By Steve Cichon
Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting
Bennett High School’s class officers in 1946 included John Otto (front row, leopard tie) and Sorrell Booke (standing, far right).
Buffalo Broadcasting legend John Otto was the 1946 Bennett High School Class President, but he was not the radio star of the class.
While he did appear on WGR as a ten-year-old accordion player on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour in 1941, Otto didn’t become a familiar voice in the night (on the radio, on the telephone) until after serving in the Navy following graduation.
The class valedictorian Sorrell Booke had already been appearing in locally produced radio dramas for more than a decade, won a contest on WGR with his impersonation of Hitler, and was considered a regular actor on WEBR by the time he was a sophomore at Bennett.
Booke– the man who would ultimately be best known for playing Boss Hogg on TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard– was a classically trained actor who attended Yale by way of Bennett High School.
When Sorrell was 10, he began his radio career by hopping on a street car, heading downtown to the Rand Building and asking for an audition on WGR. He wound up with steady work as an actor in radio dramas through high school.
For most of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Booke saw steady work as a character actor playing roles on more than 200 TV shows before landing the starring role on The Dukes, which he called “gravy after a long career.”
John Otto’s broadcasting career began as a disc jockey and newsman on WBNY Radio, before moving to WGR, where he spent most of the 1960s as a “jack-of-all-trades” on both WGR Radio and WGR-TV Ch.2.
Otto hosted children’s shows, was a TV weatherman, and hosted a local TV talk show, as well as the radio work that he’d be best known for, starting with a program called Extension 55 on WGR.
Remembered for his brilliance, class, and unparalleled ability to put the English language to its best possible use on live radio, Otto died in 1999, still hosting his “nighttime conference call of all interested parties” as many as six nights a week.
After “The Dukes of Hazzard” ended its seven-year run in 1985, Booke continued to act in guest starring roles on shows like “Newhart” and “Full House,” while also becoming quite prolific as a voice actor on animated children’s shows.
For his part, he never let the fame get to his head. After seven years of playing Boss Hogg on TV, Booke once told a reporter, “I’m not a jet-set type. I’m just an ordinary guy from Buffalo.”
More than 175,000 people packed into the Delaware Park Meadow for a 1948 WBEN/Buffalo Evening News July 4th Celebration featuring Bob Hope, who presented a $6000 check to Moir Tanner of the Children’s Hospital Endowment fund from the News Charity Fund.
WBEN announcer Gordon Redding is joined by engineer Edward Czech at the Buffalo Water Intake pier, reporting on how Buffalo gets its drinking water.
WBEN announcers Ed Wegman, Gordon Redding, Les Barry, Budd Tesch, Fred Keller, Woody Magnuson
Harry Webb came to Buffalo from Schenectady as a classical music announcer on the new WBEN-FM, and wound up spending 24 years on TV. Webb was Ch.4’s first newscaster, when the broadcast days began at 12 noon, and involved reading the latest edition of the Buffalo Evening News to an audience of several hundred. By the time Webb retired from newscasting in 1972, he had seen and been a part of the change of television from an indulgence of a few wealthy families to a modern global apparatus and definitive of disseminator information. Here, with technician Ed Huber, he records a show at the Buffalo Zoo.
WBEN announcers Don Cunningham, Ralph Hubbell, Jim Gardner, Harry Webb, Bill Weatherly
UB Roundtable, first presented on WBEN Radio and then on Ch.4, ran for nearly 40 years. This edition from the early 40s featured UB’s Dr. Earl McGrath, Dr. Harry Rockwell of the State Teachers College, Dr. Samuel Capen of UB, and Msgr. Timothy Coughlin of Canisius College.
After hosting “Listen While You Lunch” on WEBR right after the war, Tap Taplin was the host of WEBR’s early morning “T-N-T Show” in the early 50s. “Let him remind you about the time and temperature. There are news reports at 6, 7, 8, and 9 for information about the day’s events… and last, but not least, Tap plays your favorite recorded music.” Later, he spent time at WBNY.
Jack Eno first appeared at WEBR’s “Ye Olde Town Crier” in 1935. After some time at WGR-WKBW in the 40s, Eno returned to WEBR for a more-than 20-year run starting through the 50s into the 70s. In this shot, John Clark is playing the records for Eno in the control room.
WEBR’s daily Queen City Cinderella show, with announcer Gomer Lesch and emcee Clare Allen, awarding prizes to housewives and making one… Queen City Cinderella for the day.
Bob Wells came to WEBR in 1946 to create a music and dance show to help keep kids out of trouble. Hi-Teen became one of the most popular radio shows in Buffalo history, and Bob Wells one of the most beloved stars of radio and later TV.
WEBR morning man Chuck Cook enlists the help of Queen-O Beverages and a model to find “Buffalo’s Hottest Corner,” during a summer heat wave in 1949.
John Boothby was an announcer at WGR-WKBW in early 40s, and became WEBR’s wartime chief announcer while also working at the Curtiss-Wright plant.
Ed Little’s 62-year radio career included a stop at WBEN immediately following service in the war, and then a lengthy stay as one of WEBR’s top announcers, emcees, and disc jockeys.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The full text of the book is now online.
The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.
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