The story of how Jim Kelly hated Buffalo before he loved it

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s tough to imagine Buffalo without Jim Kelly… but if he would have had it his way at the beginning of his professional career, he never would have become a Buffalo Bill.

Today, two decades after taking his last snap, Kelly remains one of Buffalo’s most beloved personalities and one of Western New York’s biggest backers.

He was one of us in the pocket. His on-field grit reflects what we hope we see in ourselves individually and as a community.

The Buffalo News headline blares “Fandemonium,” the phrase coined by Bills play-by-play man Van Miller, describing Bills fans pouring onto the field and taking down the goalposts after the Jim Kelly-led Bills clinched their first division title in recent memory. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Our admiration for him was forged as we watched him blow into his hands in Rich Stadium cold– and seemed to enjoy it.

Kelly and those great Bills teams embraced the cold and the snow and made it a part of their physical and mental advantage over the rest of the AFC during the greatest ride Buffalo sports fans have ever known.

Jim Kelly visits the Aud Club shortly after being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1983.  (Buffalo Stories archives)

Fresh out of college, though, Kelly had another path to greatness planned. It was lined with palm trees and beautiful people, not snowbanks and Zubaz.

It took a couple of turns in the road to get him here.

Jim Kelly was drafted by the Bills out of Miami three years before he made Rich Stadium his home.

There were plenty of very good quarterbacks available in the 1983 NFL Entry Draft. Three of them, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and John Elway, are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Baltimore Colts made Elway the top pick—but he quickly refused to play for team. It made for an interesting draft day for Kelly, as he recounted to BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown in 2010.

“My agent looked at me after Elway got picked and the problem that arose from it and he said, ‘Hey Jim, is there anywhere that you don’t want to play?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t want to play for the Minnesota Vikings. I don’t want to play for the Green Bay Packers and I don’t want to play for the Buffalo Bills.’”

-Jim Kelly to BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown in 2010

The Bills picked Notre Dame tight end Tony Hunter with the 12th pick. Watching on TV in his parents’ living room, Kelly celebrated not being picked by Buffalo.

“I remember jumping up out of my seat and I hit my mother who was sitting on the right arm of the recliner and I knocked her right off the chair. I felt so bad, I quick picked her up off the floor and I’m apologizing, ‘Sorry mom I’m just glad I’m not going to play for Buffalo.’”

-Jim Kelly to BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown in 2010

But the Bills also had the 14th pick in the first round. With that pick, they took the Miami quarterback.

“I couldn’t believe it. Within minutes the phone calls came and with me being politically correct I was saying how excited I was to be a Buffalo Bill. And when I hung up I said, ‘We need to call the USFL and see what other options we have.’”

-Jim Kelly to BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown in 2010

One of those immediate conversations was with WBEN Radio’s Stan Barron. You can listen to that conversation below.

The polite young quarterback impressed one of the old salts of Buffalo sports by saying all the right things, though his heart clearly wasn’t in it– because he had an alternative.

The United States Football League was founded in 1982. The original idea was to capitalize on the country’s growing love of professional football by playing games in the spring and summer during the NFL’s off-season. The league wasn’t going head-to-head with games, but they were going head-to-head in trying to sign talent.

Kelly’s agents worked out a deal with the Bills, and then took two weeks to meet with USFL teams.  Bills interim General Manager Pat McGroder was unabashedly optimistic.

“They (Kelly’s agents) said we’ve got a hell of a chance of getting him,” McGroder told reporters as USFL brass wined and dined Kelly and crew.

The Bills were taken by surprise when Larry Felser wrote in The Buffalo News that Kelly would sign with the USFL’s Houston Gamblers “for an enormous sum of money.”

“There are risks in doing what I’m doing, but I made up my mind,” Kelly said. “Everybody has to take a risk once in his life. But I’m happy I did it and I won’t regret it.”

The folks at One Bills Drive were upset that the team was never given a chance to meet or beat the offer from the upstart league.

“We considered three different offers that they threw at us, and they were very happy with the offer we made to them,” McGroder told reporters after Kelly signed the five-year, $3.5 million deal . “I want the fans to know it was not the Buffalo Bills who let them down.”

“It was very cold in Buffalo.”

-Jim Kelly to reporters in Houston

When he signed, Kelly told reporters in Houston that he was never pleased with what the Bills were offering and that part of his decision to join the Gamblers was that he liked the people in their organization better than he did those with the Bills.

When Kelly’s signing was announced in Houston, his agent, Greg Lustig said, “There were several reasons not to sign with Buffalo. For one, it’s one of the most depressed areas in America. The opportunities just aren’t there. I understand Joe Cribbs made under $500 in personal appearances there in the last three years.”

Associated Press, June 11, 1983

The Bills moved on, but the woeful play of the quarterbacks on the roster and a pair of 2-14 seasons in 1984 and 1985 meant Kelly was never far from the thoughts of anyone connected with the Bills.

Joe Ferguson played quarterback for the Bills in 1983, and part of 1984, until Joe Dufek took the starting job.  Bruce Mathison was on the roster at quarterback, too. The Bills also brought in veteran Vince Ferragamo in 1985. The day Ferragamo became a Bill, he was asked about Kelly.

“I think you definitely look at that with suspicion,” Ferragamo said of the possibility of Kelly coming to the Bills. “There’s nothing concrete behind that and your approach to the game can’t be decided on the fact of what happens a year from now.”

The Bills thought of Kelly with hope, but Kelly’s thoughts of Buffalo weren’t happy ones.

“There are a lot of off-the-field endorsements I can get here (in Houston) that I couldn’t get in Buffalo. Plus I could come right in and play and make a name for myself and not have to sit behind Joe Ferguson for three years playing in the snow in Buffalo.”

Jim Kelly, a year into his USFL contract, 1984

Kelly was enjoying his time in Houston– setting league passing records and driving a brand new Corvette every few weeks in a deal with a local Chevy dealer– but the future of the upstart USFL was becoming cloudy.

So with a murky prognosis for the league and the team that Kelly played for, the quarterback’s stance softened somewhat, saying that while the Bills weren’t his top choice of NFL teams,  he’d “play for them if necessary and give his best.”

In a 1985 article, Vic Carucci writes in The Buffalo News that Houston Gamblers quarterback Jim Kelly wasn’t as vehemently anti-Buffalo as he had been since the 1983 NFL draft. (Buffalo Stories archives)

 

It still wasn’t a homerun. As late as February, 1986, Kelly was still openly hostile to playing in Buffalo.

Tonawanda News. (Buffalo Stories archives)

And month before signing with the Bills, Sports Illustrated started a feature article on the Houston Gamblers quarterback with “Jim Kelly, the best quarterback nobody has ever seen play…”

Kelly was likely leaving Texas one way or another. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The article went on to describe the close knit Kelly clan that Buffalonians of the ’80s and ’90s remember well– the quarterback’s parents and brothers who eventually seemed to fit right in here despite their Pennsylvania accents.

During the summer of 1986, the USFL was embroiled in lawsuits and court cases. Play was suspended for the league, and on paper, Kelly’s Houston Gamblers had merged with the Donald Trump-owned, Doug Flutie-quarterbacked New Jersey Generals.

The future was up in the air. USFL team mergers could have been haulted. The USFL could have been forced to fold. The USFL could have merged with the NFL.

Kelly talked about all of these possibilities in SI.  It didn’t leave Bills fans hopeful.

”I’d like to play for the Raiders. I’d like to live in California,” Kelly says. ”But what I’d really like to do is play for the New Jersey Generals and Donald Trump and merge with the NFL and take the run-and-shoot with Herschel Walker in the backfield and just kick ass.”

Kelly himself says he might play for the Bills if the USFL folds, if they pay him a lot, or he might sit out the 1986 season and become a free agent next year and go where he pleases for a trillion dollars. ”Buffalo needs more than me, more than a quarterback,” he says. ”I’d get the tar beat out of me, and it would shorten my career.”

-Sports Illustrated, July 21, 1986

About a month after the article hit mailboxes in Western New York and around the country,  Jim Kelly was a Buffalo Bill and the NFL’s highest paid player.

After years of denying Buffalo, Machine Gun Kelly took over the city in August, 1986. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“I’m being paid to play football, and that’s what I want to do,” Kelly told the Associated Press as the USFL stalemate seemed indefinite during the summer of 1986. Kelly and the Bills started the wheels in motion to make that happen.

In mid-August, Bills General Manager Bill Polian received written permission from Donald Trump– whose team owned Kelly’s rights in the USFL– to negotiate a deal with the quarterback. Kelly sat with Ralph Wilson in a suite during the Bills first preseason game against the Oilers in Houston.

In the following days, Kelly signed a five-year, $8 million contract. The approximately $1.5 million per year pushed Kelly’s salary past Joe Montana’s $1.3 million, making the new Bills quarterback the NFL’s richest player.

Jim Kelly takes a call from Gov. Mario Cuomo as he signs a deal to become the NFL’s highest paid player. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“What we’re really interested in is rebuilding this franchise to respectability,” Bills owner Ralph Wilson said at the time of the signing. But it was bigger than that for Buffalo.

Jim Kelly’s deciding join the Bills might have been Buffalo’s biggest event of the 1980s. It was a Buffalo prodigal son story if there ever was one. Jim Kelly spent three years sniping at Buffalo and taking shots at our weather– but a switch was flipped when he climbed off a private plane into a limousine and got a police escort down the 33– with fans waving and cheering at overpasses– to sign the contract that would make him not just a million-dollar arm, but our million dollar arm.

As Bill Polian looks on, Jim Kelly signs autographs along Buffalo’s waterfront just after signing a contract with the Bills. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Kelly took a break from signing autographs in the lobby of a downtown hotel to officially sign that contract in a spot only blocks from where a billboard sponsored by Bethlehem Steel employees famously asked  “the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light.”

It hadn’t even been ten years since that billboard had come and gone, but things had grown worse. The steel plant had closed and the Bills had just played two 2-14 seasons in a row.

It was bleak being a Buffalonian.

The signing definitely made Buffalonians hold their heads a little higher. Bills General Manager Bill Polian spelled it out at that first press conference.

“The fact that Jim is sitting here to my left is an enduring monument to Ralph Wilson’s commitment to building a winner for the city of  Buffalo,” said Polian.

Jimbo’s arrival rekindled an almost extinguished sense of civic pride and brought a measure of  hometown hope to Buffalo, and the feeling is mutual. Kelly has called signing with the Bills “the best decision of his life.”

Three decades removed,  its tough to imagine what Buffalo would have been without his presence.

 

Audio Flashback: WBEN Newsweek, 1978

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

With the recent passing of Doug Smith, I was reminded of a piece of audio in the Buffalo Stories archives where he was featured as the Courier-Express Film Critic.

The recording is a half-hour feature called “Newsweek,” and was a collection of highlights from WBEN’s “Newsday at Noon.” This particular edition was from what sounds like the last week of 1978.

Doug is being interviewed by Lou Douglas, who also interviews Erie County Legislator William Pauly, Episcopal Bishop Harold Robinson, and Peggy Speranza of the Feingold Association.

The host of the half-hour is newsman Jim McLaughlin, and there is also a Stan Barron sports editorial at the 15:10 mark,

When I started working at WBEN in the early 1990s, running the pre-taped Newsweek– by then hosted by Tim Wenger– very early Sunday morning was one of my first jobs in radio.

 

History’s Garbage Bin: Sharing the Garbage Picked Goodness… Again

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

To save everything because “it’s old” is just silly. To toss everything away because “it’s old” is just silly, too. Somewhere between those two extremes is where most of us try to live.I get both sides. I’m a saver, who wishes sometimes I could live more of a clutter-free life. But a healthy portion of my clutter comes from big piles of important stuff that otherwise would have no home.

Depending on how you look at it, I have been blessed or cursed with the ability to see the possibilities beyond a pile of garbage. My home is a great example. It’s taken over a decade of hard work for my wife and me to make it shine, taking it from a worn-down relic to a stop on the Parkside Home Tour.

Over the last two decades, I have garbage-picked, purchased, been asked to copy, or reluctantly accepted thousands of hours of audio and video, almost always locked away on some sort of format that made it impossible listen to or view. Or even know if there was anything there.

Basically, I’ve been collecting “potential.”

Twice I’ve garbage-picked boxes of old film reels. These boxes were in the garbage for good reason; the film was infected with “vinegar syndrome,” a decomposition of the materials in the film, which renders it unviewable. Worse, one “vinegared” film can jump start the degrading process in other nearby films as well.

The relatively small group of folks who had decided to chuck these boxes has literally thousands of reels of film to worry about. As a member of that group I agreed. But as an individual, I decided that I couldn’t see this film simply thrown away. I garbage picked the film, then spend lots of time and money picking out the few good bits from the mangled messes inside those decaying boxes and film canisters, cleaning those good bits, then properly storing them to avoid more vinegar problems and further degrading.

The same is true of a pile of old video cassettes. The TV station I was working at was taking “the best” of some of the video that was on an old, dying format of videotapes, and dubbing them to the format they were then using. It made sense, as these dubs were being made on the station’s last working machine that played the old format tapes. The old tapes were being hauled to the dumpster. I grabbed as many as I could for “safe keeping.”

In both of these cases, I was holding onto what I knew was great video, but had no means to share it or even watch it. In some cases, this stuff had been in my possession for over a decade. Waiting.

Having been lucky enough to turn a bit of a profit from my book “Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Irv, Rick, and Tom Story,” I gathered up most of that film, and many of those video tapes, along with others that I’d copied or recorded myself over the years, and sent them off to be properly and professionally digitized. A painstaking and expensive process, but one that was the end result of saving them from the trash in the first place– whether I knew it at the time or not.

Being able to treat my relatively small collection with a great deal of care and respect has allowed me to begin sharing some interesting moments reported and recorded by Buffalo television journalists over the last 60 years. You’re seeing the fruits of it on YouTube.

A Stan Barron obituary piece was the first item from the hours of “new” old video I shared…


The second was a true Western New York treasure. Who among us in Buffalo hasn’t replied with a sarcastic “Fun? Wow!” when asked a question? The phrase, of course, comes from TV commercials for Fantasy Island, which ran over and over and over and… I can remember asking my parents to go to “Fun Wow,” not realizing the actual name of the place.

The iconic commercial forever ensconced the phrase “Fun… WOW!” in our collective lexicon. Type “Fantasy Island” into Google, and the term “fun wow” follows as a suggested search term. Some how the commercial has eluded the Internet, until uncovered in that pile of tapes that time had forgotten was remastered.

There are two wonderful memories supplied, and there’s plenty more to come as well. Literally hundreds more quick videos to come for all of us to pause and remember for a moment.

Video especially has a great power to transport us back to another time and place like no other medium. That’s why I can honestly say that I don;t think I’ve ever been so excited about a project as the one I’m embarking on here in putting this video online to share with the world.

What it comes down to for me is…. my stuff is useless unless it can be of some use to somebody. I’ve already seen the smiles from these small bits already released that proves the usefulness. I won’t make a million dollars on my finds… In fact, I’m in the red getting them ready to share. But it really hurts my brain to know that many of the wonderful archival videos you’ll see, in fact, much of what is posted at staffannouncer.com, could have just as easily made it’s way to the land fill.

No matter where you fall on the “saver/saves-nothing” scale, I ask you to join me in finding good use for your saved stuff, or finding a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

One man’s trash can become an entire community’s treasure.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

Buffalo in the 50’s: Before there was Irv..

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

From the Buffalo Evening News, Nov 29, 1958– the day before Channel 7 signed on the air for the first time.

Irv Weinstein was a newscaster at KB Radio at this point– Channel 7’s first news anchor was Roger Lund.

Stan Barron was on the sports desk, and Rick Azar– who was also the announcer who signed on the station– was Channel 7’s first weather man.

Buffalo Stories archives

WBEN 1973- Clint Buehlman, The Buffalo Braves, and more….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo


Originally Posted: February, 2008

Just unearthed! Recordings of entire days of WBEN Radio… Unheard since the days they were broadcast over 35 years ago! Names like Clint Buehlman, Van Miller and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Read on!

WBEN AM/FM/TV, 1960

So where did these tapes come from? In 1995, Lin Television performed a massive cleanout of the 2077 Elmwood Avenue building they had just purchased as a part of their buying WIVB-TV.

Among the “treasures” I found dumpster diving, was a box of Reel-to-Rel tapes that appeared to be WBEN Radio Logger tapes from the early 70s. Many of the reels were blank… But even those with the audio intact were nearly useless… The tapes were recorded at 15/32 IPS. That is very slow, and at the time the tapes were rescued, the only way to hear the tapes properly involved about 4 hours of work for an hour of final product. For 13 years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to play these tapes back… And now… thanks to a new reel deck.. and some new digital audio editing programs, viola!

The audio quality is not the best… Its warbly sometimes… And it jumps quite a bit… And These logger tapes were in the Engineering Shop because there were problems with the recording…. But what is really amazing. Imagine your grandparents listening to WBEN all day… That’s what you get here. Things were slow to change at WBEN. Clint Buehlman’s Show in 1973 was not really all that different from the show in 1953. Van Miller is in great voice and cadence calling Buffalo Braves basketball. As far as I know, these are the only complete recordings of Braves basketball in tact.

Below, you’ll find exactly what and who is on these tapes… and some brief cuts from each.

Clint Buehlman

One of the most often asked questions to this website is, “What was the name of Clint Buehlman’s theme song?” The answer is, there were dozens of light airy instrumentals that were used to open each hour of the Buehlman show, after newsman Jack Ogilvie introduced Your AM-MC after each newscast. Listen below for several such opens, along with other snippets from the Buehly.

 

Newsman Jack Ogilvie (right) and AM-MC Clint Buehlman spent mornings together for over a quarter of a century starting in 1951 and ending in 1977.

Buffalo Braves Basketball

As Van Miller’s one time producer in both radio and TV, I can tell you I don’t know that he ever sounded better than behind the mic courtside at the Aud during Braves games, as shown to the left with Dr Jack Ramsey, standing.

Another of those popular questions is Do you have any Braves Games? Apparently, the answer has been yes for quite a long time… only they’ve been stuck on tapes I couldn’t play. But now, I have at least three Braves games in their entirety.

Braves vs Lakers: December 19, 1973
Kareem Abdul Jabbar visits Memorial Auditorium

Braves vs Bucks: February 2, 1973
Wilt Chamberlain visits Memorial Auditorium

 

Van Miller interviews Fred Hilton and Randy Smith in the WBEN studios circa 1972.

 


Some Highlights from WBEN Friday December 28, 1973

WBEN’s Al Fox interviews a cow.
Dick Rifenburg (l) and Clint Buehlman (r) receive an Award for Ski Coverage.
Ward Fenton
Dick Rifenburg
Jack Ogilvie
Ken Philips
Lou Douglas
Lou Douglas in Studio A
Stan Barron showing some kids around the studio.

Some Highlights from WBEN March 15, 1973

 

 


Random Highlights from WBEN 1973

 

Ed Tucholka at the WBEN-FM automation center.
Virgil Booth on the Channel 4 set.
Marty Gleason at the Editors Desk.
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com

 

Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers: 8th Annual Hall of Fame Inductions

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This story was published in Living Prime Time magazine

sept2004The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to collect and maintain the articles and stories of the great history of radio and television on the Niagara Frontier, as well celebrate those who embody the great spirit broadcasting today and into the future.

Once a year, we like to take the opportunity to celebrate the lives and careers of those men and women of broadcasting who, through their superlative efforts, have left an indelible mark not only on the history of Buffalo Broadcasting; but on the lives of those who watched and listened as well. For the seventh of our eight years, we will convene at the newly remodeled Tralfamadore Café for The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame Night, Tuesday, September 28, 2004 at 6:00pm.

Enshrined in our Hall of Fame are the broadcasters who make us proud to work in the wake of their legacy. They’ve all contributed something special to Western New York. Just like periods of history are noted by Kings and Popes, you might be able to trace your memory by who was on your radio as you woke up and went to school or work… Or who hosted the cartoons when you got home from school or read the news on TV as you went to bed. Hopefully the mere mention of some of the names below will help conjure some of those memories.

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.

Stan BARRON 2004 Golden Age Award
Stan BARRON
2004 Golden Age Award

If you ever heard Stan Barron, you’re standards are likely a bit higher in sports broadcasting. Stan came to Buffalo in 1952, and spent a decade at WKBW Radio and television, as a play-by-play man on radio, and serving as WKBW-TV’s first sports director. Stan is perhaps most remembered, though, for his time at WBEN Radio, where he was half of the Stan and Van team calling Bills Football for 14 years. It was also at WBEN that he, with out the aid of a producer for most of the shows run, ran Free Form Sports, a show that might have the Bills quarterback on one minute, then switch to an 11 year old Little League pitcher who threw a perfect game.

Upon Stan’s death in 1984, then WBEN disc jockey Tom Kelly commented that the first thing he heard on Buffalo radio as he drove into town was a gravely voice reading youth soccer scores on WBEN. He didn’t understand that night but he soon did. Stan Barron wasn’t a sports announcer; he was a beloved institution who enjoyed, understood, and celebrated sports and athletes at every level.

Alfred KIRCHHOFER 2004 George Goodyear Award
Alfred KIRCHHOFER
2004 George Goodyear Award

AHK(as he referred to himself) or Mr. Kirchhofer (as everyone else referred to him) was the man in charge of WBEN Radio before there was a WBEN Radio. His influence was key in the News’ purchase of the station in 1930. From 1927 until his retirement in 1967, Mr. Kirchhofer ran and expanded a News Empire that included the Buffalo Evening News, and added WBEN Radio in 1930, in 1936 added WEBR Radio (then a News property), WBEN-FM in 1946, and WBEN-TV in 1948.
Despite his founding of four broadcast outlets, Kirchhofer was first and foremost a newspaper man. After joining the Buffalo Evening News in 1915, he opened the News’ Washington Bureau, and became a familiar figure to Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, all the while being Buffalo’s eyes and ears in the nation’s capital. Realizing the potential for radio beyond selling newspapers, Kirchhofer developed a staff of radio writers and newsmen for WBEN and put the station on top to stay for decades. The Evening News Stations were always ahead of the curve for not only Buffalo, but helped put Buffalo in the media avant-garde for the nation. The FM and television stations developed under Kirchhofer were not only Buffalo’s first, but among the first in the nation.

The staunch conservative content and dry delivery at the News Stations that survived well into the 1970s was a direct result of Kirchhofer’s editorial style. His approach made the News Stations “The Stations of Record” for generations.

Mike MERIAN
Mike MEARIAN

Despite a decades long career in radio, television, and on the stage, Mike Mearian might best be known to the thousands of children who grew up watching him on Channel 4 in the 50s and 60s as the guy with Buttons. Mearian filled the imaginations of kids with thoughts of far off places as the host of Children’s Theatre on WBEN-TV, as well as the voice of Buttons the puppet.

After winning three purple hearts in World War II combat, Mearian started in radio in a small Texas town in 1947. He eventually made his way to Buffalo, and after stints as the morning man at KB Radio and Kenmore’s WXRA, Merian spent the next 14 years at WBEN Radio and TV. Perhaps best remembered for those of a certain age for his work with children’s programming, older folks will remember his live Statler Hilton Lunch Club shows and his evening comedy show on WBEN Radio.

Mearian values his time in Buffalo as a time where talented people were given free reign to make good radio and television without interference from above. You may have recognized Mike over the years in commercials, on soap operas, even on Law & Order as a judge… and wondered, “what ever happened to Buttons?” Not to worry, since leaving Buffalo in 1966, Mearian has lived in the Big Apple with his wife and the puppet friend brought alive here in Buffalo.

Stan ROBERTS
Stan ROBERTS

Ba-Dum-Bum! That vocalized rimshot crashes quite easily (and often!) from the lips of Buffalo’s beloved self-fashioned Corny DJ… For parts of seven decades, Stan Roberts has been on the radio making us laugh… and groan. From the time of his arrival at WKBW Radio in the early 60s, through his days at WGR, WBUF and WBEN, Stan has made a career of not taking himself too seriously. And so long as you were laughing, or at least smiling (no matter with him or at him) he figures his job well done.

For all of the lampshades Stan has worn on his head in TV commercials, he’s also been a part of many of Buffalo’s most exciting times. Thousands of Sabres fans still cherish the Memorable Sabres Highlights record Stan voiced in commemoration of the 1975 Stanley Cup year. Thousands of Bills fans ignored his warnings to “Stay off the Field” as they tore down Rich Stadium goalposts at the beginning of the Bills Superbowl run. Stan also helped organize Light Up Buffalo… inspiring some of the most stunning night time photos ever taken of Downtown Buffalo. He’s also made his mark in radio sales, as one of Buffalo Radio’s top billing salesmen of the past quarter century.

But most importantly, from his time as a teen DJ in Asbury Park, NJ in the late 40’s; to his role as one of Buffalo’s senior radio salesmen, Stan Roberts has always had the gift to make us smile whether we want to or not.

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.

Mark RUSSELL 2003 Buffalo Bob Smith Award
Mark RUSSELL
2003 Buffalo Bob Smith Award

After growing up on Buffalo’s East Side and attending Canisius High School, Mark Russell became interested in comedy during a hitch in the Marine Corps. It was while in the Marines he began performing in clubs around the Virginia base at which he was stationed. Influenced by the likes of Mort Sahl and Tom Lehrer, Russell’s act had become increasing political by the time he landed at the Shoreham Hotel. There, Russell spent 20 years entertaining and skewering the men leading the nation.

He also met a few fellow Buffalonians — WNED executives – who offered to produce a PBS special starring Russell.

Nearly 30 years later, Russell still returns to Western New York to spend part of the summer and to star in those specials, on a street named Mark Russell Way by the City of Buffalo in his honor.

Don YEARKE 2004 Behind the Scenes Award
Don YEARKE
2004 Behind the Scenes Award

The quarter century Don Yearke spent as an award-Winning videographer and Chief Photographer at Channel 4 is the basis for which he has been awarded the Behind The Scenes Award. But his work as a camera man is only the second half the story.

After signing on Buffalo’s WNIA Radio as the first Tommy Thomas in 1956 and spending time at Radio Tokyo as a soldier stationed in Japan, Don made his way to KB Radio in 1958. There he started as Dick Biondi’s newsman, and, eventually, became KB’s overnight Rock Jock, where his show could be heard in Maryland, Michigan, and Sweden. As Don Keller, the Farm Feller, he delivered agricultural news to the Niagara Frontier on WKBW Radio every morning, and on WKBW-TV on Saturday mornings. As his role at Channel 7 grew, Don became Buffalo’s first modern street reporter, both gathering news and interviews, and then presenting them himself on camera.

It was in the Channel 7 newsroom that News Director Hal Youngblood sent reporter Don Keller to a fire, and told him to point the camera at the flame. Since that first assignment as a camera man with a black and white Bell Howell wind up, Yearke’s pictures have brought the world to our living rooms. From Popes and Presidents, to the Blizzard of ’77, to Superbowls, Don’s eyes have provided our vision of the news of the day. Since his retirement as WIVB-TV’s Chief Photographer in 1999, Yearke has continued to work as a free lance videographer.

We always welcome new members to the BBP, broadcasters and fans of broadcasting alike. 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 $25, 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 for to general public at $50 per person. Send your ticket order or membership request with payment to: The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers; 5672 Main Street; Williamsville, New York 14221.

Steve Cichon is President of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers.