For 20 years, Sunday nights in many households across the country meant an episode of “Gunsmoke” before the late local news. For 19 of those years, a woman who attended Hamburg Junior High and Amherst Central was one of the stars of the show.
Long before Amanda Blake played Miss Kitty, the saloon-owning love interest of Marshall Matt Dillon from 1955-74, she grew up in Western New York.
Born at Millard Fillmore Hospital on Delaware Avenue, the young “Miss Kitty” began her elementary schooling at Kenmore’s Lindbergh Elementary, also living in Hamburg and Amherst until 1946, when her father’s job at Curtiss-Wright took the family to California.
A 1960 promotional trip was the actress’s first trip back to Western New York since moving out west—but it wasn’t her last. She stayed in regular contact with old friends and relatives, and visited several times—including to attend her 40th high school reunion– before her death in 1989.
Amanda Blake surrounded by her Gunsmoke co-stars, including a young Burt Reynolds, who played Deputy Quint Asper on the show for three seasons. Blake was on Gunsmoke for all but the final season of the show’s 20-year run.
Gene Barry starred as Bat Masterson for three years on NBC and Ch.2. On a promotional visit to Buffalo, he was interviewed by Helen Neville on WGR-TV and Dan Neaverth on WGR Radio.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
From a full-page ad on Ch.2’s first day of broadcasting in 1954, showing the hosts of some of the new station’s featured live audience programs:
1. Breakfast for Two with Helen Neville, Monday-Friday at 9am.
2. Cookin’ Cues with Charlotte McWhorter, weekdays, 1pm.
3. For M’Lady with Mari and Gilbert Bass from The Park Lane, Tue & Thur at 2:30pm
4. Mary Lawton as Mother Goose, Saturdays at 11am
5. Outdoors Inn with Ollie Howard, Tuesdays at 7pm
6. Dollar Derby with Bill Keaton, Wednesdays at 2:30pm
Even with UHF stations coming and going, there were no fewer than four competing interests who had applied to the FCC for the license to operate Ch.2. Several of those interests combined to form a new WGR Corporation, which was awarded the license in 1954.
“A bright new channel of television service and entertainment opens up for Buffalo and Western New York today as WGR-TV takes to the air on Channel 2,” reported the Evening News on August 14, 1954, with the sign-on of Buffalo’s second UHF station.
“Televiewing,” reported The Buffalo Evening News,” was now a “staple fare” in most homes along the Niagara Frontier. The cost of television sets had dropped precipitously since Ch.4’s 1948 sign-on, and having a second reliable station to watch was enough to make many holdouts into television owners.
Longtime Buffalo radio personality Billy Keaton welcomed viewers to the new station—which unlike the other two stations that had signed on the year before, every single one of the 430,000 TV sets in the Buffalo area could watch Ch.2 without a UHF converter box.
Longtime WGR Radio veteran Billy Keaton emceed the opening broadcast ceremonies on WGR-TV, Ch.2.
From a full-page ad that ran in the Courier-Express and The Evening News on the day Ch.2 signed on. Newsmen Roy Kerns and Pat Fagan as well as sportscasters Roger Baker and Bill Mazer were in the spotlight on nightly news and sports programs, and Ollie Howard brought his outdoors show from radio to TV as well.
Authoritative. Respected. Those were the types of adjectives thrown around when describing Roy Kerns, the anchor of Ch.2’s early newscasts for most of the station’s first decade on the air. “Mr. Kern’s polished presentation… is the enjoyable habit of many thousand Niagara Frontier viewers,” said a 1956 ad. Kerns left Buffalo for his native Oklahoma City in 1967.
NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were a heavily marketed part of WGR-TV’s news team, so much so that Brinkley visited Ch.2’s Barton Street studios to help dedicate a new set in 1964. Here, he’s joined by Chuck Poth.
Pat Fagan was a Ch.2 news anchor, as seen here in the early 60s, but he was also the host of the station’s Teen Dance Party. Fagan left Buffalo in the mid-60s for an ABC-TV staff announcer position. He began his career at WBNY in 1948. He also worked at WEBR and made appearances as an actor in Ch.4’s dramatic series “The Clue.”
Checkers & Can-Can was a kid’s show produced by Ch.2, airing mornings at 9:30. The actors behind the clown and the “tin-can man” were Philadelphia TV veterans Ed McDonnell, who had been Philly’s “Flying Sorcerer,” and Joe Earley who had played “Mr. Rivets” on WPTZ-TV Ch.3.
Fantasy Island General Manager Clyde Farnan played Buckskin Joe on a TV version of the park’s Wild West Show. He was joined by Marshall Rick, Annie Oakley, Little Bo Peep, and bad guys like Cactus Pete and Black Bart– played by Fantasy Island’s business manager Harvey Benatovich.
Bob Lawrence was one of the original cast of announcers when Ch.2 first signed on—his primary job until he left the station 13 years later was as a weatherman.
From the very beginning, however, he was one of the station’s kiddie show hosts, first as Captain Atom during the local breaks on the Colonel Bleep cartoon show, and then as Captain Bob during Popeye cartoons and The Mickey Mouse Club.
When the station first signed on, Ch.2’s signal was weak into the Southern Tier—so the station’s programming was also broadcast on Ch.6 in Jamestown. The problem was later fixed when Ch.2 moved its transmitter facility from Buffalo to the Town of Wales in southern Erie County.
Aside from entertaining the kids and hosting cartoons, Bob Lawrence was Ch.2’s lead weather personality through most of the station’s first decade.
From 1954 to 1968, Jack Mahl—with his pleasantly deep voice—was another of Ch.2’s weathermen. He would go on to anchor radio newscasts on WYSL, WEBR, and WBUF through the 70s and 80s. His rhyming TV sign-off became famous, as he said, “That’s all from Mahl” with a salute.
WGR-TV Atlantic Weatherman John Lascalles.
Helen Neville stands in the background as Polish dancers get ready to perform outside the Ch.2 studios on Barton Street.
“Bill Mazer is as good as there is in his chosen profession of reporting interestingly and enthusiastically, sports of all sorts.”
After a hitch in the army at the end of World War II, Mazer came to Buffalo in 1947, working first at WKBW and then WGR. During his 16 years in Buffalo, Mazer is best remembered in Buffalo for his long association with the baseball Bisons at Offermann Stadium, but he also called the action for the hockey Bisons and Canisius College basketball from the Aud, as well as Buffalo Bills football from the Rockpile during the All-America Football Conference days in the late 40s.
Along with Roger Baker, he was one of the WGR-TV’s original stable of sportscasters when the station signed on in 1954. In 1955, he also hosted the “Watch the Birdie” program, sponsored by Kaufman’s Rye Bread on Ch.2. As “Uncle Bill,” he made phone calls to kids, giving way prizes between Woody the Woodpecker cartoons.
Born in Ukraine, Mazer grew up in Brooklyn—and returned home to become a beloved New York City sports broadcasting fixture starting in 1964. He was also seen on network broadcasts for CBS and Fox, and played a role as a reporter in the epic 1980 film ‘Raging Bull.’
After leaving WEBR, Bob Wells joined the staff at WGR-TV to emcee a handful of popular shows. While Frank Dill was the orginal host of Pic A Polka, Wells hosted with bandleader Frank Wojnorowski for most of the show’s run.
Bob Wells also was the original host of Yankee Doodle Time when the show premiered on WGR-TV in 1961. It was the only television show hosted live five days a week in a Buffalo department store.
Jack Tapson was an editor and photographer, who knew– as it was unfolding– that he was watching something important unfolding in front of him daily.
He started at Ch.4 as a lover of photography and teen technician in the 1940s and moved onto Ch.2 where he started the news film department in the mid-1950s.
For decades, these jobs put him on the front lines of some of the really amazing things that were happening in what was then America’s 15th largest city, as well as behind the scenes at Buffalo’s big TV stations.
Over the period of several years, he shared his memories and photos with next-generation storytellers Marty Biniasz and Steve Cichon.
While The Buffalo Evening News did a tremendous job capturing the story of the WBEN stations in photos, Jack’s behind the scenes candid shots from the first 15 years of WGR-TV offer a look at the station which would have otherwise been lost to history. You’re enjoying many of these photos in this book because he cared enough to take pictures… and then cared enough to share them.
The WGR-TV mascots were a pair of mischievous elves named Iris and Earis, according to research done by Marty Biniasz for Forgotten Buffalo’s website. He reports they were first drawn by Ch.2 art director Frank Wahl as the station signed on.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
As Clint Buehlman celebrated 20 years as Buffalo’s top morning man in 1952, the team that would be a part of his show for the next 25 years was in place.
Western New Yorkers began waking up to the news of Jack Ogilvie in 1952. He’d been WBEN’s evening newscaster and a jack-of-all-trades at WJTN in Jamestown.
Buehly’s “Mr. Operator,” Tom Whalen (below) started on the early shift working the Buehlman show in 1948, arriving each day by 4:30 to make sure the studio was ready for Buffalo’s AM-MC when his show began at 6am.
Through most of the 1950s, Buehlman’s show was Buffalo’s most listened to radio program, surpassing even nighttime family shows like Jack Benny, Lux Radio Theater, Fibber McGee & Molly and Dragnet.
During the afternoon hours, WEBR’s Bob Wells was most popular, but his ratings didn’t even approach Buehlman’s.
That didn’t stop WEBR’s owner, The Buffalo Courier-Express, to run stories with headlines like one on 1952 exclaiming “Bob Wells’ WEBR Program Rated City’s Most Popular,” before explaining in the story that the show was “the most popular weekday radio show in Buffalo during the greater part of the afternoon.”
It’s bizarre because it was unnecessary. Even in the moment, Wells was one of the most beloved personalities in the history of Buffalo media as the host of the extraordinarily popular and generation-defining “Hi-Teen” program on WEBR.
Dancers pack the Dellwood Ballroom dance floor for a mid-50’s Hi-Teen broadcast.
Sammy Davis, Jr. signs autographs while Bob Wells looks on smiling after a performance on the Hi-Teen Show. The program was a known stop for many of the country’s top performing artists, who’d gladly give the kids a thrill on a Saturday afternoon before heading to a gig.
Hi-Teen one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the era nestled between the end of World War II and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Ch.2’s Rich Kellman during a late 1970s interview.
Toronto’s Bluebops on the Hi-Teen stage.
Hi-Teen ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.
Wells had been the Assistant Director of Music for Batavia Schools when WEBR General Manager Cy King asked him to produce a live show to help combat juvenile delinquency.
That was January, 1946— and America’s record hop was born with the first edition of Wells’ show. With the help of the Harold Austin Orchestra keeping the beat, Hi-Teen went on to serve as an inspiration for shows like American Bandstand. The tenth anniversary show, live from The Aud in 1956 attracted 10,000 teens to Memorial Auditorium.
After WEBR, Wells landed at WGR Radio and TV, hosting shows on Ch.2 like Pick-A-Polka, The Yankee Doodle Room (live from AM&A’s), and the Money Movie. Even after he was no longer a full-time on-air personality, he could still be seen doing weather on Ch.7’s weekend newscasts. He also spent more than 20 years as the radio and television voice of Your Host restaurants.
The stars that Wells missed during the day often wound up on Ed Little’s nighttime show on WEBR.
From boy actor to announcer to disc jockey to newsman, Ed Little’s 62-year radio career didn’t leave much undone.
Discovered by WEBR’s Al Zink as an actor in 1938 as a kid actor with a grown-up voice, Ed moved to announcing at WHLD and then WGR in 1942, eventually putting those skills to use for the US Army during World War II.
He’d fly along on bombing missions in the Pacific, recording live descriptions of what he was seeing to be played back over NBC on radios across America.
When he returned home from war, he joined the staff at WBEN, before moving over to WEBR in 1949.
Among other duties there, Ed was the host of a show that broadcast live from the Town Casino, with interviews and interactions with many of the day’s biggest stars, who’d stop by the booth to say hello.
In the 60s, he was the newsman on Joey Reynolds’ KB Radio show. In the 80s and 90s, his was one of the voices that distinguished WBEN as Buffalo’s home for radio news.
Ed’s was the last live voice broadcast from the Elmwood Avenue WBEN studios that were the station’s home from 1960-2000.
Buffalo lounge piano legend Jackie Jocko appeared regularly on WEBR in the early 1950s along with his partner drummer Joe Peters.
WEBR’s “Amanda” interviews an AM&A’s buyer on her midday shopping and fashion tips show at the WEBR-970 studios, 23 North Street, in 1951.
“Amanda” was actually Dorothy Shank, president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio & Television. She later worked in marketing for AM&A’s, had a show on Ch.4, and was a host on WJJL in Niagara Falls through the 1980s. She was 81 when she died in 1989.
Another piece of Western New York history in the photo: in the middle, between the microphone and the telephone, the 1950’s equivalent of a Tim Horton’s cup– a glass “to go” coffee cup/milk bottle from Buffalo’s ubiquitous Deco Restaurants (there were more than 50 Deco locations around WNY when they were most popular.)
Amanda with Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson.
Warren Michael Kelly, occasionally known as Warren Mike or Warren Kelly, was one of WGR’s top on-air talents during his two separate stints there in the 50s.
The Bennett High grad was a newsman at WBNY before serving in the Army during World War II.
After the war, he was Clint Buehlman’s newsman at WBEN and spent time in Detroit before coming back to Buffalo to host mornings on WGR. Later, he’d also be seen anchoring newscasts on Ch.2.
He moved on to management and sales, and was General Manager of WYSL and WPHD-FM.
Through the late 40s and early 50s, John Lascalles was WGR’s “Man About Midnight.” Nicknamed “Ol’Bones,” Lascalles would eventually move to mornings on WGR. He was also a familiar face in the early days of Ch.2, as one of the many “Atlantic Weathermen.” With the gas station as a sponsor, the man announcing the weather would wear the snappy uniform of an Atlantic gas station attendant while delivering the forecast.
Frank Dill spent a decade at WGR and Ch.2, from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. He was born in Williamsville, but grew up as a sports fanatic near Washington, DC. Like most of his WGR co-workers, Dill was seen and heard in a wide-ranging number of on-air jobs.
On the radio, he was a disc jockey and one of the play-by-play voices of the baseball Bisons. When Ch.2 first signed on, he was a part of the station’s original announcing staff as the host of “Sports Corner,” the game show “Tune-O,” and co-host of “Yankee Doodle” with Bob Wells.
Dill left Buffalo for San Francisco in 1963. When he retired after 34 years there, the paper called him “nice guy Frank Dill — an oasis of easygoing banter and chuckling good humor.”
WGR’s news men of the 1950s were widely talented beyond news.
Jack Mahl was born in Tonawanda and served in the Army during World War II. He came home to work at WKBW and WGR Radio, eventually spending time at Ch.2 as another of the The Atlantic Weathermen. Through the 70s and 80s, he could be heard up and down Buffalo’s radio dial reading news, most notably on WEBR.
David Getman spent a decade as a newsman and Special Events Director for WGR before moving on to public relations roles with the March of Dimes and Buffalo Mayor Chester Kowal.
Phil Soisson came to WGR from WBEN in 1952, and remained a steady news and sports voice on WGR through the 50s and 60s. He was the radio voice of the baseball and hockey Bisons, and anchored news and sports on Ch.2. He was also part of the original Sabres play-by-play team with Ted Darling in 1970.
John Gill started working in radio as an actor in dramas in 1937, and was on the news desk at WGR Radio and then WGR-TV through the 40s, 50s and 60s. He moved to WEBR, where he was one of the main voices of the news-centric 970 format of the late 70s.
Gill was a newsman’s newsman. “In 20 years of news reporting for WGR,” he said in 1958, “you learn that an analysis of news is vitally important. To paraphrase, every fire isn’t a conflagration, nor is every storm a holocaust. It’s the highly experienced men on our news staff that accurately describe the news when and as it actually happens.”
John Otto would join WGR’s news team in the mid ‘50s, after starting as a newsman and disc jockey at WBNY in 1951. He, by the way, was another Atlantic Weatherman.
Otto stands for a promo shoot on the roof of the Lafayette Hotel.
“Helen Neville possesses one of those rare personalities that sparkles with friendliness and enthusiasm. She has friends and devotees from practically every walk of life.”
Neville’s broadcasting career began at WGR & WKBW in 1943, and was heard through the 1940s on WKBW’s “Modern Kitchen.”
Through the 50s, she regularly broadcast on WGR from her home at 1119 Delaware Avenue, interviewing people about the civic and social happenings around Buffalo.
On Ch.2, she hosted “Two For Lunch” (which later became “Two For Breakfast” when the time slot changed) for the first six years the station was on the air, 1954-1960.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon