Our week long look at the women who had pioneering roles in Buffalo radio and TV continues, with a look at the first women of television news in Buffalo.
From the earliest days, there were relatively few women on Buffalo TV– and even fewer in what we’d now consider journalism roles.
In 1962, the Courier-Express reported that WKBW Radio publicist Joan Marshall was about to become Buffalo’s first “lady newscaster” on TV. Doris Jones did the weather on Channel 2.
The first stand-out woman on the air with real news chops was the late Liz Dribben on Channel 7.
She’d anchor morning newscasts before co-hosting Dialing for Dollars with Nolan Johannes. She left Buffalo and became a CBS News writer and producer, working with Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite among others.
Channel 2’s Susan King was Buffalo’s first full-time woman journalist on TV when she joined the Ron Hunter Report in 1972. She anchored the 6 o’clock news after Hunter left, and before Rich Kellman arrived. She’s now the dean of the UNC School of Journalism.
When King moved on from Buffalo, she was followed by Shelia Murphy at Channel 2, who co-anchored with Kellman before moving onto politics.
Carol Crissey (later Jasen) broke the 31 year streak of men on the Channel 4 anchor desk when she anchored with John Beard and then Bob Koop. Carol joined Marie Rice who had started at 4 two years earlier as a tough street-reporting journalist at Channel 4.
Carol Jasen was at WIVB for 23 years, Marie Rice 27 years.
Susan Banks began her Buffalo career on Eyewitness News in 1977. She’d go on to anchor at Channel 2 and Channel 7 before retiring from TV news 29 years later.
These ladies are just a few of the pioneering women of Television journalism in Buffalo.
Through the 1980s and ’90s, there were dozens of featured news anchors on Channel 2, but two of the most popular remain Rich Kellman and Laurie Lisowski. They were paired on the anchor desk at 5 p.m. in 1990.
Buffalo News archives
While Channel 2 was nearly wall-to-wall in the third-place news basement during Rich Kellman’s 32 years at the station, he was always a bright spot as ownership and other on air faces changed.
A reporter’s reporter with a slew of Emmy statues weighing down his mantle, Kellman’s strengths have always been in showing empathy without being sappy, being sensitive while still getting answers, and just being a human, friendly person in a medium where that can’t be taken for granted.
In her seven years at WGRZ, Lisowski was paired with no fewer than five co-anchors. She came to Channel 2 in 1989 after weekend duty at Channel 7, and within a year was replacing Alison Rosati as the station’s primary female anchor, on the desk for the 5 p.m. news with Kellman and the 11 p.m. news with Don Postles.
News critic Jeff Simon called her short-lived pairing with Nick Clooney as good as the best in Buffalo TV news history. The father of George and brother of Rosemary, Clooney was only in Buffalo for four months in 1994 before he left for a job with cable TV’s American Movie Classics channel. Lisowski also worked alongside Ed Caldwell and Marty Aarons taking turns reading the WGRZ TelePrompTer.
Since leaving the anchor chair in 1996, Lisowski has appeared as a spokesperson for a handful of local businesses — but most visibly for Frey Electric, her husband’s family company.
With a smile and personality more reminiscent of a Vaudeville comedian than a meteorologist, Barry Lillis’ ceaseless efforts to make Buffalo smile while offering the forecast through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s have made him one of Western New York’s most loved all-time television personalities.
Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Lillis grabbed his first broadcasting gig at WGGO Radio in Salamanca in 1963. After spending a decade all around the TV dial and all around the country as a weather anchor and children’s show host, he came back to Buffalo and WGR-TV in 1976 as the weather anchor alongside newsman Rich Kellman and Ed Kilgore on sports.
Barry left Channel 2 in 1981 for Pittsburgh, but two years later, he was back and hosting the cult classic all-night movie show “Barry’s Cat’s Pajamas.”
Had he just spent parts of three decades as Buffalo’s favorite weather goofball, it likely would have been enough. But what really endeared us was his heart—tearfully on display in the raw, as he became synonymous with Channel 2’s Muscular Dystrophy and Kids Escaping Drugs telethons.
Since leaving Channel 2 in 1996, Barry has run for Pomfret town justice, was ordained as an Orthodox Catholic priest, and has opened a wedding chapel helping hundreds through their wedding vows.
He’s also helped hundreds through addiction. Lillis marked Dec. 21, 1984, as the day he began his own recovery from alcoholism.
In 2014, Barry moved Western New York’s hearts again as he made public his battle with late-stage cancer.
From the BuffaloStories.com archives, this is a 1976 Barry Lillis weather forecast, taking you around foggy downtown Buffalo and out to the airport, offering up a healthy serving of Barry’s standard zaniness as well. Rich Kellman is at the Channel 2 newsdesk.
Believe it or not, a job in broadcasting is not too much different that any other job. We all punch a clock, putting in our 8 or 9 hours a day… and hope we’ve accomplished something at the end of it all. Most of us talk into a camera or microphone without much recognition or many accolades; many never fully comprehending the impact that we’ve had on so many. That’s where the Buffalo Broadcasters come in.
The Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame event is not only a chance to mark for history the great achievements and pop cultural impact of some the Queen City’s favorite Radio and TV contributors… It’s also a chance to let the best of the best know how much they are appreciated by both their industry and the public.
I was once in the home of the late Jack Mahl, who spent 50 years on Buffalo Radio and Television. The only sign of that incredible run as a broadcaster was his proudly displayed Hall of Fame Award, an award the 6-foot-eight Mahl nearly broke down in tears accepting. One of this year’s honorees wrote, “Buffalo Bob Smith, Irv Weinstein, Joey Reynolds, and now me. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.” Not dreaming, only taking your rightful place among Buffalo’s Greatest.
After nearly a decade honoring nearly 60 people with induction into our Hall of Fame, we relish that we’re able to celebrate the history of Radio and Television, and at the same time, say Job Well Done to those who richly deserve it… Those who have told us the news that has impacted our lives, told us what the score was, told us whether to grab an umbrella, and even played a little music to make that long car trip to Auntie’s house a little more enjoyable.
For 31 years (and ticking), Rich Kellman has maintained the bar for not only journalistic excellence, but also for humanity, sensitivity, and empathy in reporting.
Kellman’s long list of professional awards includes Emmys, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and Associated Press Awards in Individual, Investigative, and Feature Reporting. He’s also met Popes and Presidents. While those professional milestones alone would likely make Rich a candidate worthy of the Hall of Fame, it’s his knack to connect with people, and his sheer joy in telling their stories that makes him that much more special.
Since 1974, Rich has been the constant Channel 2, and no matter the cast around him, has always left viewers with the feeling “Someone in that little box really cares for me.” And the best part about Rich Kellman is… That he really does.
The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers was founded in 1995, and we still have a lot of catching up to do. The Golden Age Award is reserved for the pioneers in the truest sense of the word: Those who did it first, the people who had no pattern to follow, no lead blocker. These folks blazed the trail, and set an example for future generations to follow.
Like many of radio’s pioneers, Billy Keaton‘s foray into the medium came in the pre-war days when he adapted his Vaudeville routine into the highly popular “Stuff and Nonsense” program on WGR Radio. His success turned a temporary Buffalo assignment permanent. After the war, Billy’s wife Reggie joined the act, and the two hosted the “Mr. and Mrs. Show” for a decade.
While the Keatons’ voices were familiar throughout the ’40s and ’50s, their faces were soon popular as well. As a long time WGR Radio fan favorite, Billy was the natural choice to welcome the first viewers to WGR-TV in 1954. Billy and Reggie also hosted several Cable TV talk shows through the years, leaving a legacy of 55 years of entertaining Western New York. Billy Keaton passed away in 1976, Reggie 19 years later in 1995.
It takes more than just a pretty face or golden voice to put on a radio or television program, and with the Behind the Scenes Award, the BBP celebrates the folks who are the guts of any broadcast: The directors, producers, photographers, writers, engineers… All the often nameless, faceless people on “the other side of the glass.”
Several generations of Buffalonians grew up with the rock’n roll music and fun of WKBW Radio. From 1958 to 1988, one man had his hand on the rudder of the production sound that allowed KB to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Al Lafler‘s interest in radio began when he served in World War II as a Navy sonar man. After a few years around the dial, Al knocked on the door at KB and was hired on the spot. He spent then next thirty years as an engineer and production man at the station.
It was partially his credo, “Good enough isn’t good enough,” that gave KB such a great sound over the years… But it was also his warmth and kindness that allowed him to enforce that credo without ruffling the sometimes delicate sensibilities of some of Buffalo’s biggest radio stars. It all made for a backbone that allowed the stations personalities shine even brighter.
The Goodyear Award is named in honor of George Goodyear, the Buffalo philanthropist who co-founded WGR-TV, and is awarded each year to those in Broadcasting’s front office who have made a career of advancing the ideals of the BBP.
Bill McKibben spent a career as a trailblazer. As General Manager at WGR Radio in the mid 60’s, he helped develop the city’s first news/talk format, a quarter century before talk would revolutionize AM Radio. When he and some investors purchased WEBR Radio in the 70s, they put Buffalo’s First Oldies Format on the air… Again a decade before a full-time Oldies became widely accepted.
Between assignments at WGR and WEBR, McKibben modernized the WBEN properties… Both Radio and Channel 4. While the Buffalo Evening News had been a pioneer in putting the stations on the air, they hadn’t done much by the mid-60’s to compete in the market. McKibben brought in viewer and listener research, and helped turn around a franchise that was on the precipice of abyss. It was Bill’s idea, for example, to move Chuck Healy to the news desk from sports, which helped ratings soar.
Known as a tough management negotiator despite having grown up in a union home, most who worked with Bill agree that he always made every attempt to hire the best, and then let them do their job unfettered.
Buffalo Bob Smith began his broadcasting career in his hometown of Buffalo, but of course gained worldwide fame as the human friend of America’s favorite puppet, Howdy Doody. Despite his international celebrity, Bob never forgot his hometown, and even adopted it as a part of his name. Each year The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers honor a broadcaster who has made his or her mark away from the Niagara Frontier, but is a Buffalonian at heart.
Since 1964, when he was traded to the Bills, Paul Maguire has been a Buffalonian. Since his retirement from football in 1970, Maguire has used his suburban Buffalo home as the home base for a sports broadcasting career that is incredible if only based on its 35 year longevity.
The fact that he never softens the edges, added to his feistiness and humor have always meant that his Color Commentary has certainly offers more “color” than any other Analyst in football. A “lunch bucket” player and a “lunch bucket” broadcaster has made “lunch bucket” Buffalo proud to call him “One of us” for over 40 years.
A smart, interesting friend on the radio. In that regard, Jim Santella is like many other great disc jockeys over the years… He’s someone who has transcended the microphone and speaker to make the listener feel like they were having a real conversation.
What continues to set Jim apart is his soft-spoken approach mixed with a strong, yet somehow universally appealing, sense of social awareness. As the voice and leader of Progressive radio in Buffalo for parts of three decades at stations like WYSL-FM, WPHD-FM, WGRQ-FM, WZIR-FM, and WUWU-FM, Santella lead the rebellion against playlist conformity and management meddling. It more than once forced him up or down the dial, but people followed.
Agree with him or not; like the music or not, a certain magnetism draws you in to a Santella broadcast. It was a style that helped shape, and continues to shape, the sound of FM radio in Buffalo.
We always welcome new members to the Buffalo Broadcasters. It’s our mission to preserve and promote Western New York’s rich TV and radio history, and to salute and bring attention to quality broadcasting of today. Membership is $30, and anyone with a passion for broadcasting can join as a member. It’s just as easy to join us in celebrating this year’s honorees.
Tickets to our Hall of Fame event are available to general public at $50 per person, and $40 for members. Send your ticket order or membership request with payment to:
The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers
5672 Main Street
Williamsville, NY 14221
Steve Cichon is a Past President of the Buffalo Broadcasters, and currently serves on the group’s Board of Directors. He’s also a news anchor and reporter for WBEN Radio, and is webmaster at staffannouncer.com, a website celebrating broadcasting history.