his trademark delivery continued to add a sense of distinction to that station’s aura until his retirement in 2000.
Ed in the Press… Click to read MORE
He was one of my best pals ever… The late, great Ed Little. He was a WBEN newsman from 1979-2000, was a newsman at KB on the Joey Reynolds Show, and hosted a show live from the Town Casino on WEBR in the early ’50s. He started in radio in the 30s as a child actor, and also flew in bombers over Japan in WWII, recording his play-by-play of bombing runs to be played back later on nationwide radio.
He could sometimes be a pain to work with 🙂 but he NEVER had a bad word to say about anyone, and always had plenty of change to buy you a 25¢ cup of coffee from the vending machine in the basement. Judas PRIEST, indeed!
I knew what a veteran was from the earliest of ages.
I’m sure I started asking my dad about his tattoo as soon as I could talk. “STEVE,” it said on his forearm, in sloped writing, with a Celtic cross underneath. To say Celtic cross makes it sound better than it was. It was a stick figure cross with a circle where the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross met. It was actually a pretty horrible tattoo, which he said he gave himself when he was a Marine. I never heard the full story of the tattoo, or whether he actually remembered giving it to himself, or if a buddy told him he did it.
Dad always told us not to get a tattoo, but it was more like advice than an order. He didn’t like his tattoo, but I don’t think he considered it a mistake. He never hid it, either. I think in some ways that sums up the way he felt about his service in the Marine Corps. He was quietly proud of it, but didn’t like it.
I know he joined the Marines in 1969 as a way to “get out of the Valley,” the poor working class neighborhood he grew up in. He saw the world as a Marine, and had his education paid for by the GI Bill. But he was also struck with illness that initially almost killed him, but that also started downward progression in his health that culminated with his death at the age of 58.
My dad had few heroes and people he looked-up-to in his life, but one was his big sister Tricia. He was a Marine when her kidney disease came to the point of needing a transplant. Dad was on his way home to see if he could be a donor when she died. I don’t know that he ever loved anyone more than her. She took care of him and understood him. He didn’t get to say good bye to her because he was half a world away.
To make it worse, he had one of those awful Vietnam era welcomes. Walking down the street in his uniform, he was taunted and sneered at. Having heard this story dozens of times since I was very little, the image that pops into my head is my father walking down Seneca Street in front of what used to me Grandma’s Donuts (now Abbott Pizza, I think) with people throwing bottles and trash at him. That’s not what happened, but that’s the image my dad’s telling of the story put in my head.
He was proud of his service, but wasn’t about to join a club or line up for a parade. He was the most humble veteran at the VA Hospital, always thanking roommates, nurses and doctors for their service to our great land.
Dad’s instilling in me such a high level of respect for men and women who have served has made me keenly aware of those who’ve been a part of my life who have given of themselves for our common good.
Dad’s grandpa had two brothers die at sea during World War I. Grandma Cichon had pictures of Uncle George and Uncle Gordon and kept her uncle’s memories alive. Gordon was in the British Mercantile Marine on the SS Trocas when a German U-Boat torpedoed the tanker. George was a seaman aboard the SS Hazelwood went it hit a mine. The internet has helped fill in some of the details, but my dad knew these stories, and while was proud of his service, looked at his great uncles as heroes.
But Veterans Day is about remembering those who went through hell and came home. Or even put their time in in New Jersey or Kansas, saluted one last time, and never looked back.
As a kid growing up on Allegany Street in South Buffalo, we had a few proud veteran neighbors. Pops was an ancient, tiny liver-spotted old man who used to stand in the driveway, chew tobacco, and tell us about his service in World War I and his fear of “the gas,” which I now know to be mustard gas Germans used on American troops. It filled the trenches, and ruined the lungs of soldiers, painfully suffocating thousands.
Further up Allegany, on the other side of the street in the big light green house, Mr. Smith used to give us cookies and hard candy, a very kind old soul who was retired from the railroad. Occasionally, he’d proudly show us his perfectly preserved US Army uniform from World War II, or the box filled with medals and ribbons. I know I thought it was “cool,” but I hope i was properly respectful and reverent, too, as a 5 and 6 year old.
A few years later, when I was in third grade, my school bus driver, George, was finally awarded a bronze star, over 40 years after his heroism saved some of his fellow soldiers from Japanese attack. He cut out the photo of him holding the award that was in the local paper, and taped it up in the front of the bus. I was proud of him, and I wish I remember more about his story.
My Grandpa Cichon was one of 8 brothers and sisters who served in World War II and Korea. Even my twin great aunts, Olga and Mary, were nurses in the Navy and Army respectively. Gramps was an engineer in the Army at the end of World War II. He was in the Philippines, and likely saw some pretty terrible things there that he doesn’t talk about.
Great Grandpa Wargo was a plane mechanic in Guam during the Second World War. Indirectly, because of his service, I met one of my favorite vets ever. Grandpa W was in the VA Hospital, and my dad had little use for the rule that kept kids under 15 out of most hospitals. He’d take us to visit everyone, because who doesn’t love seeing a little kid, right?
Well, as recently as the early 80s, when this happened, there were smoking lounges on every floor right next to the elevator at the VA for the guys who were in there. Dad would ditch us in there, and bring great grandpa down to see us. One time, there was an ancient, ancient hunched-over man in there smoking. He was wearing a bright red bathrobe, had the darkest black skin you can imagine set off against his crazy sprouting bright white hair. Dad flippantly asked the guy to keep an eye on us, because he was going to get gramps. Well, apparently, this was just about the best damn thing that had ever happened to this guy.
He offered to hide us in his bathrobe if the nurses got close, his face lively and excited at not only being able to play with a couple of kids for a few minutes, but also to be a party to this rule breaking. We sat down, and he stood up with his back to us. He spread open the robe, so that we couldn’t be seen from the door. He was laughing and giddy about it the whole time, til gramps walked in.
A few years ago, I interviewed a friend’s dad about his role in the D-Day invasion. Michael Accordino described in vivid, terrible detail, sitting in the water, and watching guys run ashore, and watching many of them be shot dead on the beach. And waiting for his turn to go. And watching his buddies die around him.
My friend Ed Little always spoke in a sort of blasé way about his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII, but what he did was nothing short of spectacular and heroic. He would flying along on bombing runs in the Pacific, and using 1940s technology, record play-by-play of the bombings that were taking place for playback on radio back home. Another broadcasting friend, Fran Lucca was radio man in the Navy. His ear saved thousands from U-boat attacks, and his incessant record keeping has made the war much more real for his dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Letters between him and his mother, official documents, dozens of pages of wonderful material for his years at war have been collected and preserved, and I’m honored that he’s allowed me to learn from and make a copy.
Tom Kane was another friend in broadcasting. He was the security guard at the WBEN/Channel 4 building. One day, I noticed that he went from wearing sergeant stripes on his uniform to lieutenant bars. I congratulated him on the promotion, and he told me that after almost 50 years, he’d finally become an officer. He told me about his time in Korea, and how he’d never been so cold in his life. So wet and cold. For almost a year. Being freezing and afraid of freezing to death, but having to jump into the water or be killed. Tom earned the commission, for sure.
Once in a conversation with my friend and broadcaster Mark Leitner, something about the horror of Vietnam came up. He said nothing with his mouth, but in two seconds his eyes told a wretched story leaving detail unnecessary.
My friend Pat Kavanagh, talks about the fact that he and the men he went to war with were really just about children, and that they used to call their 25 year old Sarge “Pops” because he was so old, and really felt like a father figure. Pat turned his sense of unfinished business with the war into a project to honor those who never came home: He collected the obituaries of every Western New Yorker who was killed in Vietnam during the war. Dozens of visits to libraries, historical societies, and private homes later, Pat’s work is another step in insuring that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
My dad’s big brother, Uncle Chuck, is also a Vietnam veteran, and also lives with the lasting effects of Agent Orange. I hold a lot about Uncle Chuck’s service in my heart, and knowing that he wouldn’t want it written about here, I won’t. Suffice it to say, he’s the best brother man could ask for, a great uncle, and hero.
I don’t know that Uncle Chuck or any of the men and women mentioned above are comfortable with that label “hero,” especially when each of them can clearly see the face and hear the voice of someone who didn’t make it back to the rest of their lives.
Many heroes are like my friend Len, who has told many great fun stories of his days in the Air Force. Clowning around, having fun, traveling to exotic locales for a day or two just ’cause he could. What Len doesn’t bring up is the weeks he spent in New York City following 9/11, and the problems that he and thousands of others are fighting because of it, whether our government admits it or not.
Len, Uncle Chuck, and all these folks are heroes. They were all willing to kill or be killed for not only the common good, but for every American alive while they served, and every American who’ll ever live free.
I know so many newer, younger veterans, too, and their close friends and family. Their sacrifices are much more present in our lives, and in some cases, still open and bleeding. Because the final chapter hasn’t been written in most of their cases, it’s hard to write about them in the same way as I do some of the sacrifices of the more distant past. For most of the older folks, I think while the wounds are forever tender, they’ve healed up a bit, and have, upon years and decades of reflection, become a part of who they are, and in some fragile way, accepted.
My prayers are most with our most recent vets, and really all of those, who are still coming to terms with the hell they’ve endured while proudly wearing our flag on their shoulder. I pray that the final chapter on your service is one of acceptance and an ability to move on with your life, with the memories and realizations of your time spent in harm’s way woven productively into the fabric of who you are.
I have many more friends and loved ones who have served our great nation who’ve I’ve failed to mention here. To each of you: I beg that you please know that while I don’t know firsthand what you have endured for our country, I am proud and humbled to carry some part of your pain and sacrifice on my own heart. You have done what I haven’t. You needn’t have served in war to have sacrificed; you needn’t have never come home to be a hero.
To all veterans, though it’s not enough, please accept my humble thanks this Veterans Day, and every day.
I spent this 4th of July morning trying to figure out how to hang this classic WBS/Ward Beck Systems audio console from the wall of my garage, where it’s lived for most of the last 11 years or so. This was WBEN’s newsbooth board from the time of the 1974 remodel of the WBEN Radio studios until 2000, when WBEN moved to Amherst.
Over on Facebook, in posting this blog, I’d love to come up with a comprehensive list of the great WBEN personalities and newspeople who’ve regularly sat at this board. Just in the time I worked there from 1993-98, there was Kevin Keenan, Mark Leitner, Susan Rose, Tim Wenger, George Richert, Claudine Ewing, Kathleen Donovan, Brian Meyer, Mark Webster, Mike McKay, Howard Simon, Rick Maloney, Dave Kerner, Kevin Sylvester, Marty Biniasz, Joe Sviatko, Dave Debo, Michael Mroziak, my wife Monica Huxley, and of course Ed Little, who made the final WBEN broadcast from the Elmwood studios sitting at that board (See 1980s photo of Ed at the board below.)
Before my time there, great broadcasters like Jack Ogilvie, Jim McLaughlin, Lou Douglas, Virgil Booth, Fran Lucca, Marty Gleason, Stan Barron, Mark Hamrick, and a one-time WBEN radio newsman named John Murphy.
There are dozens that haven’t leapt to my mind, but believe me, this boat anchor has some history.
I got it from a friend… who bought it from a guy who garbage picked it (or maybe stole it?) when WBEN left its Elmwood Avenue studios for Corporate Parkway in 2000. The friend had hoped to use it in recording his band, but the truth is, the thing barely worked when it was in service. When he realized it was little more than a momento, he called me and I put it in my garage.
It’s been in the back of the garage, on the floor behind the snow blower and infamous Pepsi machine. It deserves better than that. And I got to thinking, that if there is some place better than my garage wall where it can be displayed, it should be.
I’m asking for ideas that you can help make happen. Where can we put this piece of Buffalo’s broadcast history for all to enjoy? To hang from the wall, you’d need a space four feet wide by 5 feet long. (Less than that, but I forget to measure.)
If we can find a legit public place, willing to hang it like the artwork it is… I’ll fix it so the lights light, the VU meters move, and maybe even the small cue speakers could play a loop of an old Clint Buehlman broadcast which people up close would be able to hear (optional). I would also work out any signage of addition display items that need to accompnay the piece.
It’s more than history… Its a cool retro art piece, really. I’m willing to permenantly or temporarily loan it to an appropriate place that wants to display it. It’ll be cool in my garage, but again, it really deserves better. Any takers?
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
Sometimes the way life lines a series of seemingly unrelated events like lights on an airport runway can make a guy pause and question his sanity, because the answer is almost too clear.
For the past three days, I’ve been filling in for John Zach on Buffalo’s Early News on WBEN. The four-hour news show starts at 5am, and John does most of the writing when he’s here. For me, that meant getting up at 2:45am, in order to give myself about 90 minutes to put the local news together. John gets here earlier than that, and has been doing it just about every day for most of the 50 years he’s worked in radio.
I question myself often, would I be able to do this; get up like this. I did early morning weekends for a few years, but in 19 years of broadcasting, never a regular Monday-Friday, in-to-get-the morning show ready gig. John, who has worked the morning shift in parts of 7 different decades has said, “You never get used to it.”
I’ve filled in on the shift before, even for just a week or two, and always walked around feeling like a two-hour old grilled cheese; still crusty and gooey, but crusty and gooey in the wrong places. I just didn’t feel right, and never felt like I sounded as good as I could or should. And it always bothers me that when I set my alarm for 2:45am, my wife is rattled awake, too.
But this week, in the midst of working this early morning shift, one of the guys at work was cleaning out some files and handed me an old envelope he thought I might be interested in labeled MASTER TAPES– JOHN OTTO HALL OF FAME. Aside from being a master of the English language, the father of talk radio in Buffalo, and one of the top 5 broadcasters to ever grace the airwaves in Buffalo, John is somewhat of a personal hero to me.
Needless to say, I snatched the envelope, and delved inside not only to find hours of reels, cassettes, and DATs (an early digital tape format), but I also found a paper-filled folder labelled “John Otto.”
On top were a couple dozen e-mails and cards sent to WGR in the days following John’s death. Touching memories from fans and friends far and wide. Beautiful and filled with raw emotion. Then came John’s handwritten professional biography, tracing his radio career from the early 50s to the late 90s, only a year or so before his passing.
But what I found most gratifying were the notes that had been sent back and forth over the years to a succession of 5 or 6 supervisors at WGR. And while even a John Otto note complaining about a co-worker’s tardiness or an equipment problem flows across the paper the way a ballerina glides across the stage, that’s still not the point.
It started to strike me when I saw the note he wrote in 1995 asking to work Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day. He was begging to work those days. Days most of us would curse the boss who forced us to work, but here, 43 years into his broadcasting career, and John’s tone was nearly inconsolable, worried that some other program might pre-empt his conference call of all interested parties.
In case the point be lost, John writes it quite plainly in one note. “The very principle on which I’ve always conducted myself, to wit, if one is in radio, you want to be on radio at every opportunity.”
After an illness took him off the air for a spell, he wrote in another missive that he’s ready to come back “if you’ll have me,” adding, ” My appetite is restored, miracle of all, my taste buds are a-bloom once more. You’ve got no idea what life is like without the ability to taste… ’til you’ve not got it.”
John Otto, almost 50 years into his career had such a fire in his belly for it. Not a soul better, universally lauded; but still fearful that it could be taken away. Would that we all felt that way about anything in our lives, let alone our job.
It made me think of my friend Ed Little, who was that way, too. He worked a tremendous 62 years in radio, starting as a child actor. I was with him in 2000 when he delivered his last newscast on WBEN, also the last program to originate from the studios on Elmwood Avenue.
Septuagenarian Ed couldn’t get a handle on the new computers, despite going through extra training on his own. Within a few months, he passed away. His heart was bad, but I know it was a broken heart, too.
Twenty years ago, my fire was inexhaustible. I can remember going to work as an 18 year old within hours of my grandma’s cancer death.
Thinking back on it, it makes me sad that I went in to board op Buffalo’s Evening News that night, and didn’t spend the time with my family. But that’s what I was and what I did. I think I’ve learned a little about life and about work since then.
Family’s much more important. I write books. I have a website. I’m on Boards of Directors, and I give talks about Buffalo History. I also work a pretty much 9-5 job these days. It’s not often I’m challenged to see how hot that fire burns.
I know it there, because it has to be there to be working in radio, or in any number of jobs similar in that there really isn’t much money. And its not the fame or the notoriety,either. Its having the blessing of doing a job that thousands would line up behind you to do for free. And just having that job, and being blessed with the gift of it, and being able to live a dream. And not wanting to give it up for the world.
So I’ve been thinking about whether or not I could work the morning shift, and the answer is of course. And though I sometimes play the curmudgeon, and complain about getting up early on those days when the job calls for it, the fact of the matter is, I’d do just about whatever they told me to do to keep it going. And this week, I even loved the early mornings. Loved every minute of hosting that show with Susan Rose. Loved it with that John Otto fire.
Just today, I read a Forbes Magazine article, which talks about the only three questions employers need to ask perspective employees. I say, you only need to ask one of those three. Will you love this job?
If the answer is no, go find something else. When I say love, I mean LOVE. Not ‘like the hours,’ or the pay, or the doors it might open. Love the job. Put your heart into it. Life is just too short.
“You know me,” John Otto closes one note with, “I just want to be on the radio.” Me too.