By Steve Cichon
Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting
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 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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