Among the Election Day 1960 races being covered closely by Carl Erickson on Ch.4 were between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy for President as well as Edward Rath and Chester Gorski for Erie County Executive.
Erickson came to WBEN in 1948, and was the newsman on Clint Buehlman’s show.
He spent most of the 50s and 60s as Chief Announcer for WBEN Radio.
A new era in broadcasting was ushered in 1960 when WBEN opened its new studios on Elmwood Avenue. WBEN AM-FM-TV had outgrown the studios it had called home on the 18th floor of the Statler Hotel since 1930.
The Buffalo Evening News stations bought the former WBUF-TV studios, which had been built by NBC only a few years earlier, and added more studio space and an office building to the complex.
Bill & Mildred Miller show off the stove in their new studio, 1960
Clint Buehlman, operator Tom Whalen, and engineer Earnest Roy— who started with the station before it even went on the air in 1930– are shown in the new, far more spacious radio studios.
WBEN announcers Carl Erickson and Jack Ogilvie are seated as Mike Mearian leans on the piano of Norm Wullen, 1960.
WBEN executives George Torge, Alfred Kirchhofer, station owner Kate Butler, James Righter, and C. Robert Thompson inspect the new WBEN-TV control room. The $1.5 million building was heralded as the “most modern broadcasting center in the nation.” The final broadcast from the Statler was Jan. 10, 1960.
After WNED-TV left for the Lafayette Hotel, the studios for WGR Radio were in the building behind WBEN’s studios in the late 50s and early 60s.
It’s incredible to think that when Van Miller started calling the play-by-play for the brand-new Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1960, he was better known as Ch.4’s 11pm news and weather announcer than a sports broadcaster. Through two AFL straight championships, four straight Super Bowls, and two stadiums, Van’s sense of the game and amplified level of excitement became the filter through which football-loving Buffalo took their love to the next level. He’d call every game during the NBA Buffalo Braves’ stay in the city and work as Ch.4’s primary sportscaster for more than 30 years. “Do you believe it?” he’d ask, as fandemonium went into overdrive, imploring “fasten your seatbelts!” until retiring as the Voice of the Bills after 37 years in 2003.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
His lasting fame might be as the Memorial Auditorium organist for the Sabres and the Braves, but that was Norm Wullen’s retirement job– after spending decades as one of Buffalo’s highest profile radio and TV organ and piano men.
Norm Wullen plays as the show goes on, on Ch.4
He grew up on Buffalo’s East Side as the son of a piano tuner. His music career started just after World War I at the age of 15, behind a drum kit on the Crystal Beach boat. He soon moved on to piano, playing over the silent movies at the old Shea’s Court Street Theater. From there, he could be heard as the organ backdrop for the vaudeville circuit at the 20th Century and Shea’s Hippodrome theaters, appearing through the years with Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen.
Teamed with his brother Charley, he gained his first radio plaudits on WBEN in 1934. “The Wullen Brothers” act was a dueling piano team.
Norm replaced Bobby Nicholson as WBEN’s staff organist in the 1940s, and was constantly heard on WBEN and seen on Ch.4. On TV, he accompanied Rollie Huff, and later Dick Rifenburg, as they did their morning exercises.
On the radio he was a fixture on the live midday “breakfast” shows that broadcast live from the restaurants and tea rooms of department stores and hotels like the Yankee Doodle Room at AM&A’s, the Turf Room at the Sheraton, and the Grover Cleveland Room at the Statler.
Dick Rifenburg, John Corbett, & Norm Wullen
By the end of the 1950s, Norm and staff musicians at all the local radio and TV stations were being squeezed out by a change in musical taste, but while he was still playing, Wullen took his task of “setting the mood” for housewives during their morning coffee break very seriously.
“I deplore rock ‘n’ roll,” said Wullen in 1957, “not because it’s riding a crest of popularity, but because it lacks any real melody.”
The News called Wullen “the flower of WBEN’s Musical world,” even as Top 40 began to take a strangle hold of Buffalo radio.
“Radio listeners dialing about in search of good music these weekday mornings have been finding their quest satisfied by nothing more tried-and-true than harmonious organ music,” said Wullen.
Even as times changed, Wullen and crew evolved. A little, anyway.
Like the time in 1962, toward the end of the Breakfast Show’s run that host John Corbett called out for “a little Twist music.”
Wullen was ready. It wasn’t Chubby Checker, but Norm’s musical meanderings fit the bill, “bouncing out pleasant notes,” if not a Twist.
Along with fellow radio pioneer Elvera Ruppel, Norm Wullen was also a Buffalo television pioneer, playing piano and accompanying the soprano on the “Miss Melody” show, Thursdays through the late 40s and early 50s on WBEN-TV.
Elvera Ruppel and Norm Wullen on Ch.4 in the early 1950s.
Ruppel sang at Shea’s Buffalo with the BPO, with those concerts frequently sent out around the country on the various radio networks. She was a regular star of the musical programs with pianist Al Erisman on WMAK Radio through the 1920s, and as a favorite of WGR musical director David Cheskin, her voice was heard frequently on Buffalo radio through the 30s and 40s as well.
Her most critically acclaimed moments in the spotlight came when she was half of “Buffalo’s Radio Sweetheart” team, as partnered with Smiling Bob Smith—later of Howdy Doody fame—on WGR.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
It was vestige of the Vaudeville days—wives and husbands as co-emcees on radio and television, usually hosting otherwise normal shows, only with a special kind of schtick to fall back on.
The successful and beloved team of George Burns and Gracie Allen, the married stars of one of radio’s most successful network programs from 1936-50, was all the blueprint local radio programmers needed.
Billy and Reggie Keaton were among the earliest married teams on Buffalo radio starting in the mid-40s, but soon they weren’t alone.
When Budd Hulick– half of the sensational Stoopnagle & Budd comedy team of the 1930s—returned to Western New York radio in the late 40s, he was joined by his wife, Helen. They first appeared on WHLD in her native Niagara Falls, before moving to WKBW for a few years on the “Mr. & Mrs.” show. They moved south in the mid-50s, hosting a show on WPTV Ch.5 in Palm Beach starting in 1956.
The Hulicks chat with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz on a press trip to Buffalo.
Mary Jane and Seymour Abeles hosted “The Shopper’s Guide” on Ch.4.
Both Buffalo natives, Mary Jane was billed as Buffalo’s “first and only” female disc jockey during the war years on WGR, and Seymour was a longtime radio actor on all the stations in Buffalo—and received a Bronze star and Purple Heart in the Pacific during World War II.
Bernie and Norma Jean Sandler were well-known for hosting programs showcasing the talents of young people. Future radio stars Danny Neaverth, Tommy Shannon, and Joey Reynolds were all guest teen deejays on Sandler’s “The Young Crowd” on WEBR.
Bernie Sandler was a teenaged bandleader while still at Bennett High School, playing gigs at The Colvin Gables and the Glen Casino. After serving in North Africa and Italy during World War II, Sandler moved to radio—first at WBTA in Batavia and then Buffalo’s WEBR–where he’d replace Ed Little as the emcee of the Town Casino show in 1953—before moving onto WBEN AM-FM-TV in 1959.
After Bernie had gone to work full-time in marketing for the Iroqouis Brewery and Norma Jane was the director of the Studio Arena School of Theater, the couple hosted “The Sandler Style” on WADV-FM starting in 1969. They were also trusted spokespeople thought the years, often seen together in TV commercials for everything from applesauce to carpets. At the time he died in 1992, Bernie was still on the air weekly at WECK, playing big band music over the radio for the same folks who danced to his live band performances 50 years earlier.
Buffalo’s best remembered husband and wife started a 21-year run on Ch.4 on Jan. 17, 1950, with a little cooking, a couple interviews, and a lot of bickering.
“Meet the Millers” with Bill and Mildred Miller was a Buffalo television staple, weekday afternoons for more than two decades.
The program was a melding of the couple’s skills. They’d spent more than 20 years entertaining together on the Vaudeville circuit. He was a dancer — even once on Broadway – and she was his piano playing accompanist.
They retired from stage work to Buffalo for health reasons, opening a turkey farm in the Town of Colden—only to answer the call to TV after a handful of very successful cooking segments around Thanksgiving time in 1949.
From the onset, “Meet the Millers” was nominally about “using economy in preparing food,” but housewives tuning in around Western New York were just as likely to be entertained by the sometimes-hostile relationship between Bill and Mildred and Mildred’s tendency to put Bill in his place regularly. For better or worse, they were Western New York’s quintessential quibbling couple.
The show grew to include interview segments which aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with cooking segments on Tuesday and Thursday.
The big-name stars who came through Buffalo stayed at the Statler, and that’s where Bill and Mildred did their show through the 1950s.
Stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Bennett were guests through the years.
Starting with their first summer on the air, the Millers made bringing Western New York’s agricultural fairs to TV viewers a priority.
As the owners of a 350-acre farm, and Bill’s role as past president of the state turkey growers’ association, the Millers became closely associated especially with the Erie County Fair, from which their show was broadcast live every year.
The Millers were in the inaugural class of the Erie County Fair Hall of Fame in 1989.
After the couple retired from television, Bill was elected Colden supervisor and served through the early 1980s.
The couple moved to Florida, where they passed away in the early 1990s.
Bill and Mildred didn’t necessarily cook all the food they showed on TV, and they certainly didn’t do the dishes—most of the real kitchen work was done by women like Margaret Teasley, seen here offering some of the shows leftovers to the “Meet the Millers” crew, including Producer Bernie Ross, cameraman Art Lester, floorman Bud Hagmann and studio supervisor Gene Klumpp.
“Rising enthusiasm in FM listening throughout Western New York is expected to continue in 1952,” started a story in The Buffalo Evening News. Although WBEN first started experimenting with FM on W8XH in 1934, WBEN-FM was Buffalo’s first frequency modulation station when it signed on in 1946. Other FM stations signed on the air quickly, and by 1950, there were plenty of choices on the FM dial—although programming was slow to develop for the much clearer sounding band.
It wouldn’t be until the late 60s and beyond when many of these still-familiar frequencies would come into their own with programming beyond “whatever was left over” from AM sister stations.
WBEN-FM changed frequencies from 106.5FM to 102.5FM in 1958 so that the station could increase its power.
The Four Quarters were regular entertainers on WBEN-TV. Bass player Bassie Atkinson was the only Buffalonian—a Central High grad. Kenneth Strother was on piano; Reggie Willis, guitar; and Eddie Inge, clarinet.
Akron’s Miller Bros. Band, shown with Ted Mack as contestants on the Original Amateur Hour, a network program which aired on Ch.4.
Marion Roberts was the hostess of Ch. 4’s Plain & Fancy Cooking weekday mornings through much of the 1950s. Her “timely tips make homemaking easier and cooking more exciting,” according to a 1955 ad. Ch.4’s mid-50s weekday local lineup included Roberts, John Corbett, and Mildred & Bill Miller, all with shows aimed at the housewife.
He came to Buffalo as Ch.4 first signed on— and over the next 30 years, there weren’t many radio & TV personalities who saw more airtime than WBEN’s John Corbett.
Through the 1950s, he was hosting 11 weekly radio shows and was Ch.4’s “Speaker of the House” host weekdays at 12:15pm. Through the 60s and 70s, his duties turned more to news, and in the early 70s, was one of the most seen faces of TV news in Buffalo.
His contract was left to expire in 1977. He was approached about running for mayor, and even considered it— but ultimately did not, and instead, that election saw James D. Griffin begin his four-term stretch in Buffalo’s City Hall.
Celebrating the fifth anniversary of WBEN’s Breakfast at the Sheraton with engineer Peter Koelemeyer, organist Nelson Shelby, producer Gene Brook (who also played “Grumbles the Elf” on the Santa show), baritone Harry Schad, and emcees John Corbett and Ed Dinsmore in 1954.
Four years later, John Corbett and Dick Rifenburg celebrate the show’s anniversary.
In 1959, the Sheraton Gang included organist Norm Wullen, Dick Rifenburg, and John Corbett.
By the following year, the Sheraton breakfast show had given way to The Statler Luncheon Club, in the hotel’s Grover Cleveland Room. Virgil Booth and Mike Mearian were the hosts.
Ed Dinsmore was everywhere on Ch.4 in the station’s earliest days, as one of the station’s primary newscasters, playing Santa on the Santa show, and host of Breakfast at Sheraton on the radio. Dinsmore might have been Buffalo’s most familiar local TV face when he died suddenly in 1954.
Ed Dinsmore (left) and crew get ready for a newscast from the Statler studios of Ch.4, 1954.
Van Miller joined the staff at WBEN-TV as a summer relief announcer in 1955, and didn’t leave for 43 years. In this mid-50s shot, Van is anchoring the news while Chuck Healy anchors sports. The pair would play the opposite roles on the same newscast together through much of the following decade.
The first Buffalo scientist to talk meteorology regularly on Buffalo TV was Buffalo Weather Bureau Chief Barney Wiggin.
“Weather with Wiggin” ran Monday evenings in the early 1950s on Ch.4.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Buffalo, NY – He was so understated, you didn’t miss him until he was gone.
But there’s no doubt I’m not the only one who can’t help myself when I’m in an echoey room– I have to break loose with a Milt Ellis tribute.
1st Buffalo Goal, his second of the season, scored by number 20 Brent Peterson. assists to number number 7 Dale McCourt, and number 23 Hannu Virta. Peterson, from McCourt and Virta. Time of the Goal, 13:22.
Every Buffalo hockey fan past a certain age has a Milt Ellis impression, whether they know it or not. Milt is a Buffalo institution– although he’d be the last one to say so. He’s the most humble, sincere, honest man you’ll ever meet.
Milt’s Memorial Auditorium public address career started with the AHL Hockey Bisons in the mid-60s. His friend Stan Barron was the PR man for the Bisons, and they needed a new PA announcer. Stan called Milt and Milt continued to be the voice of goals, penalties, and New York State Smoking Regulations until 1997 (yes, he worked for two years in the then-Marine Midland Arena.)
A hockey fan long before the Sabres skated into Buffalo, Milt has always held a place in his heart for the Leafs. When he was growing up, he could get the Leafs games on the radio and TV. Though he’ll tell you he really doesn’t consider himself having a “style,” has has said that he’s always admired the work of longtime Leafs PA Announcer Paul Morris.
The Milt Ellis Jukebox is filled with Milt’s Public Address announcements, as well as other ephemeral sound from a night at The Aud.
Many will remember Milt introducing “The National Anthem, with Tenor Joe Byron and organist Norm Wullen.”
Selections from both men are programmed into the jukebox… Also included are a full length interview Mike Schopp conducted with Milt at WNSA Radio in 2001, and a portion of a show from WDCX– The Christian Station that was Milt’s “Day Job” the entire time he was the Sabres PA announcer.
Also a brief clip from one of the men Milt looked up to as a PA Announcer… The Voice of Maple Gardens, longtime Toronto PA man Paul Morris.