The following is an excerpt from Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman, which I wrote and published in 2010. It’s available at through the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library or for purchase here.
What an honor it is to write the story of Buffalo’s all-time most popular and acclaimed media personalities and news team.
About 6 years ago, I posted an ‘Irv, Rick, & Tom’ page on my Buffalo pop culture history website, staffannouncer.com (now hosted here at BuffaloStories.com). It remains one of the most popular pages on the site, and one of the stories I’m most proud to have put on the web.
I grew up in Buffalo and Western New York in the 1980s. Irv, Rick and Tom were a big part of that. While many fathers and sons bond watching sports, from the time I was very small, my dad and I watched the news together every night. Irv’s news.
Long before I could actually speak many important words coherently, my mother reports that I, as a toddler, gleefully talked about ‘Irv Tine-Tine’ and would run around the living room vocalizing the percussive Eyewitness News theme at 6pm. Around that time, I also began to realize that Commander Tom, wearing that red jacket with gold epaulets, was quite possibly the coolest guy on the planet wearing the greatest outfit I’d ever seen. And of course, it was a highlight of my young life to meet THE Rick Azar at the Broadway Market one Good Friday with my grandma.
One of my early thrills in working in media was as a 15 year old WBEN intern, taking a phone call from Irv each day to record a radio commercial for that night’s 6 o’clock news. I also recall several years later, when I was working in a competing Buffalo TV newsroom, the euphoria the day it was announced Irv was retiring– euphoria because now we have a chance.
I could really talk about these guys all day, but before I get to embarrassing myself, I’ve limited my personal comments to one page. There’s not a lot of heavy lifting on the pages to follow; hopefully just cause for smiles and memories of the way things used to be, and the story of how Irv, Rick and Tom came to be Buffalo’s best ever.
Steve Cichon August, 2011
Chapter 1: Irv, Rick, & Tom.
Chuck Healy. John Corbett. Stephen Rowan. John Beard. Carol Jasen. Bob Koop. Kevin O’Connell. Rich Newberg. Don Postles. That’s just a partial list of the folks who appeared as a regular news anchor at 6 o’clock on Channel 4 during Irv Weinstein’s tremendous, nearly 30 year run at Number One on Channel 7. The list from Channel 2 is three times as long.
So what made Irv so special? It’s not an easy question to answer. Irv is loganberry, The Broadway Market, Sahlen’s hot dogs, Crystal Beach, Mighty Taco, Jimmy Griffin, knowing how to pronounce Scajaquada, and knowing it connects to not “Route 33,” but “The 33,” all wrapped up into a single 5’7” newsman. Irv is the embodiment of Buffalo.
But really, what makes Irv so special?
A 1990 study of local newscasts scientifically asked several hundred Western New Yorkers a series of in-depth questions about television news in Buffalo.
Without prompting a name, Irv was the runaway favorite news anchor in Buffalo. He was the favorite of more than a third of those with a preference, and was more popular than the numbers 2, 3, and 4 combined. He was the favorite newscaster of young and old, men and women, those making under $25,000, those making $25,000-50,000, and those making above $50,000.
He was the favorite newscaster of those of Polish descent, Italian ancestry, Irish, English, and African-American, too. Also in Buffalo, the Erie County suburbs, Niagara County, and Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties, Irv was on top. In every category that was analyzed, Irv Weinstein was a runaway pick as Buffalo’s favorite newsman.
One special thing about Irv; you had an opinion of him. He wasn’t just a haircut and a baritone reading the news. Of those who had a least favorite news anchor, Irv was named by 44%. He was the favorite, and the least favorite.
But now, more than a decade after leaving the Eyewitness News anchor desk, Irv has transcended completely the picayune tastes of Western New York’s television watching public.
Just like so many other Buffalo institutions of the past, the name Irv Weinstein conjures up different feelings and emotions in different contexts:
Like Bethlehem Steel, Irv reminds people of what a giant Buffalo once was.
Like Crystal Beach, Irv reminds people of the way things used to be– back when life was a little more fun.
Like AM&As or Marine Midland Bank, Irv reminds us that many of our once proud local institutions keep on keeping on, but never the way they once were.
Of course, Irv is only a third of the story. It was the combination of Irv, Rick Azar with Eyewitness Sports, and Tom Jolls with the Weather Outside that made Eyewitness News– and each man individually– wildly popular.
“IrvRickTom is what we called them,” said Phil Beuth, who was Channel 7’s General Manager in the 1970’s and 80’s before moving on to run ABC’s Good Morning America.
“For many years, that’s the way we considered them: IrvRickTom, one word, one person. We literally saw them as a seamless team. So close, so well knit so much an extension of one another.”
“It’s very hard to define chemistry,” Irv said when being inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame with Rick and Tom, “but we had it almost immediately, the three of us.”
Viewers saw not only news, sports and weather, but also three guys enjoying each others’ company– kidding around a little bit between segments.
Each complimented the other perfectly. Paired with others, Irv may have been too brash. Rick might have seemed too slick and polished. Tom maybe a little too folksy. But the honest human interaction between each of these men, as they came into our homes at dinner time and again at bed time was so obviously real and so obviously reflective of the people in our own lives, we accepted them as members of our family in a way that no other Buffalo television personalities had been accepted before, and none likely ever will again.
“You had Tom, every mother’s son; the flag, and apple pie, and all of those things that make for a fine American,” says Irv. “That’s what you saw, that’s what you got. That’s what Tom was, that’s what Tom is.
“Rick was more of a broadcasting personality,” says Irv in analysis of his anchor desk compadres. “Solid professional, knowledgeable, debonair, good looking guy. Very smooth, Mr. Smooth, the Latin Lover.“
So where does Irv fit in?
“Me? I’m an ethnic type,” says Irv. ”Definitely an ethnic type. I felt very proud of the fact in a heavily Catholic, heavily Polish town, this Jewish kid was accepted.”
The mix of these three seemingly disparate characters, added to the humble beginnings of the team on WKBW-TV in the mid-60s, makes the fact that Irv, Rick and Tom are adored two decades after the team broke up even more improbable.
Irv likes to say when he started at WKBW-TV; it was the number 4 station in a three station market. He often quips, “The ratings at Channel 7 were worse than the sign-off test patterns on Channels 4 and 2.” That’s not that far from the truth.
Irv moved from WKBW Radio to WKBW-TV in April 1964. Rick Azar was already there. He was the announcer who literally signed the station on the air in 1958. Tom Jolls had been working at WBEN Radio and TV when Red Koch, the program director at 7, talked Tom into coming over to WKBW’s Main Street studios in 1965.
The rest of the story is one that is permanently woven into the fabric of our community. But before we get to that story, let’s look at the experiences that lead three men from different backgrounds entirely to come together to become the longest running anchor team in television history.
The Eyewitness Newsgame
Buffalo’s own Irv-based board game hit store shelves in 1980, and was available at places like AM&A’s and Hengerer’s.
Promos showed Irv, Rick, and Tom playing the game so intently, they almost missed the 11 o’clock news.
The box reads:
Your chance to become a junior reporter for Eyewitness News! Be the first back to the station with all the facts and get your story on the air.
Proceeds from the sale of the game went to the Variety Club.
Chapter 2: Irwin Weinstein, Junior Announcer
“As Buffalonians, if we could be smart, we’d want to be smart like Irv,” Phil Beuth once said toasting Weinstein. “Smart enough to give us the news, but also using his brilliance to make everyone smile and to occasionally be a wise guy. He was the smart kid that always made the whole class… except the teacher… laugh.”
A high school teacher told Irv he’d wind up in jail or famous.
So begins a look back at the life of the man that Buffalo lovingly knows as just “Irv.”
Despite all the fame and success associated with Eyewitness News, Irv counts another era of his broadcasting career as the “most thrilling and glamorous.”
At a time before there was any such person as Irv Weinstein, Irwin B. Weinstein was a big man on campus at Ben Franklin High School in Rochester because of his regular appearances on the biggest radio station in town.
“I had actually started at WHAM radio in Rochester as a boy actor. That was perhaps the most thrilling and glamorous part of my entire life in broadcasting. My gosh, I would see these announcers– who go into the booth once or twice an hour– dressed in a suit, shirt, and tie; and deliver into the microphone the call letters of the station. And that’s pretty much all they did. And they were making tremendous salaries. It convinced me, at that time, that this was a profession that I would want to pursue. It wasn’t the money– I would have paid for the opportunity to be an announcer.”
WHAM was founded by Kodak’s founder George Eastman, and was later sold to Stromberg-Carlson, a dominant and wealthy player in the manufacture of radio and telephone equipment.
“WHAM was one of the most prestigious radio stations in the country,” remembers Irv. It was (and is) a powerful 50,000 watt station that can be heard all around eastern North America.
“They had, in the mid-40s, a palatial station. One studio could hold an audience of two or three hundred people, had a raised stage, a control room off of the stage, and room for a studio orchestra.”
After answering an ad in the newspaper looking for teenagers willing to act on the radio, the man who’d 25 years later be Buffalo’s top newsman became a kid playing bit parts in radio dramas– and loving every minute of it.
“In those days, they would call me up and say, ‘We have a part for you as a state trooper,’ in a series called True Stories of the New York State Police. Because my vocal equipment was pretty much developed at 15 or 16, I would play adults—a state trooper, a bank robber, a farmer in Weedsport who was directing police to the scene of a crime.”
“I was getting $7 a show, which was pretty good money for a kid in the mid-1940s. Plus, I was a star at Ben Franklin High School.”
Young Irwin was one of The WHAM Junior Players as well, on a show that was mostly young people performing basic comedy skits. “It was similar to the things you’d see on sitcoms today,” says Irv, “except they’d run 5 or 7 minutes instead of a half hour.”
Memories of those days– the raw thrill of scripts flying, last minute changes, and being a teen actor couldn’t be matched even as Irv became the most celebrated personality in the history of Buffalo television.
“Possibly the apogee of my career at WHAM was when they brought some of the network shows to Rochester. They had done some remodeling at the station, and one of the shows they brought to originate from Rochester was the Henry Aldrich Show. It was a radio sitcom, and Henry Aldrich was supposed to be a 16 or 17 year old kid. The actor was, in actuality, a man about 40 years old named Ezra Stone.”
“My line was four words. I was the Ace Cleaners Boy. You heard the screen door open, and I scream up into the house, ‘Ace Cleaners, Mrs. Aldrich!’ and she yells back, ‘They’re in the closet, Harry.’
“This was pre-audio tape. They did two live shows, one for the east coast, one for the west coast. I was fine for the east coast, but for the west coast, 3 hours later, I blew one of the four words; which has embarrassed me my entire professional life. I don’t remember what word it was… maybe ‘cleaners.’ That would have been a difficult word for me at that stage. But I’ve never forgotten it. Those are the things that happen in your career that are of such an embarrassing level, that you just never forget it.”
“Nobody ever mentioned salary, and that was fine. I just thought they needed me for a bit part in this show– and that was fine. Now, about a month later, an NBC envelope arrives in the mail. The letter says, ‘Thank you for taking part in the production of the Henry Aldrich Show,’ and with it, a check for $230. Again, if there was any doubt about what I wanted to do with my life, $230 for 4 words? It was pointed out to me years later, that Winston Churchill wasn’t making that much for his speeches around the same time. I just had a great time.”
This was the big time for a high school kid during the mid-1940s; as big, he thought, as it could possibly get. “There was a chief announcer at WHAM at the time, Bill Hanrahan, who was leaving for New York City and NBC.”
Hanrahan would go on to be an NBC staff announcer for the next 40 years, best known as the voice of the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and later NBC Nightly News. His voice became synonymous with not only nightly news broadcasts, but with special news programs involving elections, political conventions, Watergate, and space and lunar exploration.
To young Irwin, however, Hanrahan couldn’t have done much better than the biggest station in the Lilac City. “I can remember thinking to myself, ‘Guy must be crazy! How could he want to leave a great job like this to go to NBC?!?’ That was my serious thought.”
It was also his serious thought that the glamour of WHAM was the life for him.
“When I got out of school, I thought that the natural thing was, I had worked two or three years at WHAM, and maybe there might be a job for me there. The chief announcer interviewed me, and he advised me that radio probably wasn’t the best vehicle for any future career for me. He just didn’t think I had it.”
At 18, it was the first of many professional let-downs for Weinstein.
Right after graduating from Rochester’s Ben Franklin High School, with no promise of a radio career on the horizon, teenager Weinstein hopped a train to Hollywood, with the idea of breaking into the movies.
“It was a two and a half day trip by train. Rochester to Chicago on the Empire State Limited, and then changed to the Santa Fe Railroad for the rest of the trip,” Irv recalls. He says it was trip that might have gone by faster with a little company. That’s the way it was planned, but it didn’t work out that way.
“I had a high school buddy who was going to take the trip with me, but he had chickened out at the last minute, so I was alone. I’d never been away from home. I had $400, which I had strenuously saved for this trip.”
He wasn’t sure how he was going to break in, but thought it might be easier than it actually turned out to be. “I didn’t think I would just walk in and they would sign me up to a long term contract, but I thought if I got an audition, maybe… I just had no idea, I didn’t have a clue.”
It was true in the 1940s just as it’s true today. Just about everyone in Los Angeles is an actor, writer, producer or director– even if they are shampooing your carpets or rolling you a burrito between jobs “in the business.”
Irv discovered this when the man who kept him from becoming a literal “starving artist” delivered him his greatest brush with Hollywood greatness.
“Now I wasn’t drinking that young, but I met a bartender, whose bar was near the place where I had a room. They served food, which was free. If you bought a drink; you got a sandwich. So I’d have a ginger ale, and have lunch.”
“I struck up a friendship with this bartender, who had told me that he was once an assistant director at Columbia Pictures. And, as young and unsophisticated as I was, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah right, and the moon is made of green cheese.’”
“One day he calls me up and says, ‘Irwin,’ -which is what my name was at the time, before I changed it professionally to Irv- ‘Irwin, how would you like to go to the studio?’”
“I said, ‘Sure,’ I put on my bar mitzvah suit, and we went out to Columbia Pictures. The whole time, I’m thinking this guy is pulling my chain. We go to the gate, the guy says, ‘Hey Art, how ya doin?’”
“Holy Mackerel, I thought to myself, this guy really did work here. We go into the studio, and go to a sound stage, where they’re shooting a Tarzan movie, with Lex Barker and Denise Darcel. Cheetah was on Lex Barker’s shoulder, and, well, did a doo-doo, so they had to stop the scene.”
“I’m just glowing with pride. He introduced me to Lex Barker, and Denise Darcel, and then he said, I think Bob Mitchum is shooting a film at another sound stage.”
“So we go to that sound stage, and there’s Mitchum, and Janet Leigh, shooting a scene from a movie called Holiday Affair. I was stunned. They had recreated a part of Central Park for this scene. “Art says to me, ‘When they break this scene, we’ll go to Bob’s trailer and I’ll introduce you.’ You can imagine what this is for an 18 year old kid from Rochester, NY. The scene breaks, we go to the trailer, and Mitchum says, ‘Hey Art!’ and he says, ‘Mitch, I’d like to introduce you to a young friend of mine, Irwin Weinstein, who’s out here trying to get into the business.’
“Now, Mitchum was probably about 6-foot-5, and I pull myself up to my complete 5-foot-7, maybe 5-7-and-a-half in heels. He sticks out his hand, ‘Good to meet you, Irwin,’ ‘Thanks, Bob.’ Then he asks, ‘How ‘bout a drink?’”
“Well, sure, I said, thinking, ‘I always have a drink at 9 in the morning to hold myself together.’ He pours me a gin, vodka, I don’t know what it was. But I was drinking it very slowly, believe me.”
“Finally, I’m thinking to myself, this is the opportunity of my life to talk to a professional and get a real answer. My voice raised several octaves when I asked, ‘Well, Bob, how do you get into this business?’ and he looked down at me and said, ‘To tell you the truth, I can’t tell ya. I’m having a hell of a time staying in the business. There’s always somebody climbing up the grease pole behind you.’”
“I thought to myself, well, he’s just kind of mentally patting me on the head. I wasn’t angry or anything, it’s just what I thought. This is great; at least I’ll have some great stories to tell my family.”
“Years later, when I really got into broadcasting, and I met some people in the business, and I had a greater variety of life experiences, I realized that he was being absolutely straight with me.”
“You are never, no matter how big you are, in the movies, in radio, in television, secure. There’s always somebody climbing up that grease pole behind you. You never have total security. From that time on, Mitchum, not just as an actor, has been one of my idols.”
In the end, he spent a year and a half in California, with nary a sniff at the silver screen; working instead at a shirt factory, department store warehouse, and meat packing plant.
“The closest I got to being in the movies, was at the Pantages Movie Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard watching Kirk Douglas up on the screen in the movie Champion.”
Leaving Hollywood, Irv was left with figuring out what to do next.
“At the point that it became obvious that the world was not waiting for a short, facially challenged kid for a starring role in an MGM musical, I had to change direction.”
A decade before the Queen City sat enraptured as he informed us of spectacular blazes, and careening cars, Irv was a furniture store salesman working odd jobs, and kept his hand in the business as a part-time vacation fill-in disc jockey.
“I was into my 20s, when I went to the School of Radio and Television Technique in New York City. I thought to myself, growing up in a middle class Jewish home, that maybe I should be doing something more practical than acting.”
Television, Take 1
The impudent child taking in this story might be asking, “Is this where Irv becomes a big TV star?”
The answer, with a grandfatherly chuckle is, no, not yet. After learning the finer points of television production, Weinstein broke into the nascent medium not as an anchorman– but as a director. That is, the man who calls the camera shots and runs a broadcast from a technical standpoint.
It was another difficult and humble beginning.
“My first TV job was in Waterloo, Iowa. I took a bus out there for the interview. I didn’t even have a job offer, and I took a bus. I sent out about 2,000 resumes, and I got 3 replies. One was at KWWL-TV in Waterloo, another was at a station in Missoula, Montana, and I don’t remember the third.”
It was an inauspicious beginning to the now-celebrated Irv Weinstein television career.
“I went out to Waterloo, and I got a job as a director. I wasn’t a very good director.”
After only 90 days of working in television, Irv was once again on the outside looking in.
“Basically, directing in television is hitting the right button and thinking very quickly,” Irv explained. “I lacked the digital facility. So, three months later, I was fired.”
There was little else to do but look for another job.
“I was married by that time, and Elaine and I took a barnstorming tour across the country, from Waterloo, Iowa, to my in-law’s home in Miami Beach. I have to say, my wife ‘the saint’ was very supportive during this difficult time. I hit every station, big market, small market, medium market, nothing.
“I have a memory of changing my pants on a road outside of St. Louis for an interview with a big station there, nothing.”
There were no television jobs to be had, but there was the comfort of home.
“We wound up in Miami Beach, and sponged off my in-laws for three months, and decided that wasn’t working. So we moved back to Rochester and sponged off my parents.”
During this rough patch, Irv Weinstein, later to be known as a peerless purveyor of staccato alliteration, tried to “go straight.”
“I had a couple of jobs. One was as a paint salesman for Sears Roebuck. After about a month, the supervisor said to me, ‘Irwin, you don’t seem to have the Sears spirit.’ I said, ’You know what, you’re absolutely right,’ and I can’t tell you how happy I was to get out of there.”
Fate almost landed Irv a life as a civil servant– until Mrs. Weinstein stepped in.
“I was offered a job as a permanent at the Post Office. I had been working there as a temporary. I came home and told Elaine, ‘Hey, I could make a hundred and a quarter a week, steady, very secure.’ She said, ‘That’s very nice, but I didn’t marry you because I wanted to be married to a Post Office worker.’”
Reinforced and re-energized in trying to make it in the world of show business, Irv went back to work, making contacts, sending out resumes, and finally landing work.
“I got a job at a UHF station, WTAP in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Elaine at this time was 7 months pregnant. It was a terrible station then, and I was again hired as a director.”
“Again, three months later, I was fired; only this time there was a complication: In the interim, Elaine had given birth to our son, Marc. I’m thinking, ‘this is awful.’ Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I’ll go back to Rochester, and my mother will have some hot soup and some comforting words.”
But once again, it was because of the love and support of Elaine Weinstein that the Irv Weinstein story continues.
She encouraged Irv to go knock on the door of a radio station and ask for a job. It was to be the easiest job he’d ever received.
“I wound up at WCEF Radio. C-E-F stood for Clarence E. Franklin, who was the station owner, general manager, sales manager, chief engineer, and he had a show on the air called the ‘Friendly Frank Show.’”
“I asked him if he had any openings, he said, ‘When can you start?’ I asked, ‘Don’t you want to audition me?’ to which he replied, ‘Nah, I know an announcer when I see one.’ So, there I was, at WCEF.”
It was there, in the mountains of West Virginia, that Irv took on what he considers the “watershed job of his career.” For $60 a week, for the first time ever, he was a newscaster, but he wasn’t yet Irv Weinstein.
Borrowing the name of his infant son Marc Robert, Irwin Weinstein became Mark Roberts on the air.
“I was about 27 years old the first time I did news. It was interesting, the station was a daytimer. I did news from 9 in the morning, for about 6 hours.”
“But then late in the afternoon, I hosted a music show called, Candlelight and Gold. Now this was a rock and roll station, but I really loved doing the news.”
After a week or so as the station’s only news anchor, he was named news director, even though, says Irv, “I was the only one doing news at the station; I was essentially director over myself.”
“I was there about a year, and continued to send out resumes, when I got a call from WBOY-TV in Clarksburg. I got the job there, and I found myself directing again. Not doing very well at it, but directing none the less.”
But Irv wasn’t going to spend too much more time as a TV director, and his family wasn’t going to spend too much more time in West Virginia.
WKBW Futursonic Radio
So it’s 1958, and Irv Weinstein is finally a newsman. But he’s not Irv Weinstein yet: On the air, he’s known as Mark Roberts. But he’s also in the coal mining country of Clarksburg, West Virginia, a situation he was looking to change.
“I got a call from a good friend of mine, a deejay, Russ Syracuse. Well, Russ ‘The Moose’ Syracuse had gotten a job at KB Radio. He told me there was an opening in the newsroom. I told him I didn’t have much experience, but he told me to send in a tape.”
“The Program Director, Dick Lawrence, got my tape, we exchanged a few calls, and I was very anxious to get out of West Virginia. There was no way we were going to raise our son in the Mountain State, and Buffalo was an ideal market, close to family in Rochester.”
Thus began Irv’s news career in Buffalo. But once again, it almost didn’t happen.
As Irv told Sandy Beach on Majic 102 in 1988, “I drove into the parking lot of KB Radio in a beat up DeSoto. Dick Lawrence called me in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and he told me I got the job.”
“So we loaded up the DeSoto, all of our furniture, Elaine and Marc (their son), and we drove up to Buffalo. We get to Buffalo, and I pull into the parking lot, go in and tell the receptionist that I’m here to see Mr. Lawrence. She says, ‘well, Mr. Lawrence is no longer with us.’
It was another of those moments you just can’t make up.
“My whole life began to pass in front of my eyes. Elaine is out in the parking lot with our infant son, all of our possessions are in the car, and I’m thinking to myself I’m out of a job. I quit this great job, making $75 a week in Clarksburg, and here I am; out of a job, again.”
“I seriously may have been hyperventilating when Clint Churchill, Junior, the son of the owner, walked out into the hall, wanting to know ‘what’s happening here.’ I explained the situation, and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got a job.’”
“Whew, I thought, catching my breath. ‘Can you do the next newscast?,’ he asked. ‘Certainly,’ I said, though maybe I wasn’t quite so certain. I was wearing jeans, I really wasn’t prepared.”
“But 10, 15 minutes later, I did the next newscast, and the rest of the newscasts; apparently someone had just left. At that time, KB Radio had newscasters and news writers, people who wrote the newscasts. That day, the person who was writing the casts was Art Wander. That’s enough to make a guy nervous right there, the Tiny Tot of the Kilowatt.”
“He wrote one of these wild stories about an accident, where the victim was killed. He wrote that she was whiplashed to death. Well, at that point, I didn’t even know my name. Whiplashed to death?!? Well, I read it, what was I going to do? I didn’t even have a chance to pre-read the copy.”
“So I get off the air, and Churchill called me into his office. He said to me, ‘I heard your newscast.’ He said it was ok. He said, ‘This is a top 40 station, and you sound too much like Walter Cronkite.‘ I’m thinking, ‘and that’s a bad thing?’”
“My whole terrible broadcast career passed before my eyes, but luckily it worked out.”
That early boss may have tossed the name Walter Cronkite his way, but it was another famous radio host who made an impression on Irv.
“In terms of style, I was sometimes asked who my idol was in radio, and that was an easy one: Paul Harvey. 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. It might be hard to believe for those who don’t remember, but in the early rock ’n’ roll days of KB Radio and Pulsebeat News, the pace and the shocking pointed style of news writing and delivery made Irv’s later Eyewitness News persona seem comatose.
It took some time to develop that sound, though. Irv readily admits, when he first arrived at KB, he sounded different. “My style was upbeat, but not the on-air style that I developed; which was basically, a Top 40 news guy; fast paced.”
It was in its fetal stage, but it was early development of the personality Buffalo would come to cherish over the next 50 years. It was also at KB Radio that Irwin first unwrapped a sleeker sounding version of his first name, and became forever more 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 co-mingling 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.
“My theatre background had a lot to do with it. I understood what they wanted. They wanted the listeners to barely discern the difference between Russ The Moose Syracuse and Irv Weinstein in terms of basic sound; the pace. And that was fine with me.”
News was still serious; different from the disc jockeys. But the KB newsmen, and Irv in particular, would leave that line blurred.
“Russ Syracuse would try to break me up during the news; he’d walk by the studio window doing an imitation of a fish. I must have had a death wish, because we had a cough switch, but I never hit it; I’d just laugh on the air. We used to get requests at the station, people wondering when I was going to laugh.”
Were it just his delivery, reading scripts written for him by Art Wander and others, Irv would still be remembered today. But it’s that unparalleled ability to turn a phrase while churning out news copy that was to become synonymous with Irv Weinstein over the next four decades of informing Buffalo.
“Again, I discerned what they wanted; and I gave them that, plus. I’ve often been quoted with lines like ‘Pistol packing punks pounded a Polish plumber into the pavement.’ I never, ever said anything like that. Close, but that phrase, ‘pistol packing punks….’ We did some outrageous things on radio.”
“I think the news was an integral part of KB Radio’s enormous success. There were a lot of rock stations around, but I think what really defines a station, what gives it some personality, some credibility, is the news. People hear the news, they trust the newscaster. KB knocked off WBEN Radio, and it took a while, with people like Clint Buehlman so entrenched, but we knocked off the other stations.“
KB was ‘number one’ across the board, one of the most successful radio stations in the country. Without question; Syracuse, Dan Neaverth, Tom Shannon, Joey Reynolds, Stan Roberts, and all the KB disc jockeys are due much of the credit for that success.
But it would be shortsighted to not also heap credit on Irv, Henry Brach, Jim Fagan, John Zach and all of the Pulsebeat Newsmen who gave the gravitas needed to bump off some long established Buffalo legends like Buehlman and newscaster Jack Ogilvie at WBEN among numerous others.
Remember, at this point, Irv Weinstein was a radio newsman. He could go shopping at the A&P or grab a coffee at a Deco lunch counter without fans mobbing him. His voice was familiar; his face, not so much.
Early on, after having listened to Irv and his big voice, people were surprised whenever he made public appearances. People heard that booming authoritative voice come through the radio; meeting the diminutive Irv in person didn’t always quite seem analogous.
“A Rabbi sent me a note after meeting me for the first time,” Irv recalls. “He wrote, ‘You know, you’re a very talented young man, because after listening to you for so many years, I’ve always pictured you as a tall, blonde Gentile.’ I wrote him back a similarly funny note.”
Soon, all of Buffalo would know exactly what Irv looked like.
Part of the experience of going to a Bisons game at North AmeriCare Park in the late 1990s was the 7th inning stretch presentation of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part 2), where it was understood instead of yelling “Hey!” for the refrain, the ballpark yelled “Irv!” in unison, as a pixilated image of Buffalo’s favorite newsman flashed on the scoreboard. It was all part of one of the last great promotional campaigns for Irv and Eyewitness News.
From a 1977 Eyewitness News Promo
Irv: Do you have this in blue?
Salesman 1: FanTAStic!
Salesman 2: Its…. its….
Salesman 1: Right! Would you mind repeating that again?
Irv: Do you have this in blue?
Salesman 2: No one’s ever said it like that before!
Salesmen: (singing)…. And that’s why we say…
Irv Weinstein, you’re really a pro…You got all the news, that we want to know… You tell it like it is, and never throw us a curve, Nobody says it Like Irv…. Eyewitness News!
Chapter 7: Beyond the News
It’s tough to imagine Buffalo of the 70s, 80s, and 90s without Irv Weinstein, just like it’s tough to imagine Irv without Rick and Tom.
When Irv and his young family arrived in Buffalo in that old DeSoto back in 1958, he couldn’t have known that 3 decades later he’d be a part of the fabric of the community.
“From the standpoint of where I was, Buffalo was the glowing city on the hill, a real toddlin’ town. Things were really happening in Buffalo.”
As a young man growing up in Rochester, Irv had some experience with Buffalo, enjoying the city’s shows and restaurants. But after spending some time working in Buffalo, he found the area’s greatest asset was something no economic downturn or political misman-agement could scuttle: The spirit of the people.
“One of the things that makes the Buffalo market a delight to work in, is that your audience is really tuned into what you’re saying, or what you’re showing. Because the city is buried under snow, or at the very least, extreme cold, for about 9 months of the year, they’re not going outside to play tennis, or jog down the street. They’re listening to radio. They’re watching television.”
“The day after a story ran, I’d have people say back to me, word for word, what was on the air the night before. So I knew that they were with us.”
Though it’s an overused expression, Irv, Rick, and Tom, over the decades they came into our homes, really did become like family.
“When I talk to people,” says Irv, “when I receive correspondence from people, they talk about that they had dinner with me, every night; that I was a friend, and I’m glad.”
“I think that is the highest compliment someone in broadcasting can ever get,” says Irv, “that your audience thought that you were a part of the family. “
It’s a feeling that continues for each Irv, Rick, and Tom to this day.
“When I come back to Western New York after over a decade of retirement,” says Irv, ”one of the things I love is that it’s a great ego booster. I walk into a grocery store or a restaurant, and it’s like I never left. ‘Hey Irv, how ya doin?’ Some people think I never left. Some people tell me they watch me all the time, and I haven’t been on in a decade.”
It’s something these working men had to come to grips with, a little bit anyway. Right after his retirement, Rick was having dinner at a diner in Amherst, and really didn’t know how to take it when a waiter became almost inconsolable, gushing about the effect that he, Rick, had had on this waiter’s life.
“It was hard for me to deal with; I had to ask him to stop. I was just a guy on TV. I had no idea that people would have these kinds of feelings about us,” says Rick.
“That’s when Irv and I started to talk about this kind of stuff, and try to understand this kind of thing. We think about that now, after the fact. I think it’s one of the reasons we were so successful, because we didn’t think about it then. It’s who we are. It always has been. We’re just who we are.”
But unlike some Hollywood types or big name athletes, Irv would be disappointed if he knew you thought about saying ‘hi’ but didn’t.
“I thrived on that, communicating with people,” says Tom. “Looking back, I think about how lucky I was. Not just to do it all for a while, but to do it for close to 40 years; very, very fortunate.
“I’ve never shunned that part of the business, people saying hi, or wanting to chat. I knew it was going to part of the business, and I had to be gracious to these people, because that’s what mattered: the people who were watching. If you weren’t nice to them, then you aren’t doing your whole job,” says Tom, who loved meeting people at the Erie County Fair so much that they named the park from which he broadcast there “Tom Jolls Park.”
Still to this day, Commander Tom loves when someone says hi or offers a kind word.
“It never fails to amaze me, and I always try to say to them, thank you for remembering. It’s just so ingrained in people that they didn’t forget. And that’s just so nice.”
It gets a little complicated for the Commander occasionally.
“The funny thing for me is, nowadays, you never know if someone is going to remember you or not. Some people don’t always say something right at the beginning. I went through a big project with a salesman a few weeks ago, I asked a lot of questions, and he was very helpful. Just before we parted and signed the deal, he made some off the cuff comment like, ‘So how does it feel not to have to stand outside anymore?'”
“I wasn’t sure that he had any inkling. After 10 years, a lot didn’t watch, and a lot of people don’t remember. People remembering makes it all worthwhile.”
Irv says, “People ask, doesn’t it bother you when people come up to you in a restaurant, or in line somewhere, and I say, ‘Bother me?!? I love it!’ Yes, the ratings are nice, but when people want to come over and talk to you, and feel that they can, it makes you feel like you must be doing something right. The satisfaction of having done a pretty good job; you can’t buy that.”
Part of the satisfaction for Irv was that it was such a varied group of people who would come up to him over the years.
“I knew that Buffalo was and is a very ethnic conscious community. Just look at the festivals and parades. Irish, Polish, Italian, Greek, and on and on. Generally, the people in those ethnic-type communities enjoy an individual who does something out of the box. And in a town where ethnicity is important, with a name like Irv Weinstein, I’m immediately identified as an ethnic person. And not necessarily Jewish, either. I was sort of like the universal guy, a universal anchor, everybody’s anchor. Both from a philosophical stand point and a factual stand point.”
And that was true; the numbers bore out, for not just the blue collar guys down at the plant.
“The Eyewitness News audience was everybody. People would say to me, ‘Yeah, Irv, you’re alright, you have the guys at Bethlehem Steel,’ but that’s bull. Lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists.”
People from all walks of life couldn’t get enough of Irv, Rick, and Tom.
“You talk about ratings, and at one point, we had higher ratings than the other two stations combined. That’s phenomenal.”
And again, that is not something that is lost on Irv.
“In the days before the remote control, people actually had to get up out of their chairs to change the station, and fine tune it, move the hanger on top of the set to get better reception. So viewers really had to want to see you at a specific time to get up and change the channel.”
“It wasn’t, ‘Boy, look at us, guys…’ We never felt like stars,” says Rick. “We never realized until after we left, after the fact, the impact we were making in our community.”
And it wasn’t just Buffalo. An entire generation of Torontonians made their assumptions about Buffalo, Western New York, and even the United States as a whole based on Eyewitness News.
WIVB-TV reporter Rich Newberg discussed it with Irv during an interview.
“People sometimes equate Buffalo with Irv Weinstein,” admitted Newberg who spent some time in direct competition with Irv when he anchored Channel 4’s 6 o’clock newscasts.
“People in Toronto would sometime mock the newscasts, and the city,” Newberg continued, ”wondering if there was a Western New York town left that hadn’t burned, or if there was a person walking around who hadn’t been shot at least once…”
Irv responded with a laugh, “I would tell these Torontonians, and I have, don’t be so snotty! It was just a roll of the dice that Buffalo had such a high number of wood frame constructions. Toronto had a huge fire years ago (The Great Toronto Fire of 1904) which burned much of the city’s downtown. Buffalo actually sent fire fighting apparatus to help put out the blaze. To their credit, in Toronto, after that fire, an ordinance was passed limiting the amount of wood allowed in new structures in the city.”
But it’s not all acrimony from Canada. Just as the stars of local Toronto and Hamilton televisions had and have a cult following in Western New York; Irv, too, is well loved on both sides of the border. Irv remembers a Toronto radio promotion ran on the basis of his popularity here and there.
“CHUM Radio ran a promotion in 1988, at a time when the US Presidential election and the Canadian Parliamentary election coincided. They decided to run a contest and run me for either President of the United States or Prime Minister of Canada. It was a lot of fun, spending a day on the media circuit in Toronto.”
Irv fully admits that Toronto wasn’t the only outside market that came calling for his services when Eyewitness News was one of the most highly rated newscasts in the country.
“Over the years, I had some opportunities to leave for a lot more money. I learned something from my experiences in Waterloo, Iowa; and Parkersburg, West Virginia, and also the brief times I worked in Portland, Oregon and San Diego. What you learn is, when you have a good professional situation, that leaves you fulfilled and satisfied professionally, you can’t buy that.”
“There were anchor people making more money than me in the Buffalo market, even though I was number one in the ratings. Did it bother me? Yeah, but not enough to really make any difference.”
It was a wonderful professional situation. But it was also that Buffalo provided a great place to raise a family. What was it like to call Irv Weinstein ‘dad?’
Irv talked about his family, and his family about him, in an early 1980’s broadcast of PM Magazine, at the time hosted in Buffalo by Debbie Stamp.
“If you compare me with Robert Young from Father Knows Best , I probably don’t do too well,” Irv said, “because early on in my career, when the children were small, I did not have a great deal of time to spend with them. And to be perfectly honest, on my days off, I wasn’t the kind of dad who went out in the street and played ball. I have guilt feelings about the time I didn’t spend with the children when they were small, and when I was trying to make it in this business.”
As Debbie Stamp put it, “The Weinsteins lived not in a mansion, but in a typical house, in a typical neighborhood in Kenmore.” Irv really is the typical guy we’d expect him to be watching him on television.
“I think my wife and I have an unusually good relationship. She has a very even disposition, as opposed to myself. I tend to be a little more volatile. Not as volatile as I used to be.”
“She thinks I’m the funniest guy in the world. I broke her up from the moment we met, she just laughs and laughs, and when you’re laughing, it’s difficult to become angry.”
“He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s fun to live with,” said Mrs. Weinstein of her husband. “I know his image is very often very businesslike and dignified, and he is that too, but, I was originally attracted to his sense of humor.”
The time since Irv, Rick and Tom sat together in our living rooms every night can now be measured in decades.
Rick Azar was the first to leave in 1989, making 25 years the mark to beat as the longest running anchor team in history. He’d been at Channel 7 since that first broadcast, 31 years before. Tom Jolls was the last to leave, a few months after Irv did in 1999.
On New Year’s Eve 1998, Irv Weinstein ended his 34 year run at the helm of Eyewitness News with a heartfelt final sign off:
Finally… Yes, finally. Is there anyone in the western world who doesn’t know that I’m retiring? Well apparently, there is. This e-mail arrived on our station manager’s computer a couple of days ago. It reads, quote, ‘I noticed on the TV tonight, on your channel logo saying Remembering Irv. I went to your internet page and there is no mention of your passing. Can you send me information on this?’ End quote.
Well, sir, if you’re watching, you’ll notice that I appear to be alive, in a manner of speaking, anyway. Things have been a bit hectic, recently.
Now then, for the rest of you, I’d like to answer some questions that I’ve been getting since I announced that I’m retiring. Am I planning to move? No. Am I going to write a book? No. What am I going to do with myself? Well, I’m going to kick off my shoes and goof off. Read books, go to the movies weekday afternoons, watch lots of television news, spend lots of quality time with our children and grandchildren, and drive my wife crazy. The usual stuff.
Seriously though, friends, even though I’ll no longer have a day job, I suspect that I’ll pop up from time to time on television and radio, and I plan to continue to take an active role in the life of our community.
Now, it’s time to thank some of the people without whom I would not have had the broadcast career that I had.
At the top of the list are my wife and children. Their unwavering love, support, encouragement, and honest criticism have always been there during the good times, and the not so good times.
And a big thank you to a couple of TV station managers, who hired me at the dawn of my career. If it wasn’t for them, I might now be directing a cooking show in Waterloo, Iowa, or live wresting in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
I’m grateful to all the Buffalo and Canadian newspaper columnists, and radio and TV personalities, who, in the last few weeks, have showered me with the kind of accolades normally reserved for people who break sports records or walk on the moon.
None of the last four decades would have happened for me without the owners, managers, and staff at WKBW Radio and Television, who were, and are, the best in the business.
But you, you the viewers were the key element whatever success I’ve achieved. We connected, on and off the air, you and me. I can never thank you enough. You made all of my dreams come true. May all of yours come true as well. Good night.
I once asked Irv about his legacy.
“You don’t think about everything you do, every single day. It’s a compilation of weeks, and months, and years of work that you hope has had some impact on people. And when it appears that it does, and that it has, it’s a very rewarding thing.”
“I was the original Irv Weinstein, that’s all I was really. Each person represents a particular talent, a particular ability. The impact I had in the market, may have set a fairly high watermark in the marketplace.
“For that, I am very grateful.”
Tom’s final words on the weather outside: “May all your days be salubrious.” A wonderful thought and one he meant from the bottom of his heart.
In many respects, it was a unique relationship Irv, Rick, and Tom shared, one not too different from brotherhood. One that continues to this day.
“We now keep in contact constantly over e-mail,” says Tom. “We were all together last summer, at Chef’s. It was the first time were together, all of us, in 14 years. We’ve seen each other separately of course, 14 years since we’d all been together. It was great, and it was like we’d never been apart. It was the same relationship there, and it will never go away.”
“We laugh, we cry. I can still make him cry at the drop of a hat,” Rick says of Irv. “Like a bag of mush. He comes on like this tough news guy, but he’s a mush. We’re in touch every day.”
Irv, Rick, and Tom. They really love each other. And we love them.