Broadcasting live from the Erie County Fair is a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of TV in Buffalo, and Meet the Millers—starring turkey farmers Bill and Mildred Miller—were regulars at the fair all through the 50s and 60s. They’re shown here with another Ch.4 personality ready to broadcast live from Hamburg—John Corbett (left).
WKBW-TV’s broadcast license renewal was held up in the early 60s for a lack of quality local programming, but fans of campy old monster movies didn’t mind. Films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman were regular fare on Ch.7—and a generation later helped spark Off Beat Cinema’s quirky tribute to the genre on the station.
In 1968, WGR-TV’s new news team included George Redpath, Pat Fagan, Doris Jones, and Frank Benny.
By the end of the 60s, WGR-TV’s anchor team had changed again—this time with Henry Marcotte (above) with news, Mike Nolan (below) with sports, and Frank Benny—who had been on the sports desk—moved over to the weather map. Marcotte didn’t hide his conservative views– which made him the target of protesting UB students and striking NABET members who watched him cross their picket lines. Replaced by Ron Hunter, Marcotte went on to work as an editorial writer and booth announcer for NBC in New York City.
Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, R&B singer Ruth McFadden, actress Barbara Anderson, “You Asked for It” host Jack Smith, and telethon chairman Michael Allis in the Ch.7 studios.
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller visits with Irv Weinstein at Ch.7’s Main Street studios.
The media gathers for Jack Kemp’s 1969 announcement that he’s retiring from football and running for Congress. That’s Ch.4’s Ray Finch, Ch.4’s Paul Maze, Ch.7’s Sam Brunetta with handheld camera, Ch.4’s Virgil Booth, Larry Felser, Ch.4’s Len Johnson on audio, Ch.7’s John Winston, Ch.4’s Van Miller, Jack Kemp, and Ch.7’s Rick Azar.
Ch.4 photojournalist Bill Cantwell got mixed up in the action covering Buffalo’s civil rights protests of 1967. Cantwell was best known over his long career for his serene nature shots used during Ch.4’s weather segments.
TV news gathering and video recording technology rapidly evolved in the 60s. News editor John Kreiger (left) is writing copy from film shot by Mike Mombrea, Sr. (right) and edited by Quint Renner (center). Mombrea spent 32 years as a photojournalist at Ch.4, starting as a true pioneer—a TV news cameraman in the days when TV was just starting. It was through Mike’s viewfinder that Western New York witnessed the Attica Prison uprising, the installation of Pope John Paul II, and somewhere north of one million feet of news film capturing the day-to-day happenings of Western New York.
Recording video tape in the field for news purposes was still a decade away, but by Ch.4’s 20th anniversary in 1968, the station had three color video tape machines.
Engineers Frank Maser, Ralph Voigt, and Edgar Steeb with VTRs.
In 1969, WBEN-TV revamped its news format, calling their newscasts “First Team News.”
A deluge of print ads showed the team in action, including news anchor Chuck Healy, reporting from the dewatered Niagara Falls alongside the WBEN-TV News mobile unit, Van Miller from Bills practice with– among others– Number 40 Ed Rutkowski looking on, and weather man Ken Philips in studio in front of his maps.
WBEN also very heavily promoted the broadcasts of Buffalo Bills Football with Van Miller, Stan Barron, and Dick Rifenburg.In the booth at the Rockpile: Linda Arnold, Herm Brunotte, Willard Fredericks, Jim Georgeson, Bruce Wexler. Murray Wilkinson, Dick Rifenburg, Stan Barron, Van Miller, Tony Vacanti
The WBEN Bills Team: Bruce Wexler, Dr. Ed Gicewicz, Art Graff, Dick Rifenburg, Ray Sinclair, Willard Fredericks, Van Miller, Jim Georgeson, Stan Barron, Bob Werner, Linda Arnold, Herm Brunotte, and Tony Vacanti
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Irv Weinstein used to joke that Ch.7 was the fourth station in a three-station market when he began anchoring the news there in 1964.
For most of the station’s early years, there were ABC network shows and lots of old movies—and legally, not enough of anything else. In 1963, the FCC withheld the station’s license renewal request “pending additional information on local, live programing” on the station.
It took a few years for the Eyewitness News approach to catch on and become number one in Buffalo, but even as early as Irv’s first year at Ch.7 and a year before Tom Jolls would come over from Ch.4– the approach of dispatching news cameras to every corner of the city was gaining traction in an era where the other stations in the market were comfortable with a news anchor reading into a camera with no video or graphic accompaniment.
“They can hear about it on the other channels,” said Ch.7 General Manager Robert King, “but they see it on Ch.7.”
Irv Weinstein with Bill Gregory. When Irv first came to Ch.7, they co-anchored the news.
Irv Weinstein led the team that informed and entertained generations of Buffalonians with his unmistakable style in writing and delivering the news. Together with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, Irv was a part of the longest running TV anchor team in history, and their story is the story of Buffalo over the last half century.
WKBW-TV Ch.7 signed on in 1958, 10 years after Ch.4, and four years after Ch.2, and the new station had a hard time gaining traction.
“The ratings at Ch.7 were worse than the signoff test patterns on Ch.4 and Ch.2,” said Weinstein.
When Weinstein left WKBW Radio to join Ch.7 alongside Rick Azar in 1964, the evening newscast went on the air at 7:20pm to avoid competition from the other stations’ 6 p.m. newscasts.
A few years later, Tom Jolls joined the crew, and the Irv, Rick and Tom team that dominated Buffalo TV news in the ’70s and ’80s was complete.
The three men, plus addition of more local newsfilm, better tight writing and a display of personality and human interaction unseen before on local TV made Ch.7 — and Irv Weinstein — No. 1 in the market, virtually uninterrupted, from the late 1960s through Irv’s retirement in 1998.
“Basically, the other stations’ approach was very conservative, you know, the globe on the desk and the clocks in the background and the mature, deep-voiced guy sitting there,” explained Irv. “We were aggressive, we were razzle-dazzle. We covered every fire there was because it looked great.”
Irv also credited the styles and personalities of the three men — and the mix of those personalities — with the larger success of “Eyewitness News” during those years.
Tom Jolls, 1964
“You had Tom, every mother’s son; the flag, and apple pie, and all of those things that make for a fine American,” said 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,” said Weinstein. “Solid professional, knowledgeable, debonair, good looking guy. Very smooth, Mr. Smooth, the Latin Lover.”
And rounding out the trio?
“Me? I’m an ethnic type,” Irv said of himself. “Definitely an ethnic type. I felt very proud of the fact in a heavily Catholic, heavily Polish town, this Jewish kid was accepted.”
“Accepted” is an understatement. Irv Weinstein is remembered as one of — if not the — greatest personalities in the history of Buffalo television.
He got his start in radio as a child actor growing up in Rochester in the 1940s. After working in various radio and TV jobs, he wound up as a newsman at WKBW Radio in Buffalo. There, he became the news director and was instrumental in the rock ’n’ roll style newscasts that matched the music KB was playing in the late 50s and early 60s.
It was at KB Radio where Irv perfected the ra-ta-tat-tat staccato delivery style that he’d be remembered for; it’s also where he developed the sharp writing style, filled with alliteration and bigger-than-life phraseology that was the engine for that delivery.
There were no firemen tamping down a house fire. “Buffalo fire eaters” “battled spectacular blazes.” “Death was waiting along the side of the road” for someone struck and killed by a car. A teenage hold-up man was a “knife-wielding delinquent,” if he wasn’t a “pistol-packing punk.”
After leaving WKBW Radio for WKBW-TV in 1964, it took Weinstein some time to get used to being on camera and to adapt his writing style for television delivery, but over the next several years, he became comfortable with TV and Buffalo became comfortable with him.
By the time Irv Weinstein came to Ch.7, Rick Azar had already been there for six years. Azar was the announcer who signed the station on the air in 1958.
He had been an actor who took radio jobs at WUSJ in Lockport, WWOL in Buffalo and WHLD in Niagara Falls between acting gigs, and also served as a sports and weather man on Buffalo’s short lived WBUF-TV Ch.17 staring in 1956.
In the early days at Ch.7, he delivered weather, sports and news, along with general announcing, and even hosting “Buffalo Bandstand,” the local version of the Dick Clark show.
It was in sports broadcasting, though, where Azar became a long-remembered and trusted household name.
As a TV sportscaster, a play-by-play man for college basketball, and one of the voices of the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s, there were few broadcasters better known, liked and appreciated that Azar.
Rick Azar in the lockerroom.
In 1975, the fact that the “Eyewitness News” anchor team might have been the hippest guys in town might be reflected in the fact that there was a special edition Oldsmobile on sale called “The Azar.”
If Rick was hip, Tom Jolls was everyone’s favorite neighbor. The youngest of the three, Jolls and Azar actually met when Jolls was a junior high school announcer in Lockport and Azar was a disc jockey on WUSJ using the name “Dick Corey.”
Jolls eventually became the morning man at his hometown WUSJ. He also had early TV experience at another short-lived Buffalo TV station, WBES-TV. After a stint in the Army, Jolls returned to WUSJ before moving to WBEN AM-FM-TV in 1963. He was seen on Ch.4 and heard on 930AM for about two years before joining Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar and Dustmop at Ch.7 in 1965.
Commander Tom was more than just a weatherman, he was a beloved TV uncle who guided us through days that were stormy as well as salubrious, but also made sure we were entertained with the puppets he and his wife crafted from their children’s old stuffed animals.
Tom Jolls on a salubrious night on the original Weather Outside set on Main Street.
But even mild-mannered Tom Jolls was a part of the spice of “Eyewitness News.” For decades, it was Jolls who asked, “It’s 11 o’clock. … Do you know where your children are?”
Together, the facts say that at 24 years, Irv, Rick and Tom were the longest-running anchor team in the history of American television. The hearts of Buffalonians say they were also probably the most beloved.
Rick Azar broke up the band with his retirement after 31 years at Ch.7 in 1989. The following year, at age 59, Irv Weinstein gave up the 11pm newscast and was seen only at 6pm.
He stuck around in that 6pm anchor chair for just shy of a decade, retiring from Ch.7 in 1998. Jolls followed suit with his retirement in 1999.
The Eyewitness News team included Irv Weinstein, Nolan Johannes, Barbara Pawelek, Paul Thompson, Bill Nailos, Don Keller, Alan Nesbitt, John Winston, and Tom Jolls.
Aside from Dialing For Dollars, Liz Dribben anchored morning newscasts on Ch.7 through the second half of the 1960s. Among Buffalo’s first woman broadcast journalists, she became a CBS News writer and producer, working with Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite among others.
The heavy promotion of Irv, Rick, and Tom as a team began after Ch.7’s early newscasts moved to 6pm in 1971.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The fight over who would get the license to operate Buffalo’s final VHF station was a protracted one, with several years of hostile exchanges between Dr. Clinton Churchill’s WKBW group, a group including the Courier-Express, and the owners of WWOL Radio.
Rev. Clinton Churchill’s start in broadcasting came in 1924 when he brought his church choir to perform on WGR Radio in 1924. “A bushel basket” full of mail came in, filled with letters asking for more religious programming— and the checks and cash needed to help make that happen. Churchill is shown here with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita.
Once the WKBW-TV group was granted the license, the four months it took them to begin broadcasting was the fastest a US TV station had ever gone from approval to programming.
On November 30, 1958, Buffalo once again became a three-station market after Ch. 59 and Ch.17 both stopped broadcasting, and Ch. 7 joined Ch.2 and Ch.4.
The brief sign-on ceremony was hosted by Rick Azar, who introduced Dr. Churchill and several area religious leaders, before introducing the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Ch.2 had the elves and Ch.7 had “KB Bunny.”
An ABC affiliate from the moment the station signed on, Ch.7 went on the air with “a compact staff of three announcers.” Stan Barron moved over from WKBW Radio. Both Roger Lund and Rick Azar had been at WBUF-TV, which went dark only weeks before Ch.7 began broadcasting.
The sign-on of Ch.7 ushered in another new era in Buffalo TV. All three stations were now available on every television without the need for special equipment– and each of the broadcast networks now had a local station to air its programming.
“Competition Keen,” read the sub-headline in a piece by J. Don Schlaerth. “Now that three VHF television stations can be received in Buffalo, the keenest programming and advertising competition that has ever existed in this market will begin. It should mean better network and local services for area viewers.”
On November 30, 1958 Rick Azar was the announcer who signed on WKBW-TV. Six years later, he’d be joined by Irv Weinstein and Tom Jolls two years after that– to form the troika that would dominate Buffalo television until the turn of the century.
WKBW’s first newscaster, Roger Lund started in radio in 1935 as an actor at WGR, was chief announcer at WXRA from 1949-54, and after a year in TV in Elmira, joined WBUF-TV as a news anchor and weather man for two years until the station went dark. He served in the Marine Corps in World War II and Korea.
Stan Barron, WKBW-TV Sports Director, 1958
Stan Barron might best be remembered for his nightly “Free Form Sports” shows on WBEN, but that was the final act in a long career in sports and broadcasting in Buffalo. He came to Buffalo in 1952 and spent nine years at WKBW Radio and TV, working as 1520’s morning “Clock Watcher,” and Ch.7’s first sports director.
Through the years, he called the action for the Bills, the Griffs, and the hockey Bisons, but baseball was always his favorite. In 1956, he was instrumental in helping to bring community ownership to the Buffalo Bisons. Then in 1979, he was one of the leading voices to help bring professional baseball back to Buffalo after a ten-year absence.
Stan joined WBEN in 1967 and was a part of the Bills play-by-play team with Van Miller, Chuck Healy, and Dick Rifenburg. Barron was the “every man” of the group— not an accomplished athlete like Healy or Rife, not a polished, impeccably dressed announcer like Van. His gritty voice and common-sense opinions— always willing to tell you when he thought a team “looked like a bunch of donkeys”— felt like it could have just as easily come from the next bar stool than from the radio.
Stan Barron with Buffalo’s National Champion Cyclist Edith Ann Johnson.
Decades after the station first signed on, Bob Costello, Marty Stetter, Bill Hiller, Rick Azar, Norm Schultz, Jack Cook and Steve Zappia were all original employees still working at the station.
Shortly after first signing on, WKBW-TV’s “News Central” anchor team was Dave Thomas, weather; Bill Gregory, news; and Rick Azar, sports.
Irv Weinstein reports from South Buffalo’s Republic Steel.
Though his primary duties were as WKBW Radio News Director, Ch.7 viewers would catch occasional glimpses of Irv Weinstein’s reporting on Ch.7 before he moved over to TV full-time in 1964.
Ch. 7’s Don Keller interviews Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Manch. He signed on WNIA as the first Tommy Thomas in 1956, moving to KB as Dick Biondi’s newsman. As Don Keller, the Farm Feller, he delivered agricultural news on WKBW Radio and Ch.7. After being sent to his first fire with a wind-up camera and being told by News Director Hal Youngblood to “point it at the flames,” his role evolved into Buffalo’s first modern street reporter– gathering and presenting news and interviews. Later known by his real name Don Yearke, he went on to serve as Ch.4’s Chief Photographer through the 80s and 90s.
Bow-tied Paul Thompson, like Yearke, was an early Ch.7 cameraman, who was often seen on-camera conducting interviews.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The Hound Dog made a permanent mark on the pop culture history of America with his nightly show on WKBW from 1954-58. Starting in the late 40s, George Lorenz was known as “the Ol’man,” “Ol’Dad Lorenz,” and “Daddy Dog” before “The Hound Dog” stuck as a nickname.
Known for his hep records and jive talk, he refused to give the time and temperature on the air. When he did commercials for Mother Goldstein’s wine, he’d sample it on the air.
After spending time at a few smaller stations, in the mid-50s, The Hound took his rhythm and blues program– featuring the music which would soon be known as rock ‘n’ roll– to 50,000-watt WKBW Radio.
The powerful signal allowed “The Hound” to introduce the evolving music genre to the entire northeastern United States. “The Hound” was the Godfather of rock ‘n’ roll radio, not just in Buffalo but around the country.
The Hound with Bill Haley and His Comets.
As a teenager working at a gas station, his first radio job came as an actor in dramas in the late 1930s. He got the job “because of his ability in imitating various dialects,” the Courier-Express reported, adding that he’d “often been cast in the role of the slicker in the racketbusting plays.”
A decade later, he was doing his Hound Dog routine on Niagara Falls’ WJJL. By the mid 50’s, Lorenz’s hip daddy style, and the fact that he was spinning soulful records from the original black artists — not the sanitized crooner re-sings heard elsewhere on the radio — made him an institution.
An unlikely hero of Buffalo teenagers, “The Hound” made it about the music and bringing rhythm and blues to a wider audience. It went beyond the records. Events promoted by Lorenz usually included black and white artists playing together at a time in the mid-50s when that wasn’t always the case. Those audiences were also mixed racially.
A Hound Dog record hop at the Hadji Temple, 118 E. Utica Street, with both black and white teens in attendance. The Hound’s secretary, Betty Shampoe, is to the left on the stage. This photo is from her collection.
When his voice came through the speaker on your radio, you knew you were hearing something you weren’t going to hear anywhere else. He was rock ‘n’ roll even before the phrase rock ‘n’ roll existed.
Ironically, the man who introduced Elvis at Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went rock ‘n’ roll full-time in 1958. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top-40 format, and was known to give the time and temperature at the beginning of his show, and told listeners to “set their clocks and thermometers, because that was the last time they were going to hear that for the next four hours.”
Elvis Presley and George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, Memorial Auditorium.
While inspiring many of the changes that came to KB and many other stations around the country, the Hound stayed true to his style and founded WBLK Radio, where he continued to uncover and spotlight new rhythm and blues artists in Buffalo and to a syndicated audience around the country.
Hernando’s Hideaway hit Buffalo radios in 1954 from the studios of WXRA, which was licensed to Kenmore, but broadcast from studios on Niagara Falls Boulevard, in a spot that was later the long-time home of Swiss Chalet (and today is a vacant lot in front of Outback Steakhouse.)
With a Spanish accent, it was Phil Todaro behind what The Buffalo Evening News called “Hernando’s delightfully fanciful nonsense.”
His show ran evenings every day but Saturday, and from the rhythm and blues music he played, to outings at Crystal Beach and serving bottles of Canada Dry and Oscar pop at his remote broadcasts, the program was clearly geared to the burgeoning teen demographic.
After making offerings on the air, Hernando received more than 3000 mailed requests in two weeks for his “Slang Slogans” dictionary of teen-age vernacular.
The one day he was off in the evening, “Hernando on Campus” was heard Saturday mornings, where “the popular DJ spotlights top tunes determined by survey of the local high schools and colleges and includes a calendar of their upcoming social events.”
He eventually made his way to evenings on WGR Radio before leaving radio for music full time. Among his musical offerings most memorable to Western New Yorkers came as co-writer of Wild Weekend with Tom Shannon. The Rockin’ Rebels hit was an instrumental version Shannon’s radio theme song.
Lucky Pierre, the back of this card says, was born in Paris in 1934, and goes on to say his “rapid rise to popularity, accomplished in the few short years since his arrival in Buffalo, is a result of his rare combination of old-world charm and modern effervescence. His refreshingly different qualities have captured the imaginations of young and old alike.”
After coming to Western New York radio in 1954 at WWOL, where he was not only a disc jockey—but as an amateur boxer and semi-pro football player was named sports director as well.
He moved on to WHLD briefly before heading to WEBR in 1955, and then WBNY before leaving town for Los Angeles, where he’d spent most of the next 60 years on the radio and pioneering the disco and dancing format in the market, as well as hosting a TV cooking show for housewives in the early 60s.
His most adoring fans were the girls and women who were spellbound by his accent and accompanying smooth style.
“Though he’s not very handsome, and he’s not very strong… in a cabin in the blizzard he’s the one you bring along!” chanted his opening song on WBNY, which continued, “I’m the man of the hour, I’m the man of the year… I’m the man that every living husband has the right to fear…. I’m Lucky Pierre!!”
1955 ad shows Lucky Pierre and a young Rick Azar before he headed to WBUF-TV. Nan Cooper spent more than two decades offering household tips on WBEN, including for the full run of “Newsday at Noon,” 1978-96.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
For five years, WBEN-TV Ch.4 was Buffalo’s only television station.
Then in 1953, two more stations came to the market—but most Buffalonians needed special equipment to watch them.
Buffalo’s WBUF-TV Ch.17 and WBES-TV Ch.59 took advantage of the federal government opening up a much wider spectrum of television broadcasting frequencies. Ultra High Frequency or UHF channels 14-83 were opened up in 1952.
Up until then, televisions were built only with VHF receivers, and could only pick up channels 2-13.
Encouraging sales of special converter boxes was only part of the uphill battle for WBUF-TV and WBES-TV.
Sales of new televisions and converter boxes skyrocketed in 1953.
VHF stations 2-13 offered much better reception, and there were a number of interested parties in Buffalo petitioning to become the license holders for stations on Ch. 2 and Ch.7, which allotted to Buffalo, but not yet assigned to licensees.
As those cases were being made in Washington, two local investment groups rolled the dice on UHF here– but those two groups had entirely different stomachs for gambling.
WBUF-TV was founded by a couple of friends looking to strike out on their own.
Sherwin Grossman was a 28-year old Lafayette High and UB grad working in his family dry cleaning plant and Gary Cohen was managing his family’s movie theater business at Tonawanda’s Sheridan Drive-In. (That family business is now run by Rick Cohen at Lockport’s Transit Drive-In).
The pair first set sights on bringing television to Jamestown—until an investor convinced them to aim for a bigger market just to the northwest.
On December 18, 1952, the FCC granted them the construction permit for WBUF-TV, Ch.17 in Buffalo.
Further up the dial, the group that founded WBES-TV had much more on the line, both reputationally and financially.
Western Savings Bank President Charles Diebold, Davis Heating & Refrigerating President Joseph Davis, and attorney Vincent Gaughan were the leadership team who were granted an FCC permit for WBES-TV, Ch.59 in Buffalo, five days after WBUF-TV on December 23, 1952.
In less than a week, Buffalo went from a one-station market to what promised to be a three-station market.
Up until the time that new stations signed-on, Ch.4 was in the catbird’s seat—having the prime pick of programming from the CBS, NBC, ABC, and DuMont television networks.
Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night staple— known as “Toast of the Town” before it was renamed “the Ed Sullivan Show” in 1955– was one of many nationally popular shows which Ch.4 chose not to air. In the time just before WBUF-TV signed on, Ch.4 was running game show “the Big Payoff” during the Ed Sullivan time slot.
Ch.4’s owners, The Buffalo Evening News, covered developments at WBUF and WBES with the paper’s usual reserve. But over at the Courier-Express, daily blow-by-blow developments were compared and contrasted, and it was made into a race to which station might go on the air first.
“Buffalo’s two new UHF stations open a hopeful new chapter in the Western New York television story,” reported the Courier-Express as both stations were poised to begin broadcasting. “UHF means considerably more free home entertainment, and a delightfully specific opportunity to turn the dial.”
WBUF-TV purchased 184 Barton Street—later the home of WGR-TV and then WNED-TV– dubbing it “Television City.” There, they built and equipped a full television studio complex.
When the station first signed on, WBUF-TV’s mascot was Buffalo Bill.
WBES-TV moved into the penthouse at the Lafayette Hotel, and built a tower on the roof—which at the time, was Buffalo’s tallest structure. The lower portion of that tower still stands on the building today. The space inside the station was limited—but included offices, a small studio, and the station’s transmitter plant. There were also promises to put the hotel’s ballroom to use as the home of a huge, audience participation kids show.
“We think we have found the three keys to ultimate success and public acceptance,” Gaughan, the father of Buffalo attorney and regionalism proponent Kevin Gaughan, announced. “They are power, personnel, and programming. With these assets, WBES-TV can offer the people of Western New York the very best in television.”
Ch.59 made splashy hires of known and beloved Buffalo personalities. Roger Baker, who was still occasionally announcing sports, was also WKBW’s General Manager when WBES-TV hired him to run the new station and to be the station’s newscaster. Woody Magnuson, longtime WBEN announcer and children’s host, was hired to become the station’s program director.
“Life begins at 59” was the headline sprawled across a full-page ad in the Courier-Express. “The best in television… a great range of fine programs to delight and interest your entire family (through) the miracle of UHF.”
WBUF’s staff hires weren’t quite as newsworthy, but they also had a full-page ad that was just as over-the-top, billing themselves as “the modern miracle that gives you what you want — when you want it — in your own home” and “solace and comfort, laughter and joy, tears and sighs, company in loneliness and solitude in crowds, escape and challenge, fact and fiction… Aladdin and his wonderful lamp, Alice and her miraculous mirror, Jack the Giant Killer, Paul Bunyan the Great American.”
It was WBUF-TV Ch.17 that made it on the air first by a month, with a schedule of mostly network programming starting August 17, 1953. WBES-TV Ch.59 signed on September 23, 1953.
In the WBUF-TV control room, with coffee from Your Host restaurants.
Ch.59, however, fell out of the gate. Technical problems delayed the station’s signing on, and sponsors were slow to sign up. WBUF-TV had many of the same issues, but WBES-TV’s investors soured immediately to the station’s hemorrhaging of money, and on December 18, 1953—less than a year after being awarded the station and 13 weeks after signing on—WBES-TV, Ch.59 returned its license to the federal government.
Being alone as “Buffalo’s other TV station” helped Ch.17 a bit, but it, too was losing money. The station’s saving grace came in the form of the National Broadcasting Company, trying to outfox the federal government’s limit on the number of VHF stations that a television network could own.
Jack Begon was an NBC foreign correspondent who was brought to Buffalo as a news anchor on WBUF. He spent much of his career stationed in Rome for NBC and later ABC.
In 1956, after WBES-TV signed off and WGR-TV Ch.2 had already signed on, NBC bought WBUF-TV as an experiment to see whether the network would be able to build a UHF station which rose to the standards of its other VHF properties.
NBC built a state-of-the-art television facility at 2077 Elmwood Avenue, and brought in network-level talent from around the country to staff local programs.
Like Ch.4, Ch.17 also carried live wrestling from the Aud.
The Today Show broadcast live from WBUF’s new 2077 Elmwood studios, shown here. Less than four years later, the building would be home to WBEN and Ch.4.
After two years, the network called the experiment a bust, with the station still losing money and Buffalo’s ratings on network shows lagging well behind the network averages.
WBUF-TV’s Mac McGarry gives a weather report, 1957. McGarry covered President Truman’s inauguration for NBC in 1948. After leaving Buffalo, he returned to Washington, and anchored NBC News updates through the 70s and 80s. He also hosted the Washington DC version of “It’s Academic” on NBC-owned station WRC-TV for 50 years.
WBUF-TV went dark on October 1, 1958. NBC donated the license to the group that formed Buffalo’s educational public TV broadcaster, WNED-TV.
With public broadcasting on Ch.17, Buffalo would be without a commercial UHF station until WUTV Ch.29 signed on in 1970.
Frank Frederics was the only on-air personality who was seen regularly through most of WBUF-TV’s tumultuous history. He was the News Director when the station signed on, and was the only original announcer retained when NBC bought the station. During the NBC years, he anchored a newscast sponsored by Milk For Health. Live commercials during the newscast were hosted by Jan Okun— who later spent more than 40 years as the Food Editor at The Buffalo News.
It’s not the end of the story, though. Even if we don’t remember their call letters, the legacy of Buffalo’s UHF pioneers lives on.
Ch.17 operates as a public service in Buffalo to this day.
The studios built by Ch.59 at the Lafayette were the first home of Ch.2 and then the home of WNED-TV.
WBUF-TV’s Barton Street studios were the second home of Ch.2, and in a familiar pattern, became the home of WNED and Western New York Public Broadcasting when WGR-TV moved to Delaware Avenue.
And the Elmwood Avenue studios built by NBC have been the home of Ch.4 since 1960.
Rick Azar was WBUF-TV’s Atlantic Weatherman.
Both stations also served as the dial spot where a handful of later well-known Buffalo television personalities got their first chance in front of the camera, most notably, WBES-TV’s 20-year-old staff announcer Tom Jolls (below) and WBUF-TV’s sports reporter and “Weathervane” host, Rick Azar.
And at least one local star of Buffalo’s early UHF stations has been seen on local TVs over the last several years. Doris Jones—who was Doris Sherris as your “Phoenix (Beer) All Weather Gal” on WBES-TV continues to help on pledge drives on WNED-TV.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Hulk Hogan is going to be in Buffalo this weekend, and had some nice things to say about Buffalo Wrestling and the fans here. Steve Cichon has more from the Hulk and wrestling’s glory days in Buffalo.
Hulk Hogan is making an appearance at the Nickel City Con at the Convention Center this weekend, and he spoke with Mark Ciemcioch at The Buffalo News about his times in Buffalo.
He has great memories of wrestling in Buffalo, and like so many of us, Hulk Hogan has great memories of Memorial Auditorium.
Hogan traveled to Buffalo many times during his career, even having knee surgery here. He particularly enjoyed working the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium before it closed in 1996.
“I had some great matches in there,” Hogan said. “I’d hit people with a punch in the middle of that ring, and it sounded like a cannon would go off. The whole crowd would go along with it, (chanting) ‘Boom, boom!’ It’s a great wrestling crowd, a great city and a (I have) lot of fond memories of Buffalo.”
Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo– to big Friday Night sell out crowds through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows), and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.
“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.
“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”
And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.
“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.
“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”
As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.
“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered his flair for marketing outside the ring.
“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”
Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!'”
BUFFALO, NY – When Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls teamed up in 1965, it’s probably fair to say that more people would have been watching Channel 4’s test pattern than the news on Channel 7. But by the time Rick Azar retired in 1989, the three had not only become the longest running anchor team in history, but also gained an iconic status unparalleled for any other triumvirate in television news history.
For me personally, Irv, Rick, and Tom have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My dad and I watched the news together every day. My mom tells anyone who’ll listen that “IRV TINE-TINE” was among my first words, and I would run around the house singing my own version of the Eyewitness News Theme (ba-ba-BA, BA-BA, Badabadaba, ba-ba-ba-BA-BA, BADABADABA!).
Commander Tom and his pals Davey and Goliath kept me quiet and entertained, and left me having a great desire to have a red jacket with yellow epaulets. And then there was the time my Grandmother nearly passed out when we all met Rick Azar AND Mike Randall at the Broadway Market one Easter… “He’s so handsome, He’s so handsome,” Grandma repeated over and over.
Eyewitness News Audio
Some of the people, places, and stories of Channel 7 through the years…