Why Talking Proud was more than just a (cheesy) jingle…

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“Talking Proud” was Buffalo’s anthem at a time when many of us didn’t feel so great about Buffalo.

When the song and campaign were released 1980, Bethlehem Steel, where more than 20-thousand men once worked, was winding down and the furnaces would soon go cold.

There was a billboard behind City Hall asking the last person leaving Buffalo to turn out the light.

MORE: Buffalo in the 80’s: Talking Proud 

Our region had spent a lot of time in National headlines as the epicenter of environmental disaster at Love Canal and the home of snowy death with Blizzard of ’77.

We needed something to hang our hats on.

It was easy to feel down about Buffalo, and over the last 40 years, most of us have said, “We’re Talking Proud!” ironically…  but having something, anything to rally around made a difference and gave us Buffalonians a sense of identity—

Even if we giggled a little as Terry Licata did he leaned back arm-swinging march through the streets of Buffalo.

This is a later follow up to the original Talking Proud television spot. These continued to air through the 1980s. The video is courtesy of  retrontario.com, whose webmaster Ed Conroy has posted hundreds of great Buffalo (and, as you might guess, Southern Ontario) television clips from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

More from the Retrontario YouTube Channel: youtube.com/user/Retrontario

Buffalo in the ’80s: Bills fans loved to hate Howard Cosell

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

As a community, Buffalo Bills fans have been largely and vocally disappointed in the network analysts and play-by-play announcers and their treatment of our team and our city. At the end of a game, there is quite often a lengthy list of mostly perceived, rather than outward slights against us.

OJ Simpson, Howard Cosell, and Frank Gifford in the Rich Stadium press box, 1983. (Buffalo Stories archives)

With Howard Cosell, there was no need to read between the lines. Like the time he called Buffalo a “lesser clone of Cleveland.”

Bills Fans display a Howard Cosell puppet at a Monday Night game in 1983. Buffalo News archives

Bills Fans display a Howard Cosell puppet at a Monday Night game in 1983. (Buffalo News archives)

While he’d say things on the air that would earn him rebuking letters from folks like Mayor Jimmy Griffin, Buffalonians and even Griffin himself, were often charmed by the intelligent and thoughtful Cosell outside the play-by-play booth.

Howard Cosell, wearing a "Talking Proud" pin, speaks with Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Howard Cosell, wearing a “Talking Proud” pin, speaks with Buffalo Mayor James D. Griffin. (Buffalo News archives)

Eventually, it wasn’t just Buffalo that had had enough of Cosell. Early in the 1983 season, he made reference to an African-American player running like a “little monkey.” Cosell said he was referring to the player’s tiny stature, not his race. Videotape showed him using the same term about a diminutive white player, and Cosell’s grandchildren remember the TV big mouth calling them “little monkeys” as small children.

Howard Cosell speaks to the Buffalo Quarterback Club Luncheon, 1981.

Howard Cosell speaks to the Buffalo Quarterback Club Luncheon, 1981.

The furor was the last chink in Cosell’s armor, and he’d leave Monday Night Football at the end of the season – but not before one more appearance at Rich Stadium. It was Oct. 3, 1983, when the Bills lost to the Jets, 34-10 on Monday Night Football. Howard Cosell called the Bills action for the final time.

Buffalo in the ’80s: Talking Proud!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

At the time, M&T President Andrew Craig called it “the most extensive and far reaching effort in the history of Buffalo aimed at upgrading and improving Buffalo’s image.”

licata-terry-talking-proud

Thirty-four years later, any Buffalonian over the age of 40 still instantly recognizes the face and stance of actress Terry Licata (now Licata-Braunstein), who proudly led the “Talking Proud” march in an extensive, long-running TV promo campaign. (Buffalo News archives)

Even when it was new– and especially now, to the outsider — the “We’re Talking Proud” jingle and TV spot were at best lampoonish and cheesy. For Buffalonians, however, the song is a communally understood representation of our complex feelings about our hometown.

Most of us have an unusually fierce love and loyalty for Western New York, even for what outsiders might perceive as bruises and warts. We’re proud of our snow and our blue collars, but protective against people who might not understand or who understand but hold their noses aloft at our “quaintness.”

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

The whole campaign was created to help us coalesce those feelings as a community. Surveys showed people wanted to stay in Buffalo, and loved the fact that it was relatively cheap to live well here. People loved the number of restaurants, the abundance of cultural and pro sports events, running the gamut of taste and price.

Bills and Sabres fans were talking proud in the early 80s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Bills and Sabres fans were talking proud in the early ’80s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

But in 1982, Buffalo’s unemployment numbers hit 15.3 percent, in the same year that Bethlehem Steel announced the shuttering of what was once the world’s largest steel manufacturing facility, and once the home of more than 20,000 jobs.

“The problem is (the people of Buffalo) don’t know too many facts about why they’re proud, and they’re sort of backward about standing up for their city,” campaign chairman Robert J. Donough told the Associated Press three months after the launch.

But even trying to capture the spirit of the campaign, the AP writer had to report some, cold hard facts. “With its numerous dingy buildings and empty storefronts, the downtown area remains a depressing shock to the first-time visitor.”

Donough told a different group, “We found we had to give (Buffalonians) something to talk about. So, at this point, we began to develop the Talking Proud campaign.”

Bells Markets became a clearing house for many Talking Proud logo items. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Bells Markets became a clearing house for many “Talking Proud” logo items. (Buffalo Stories archives)

At the high point, the Talking Proud logo was licensed to 85 firms producing 135 products, from lollipops to an $11,000 Buick Regal furnished as a rolling testament to pride in Buffalo.
talking-proud-Bells

The television ads were romp and pomp, and happy and high-flying, but the print ads, featuring small groups of Buffalonians, were a bit edgier.

“We’ve got a spirit and we’re talking proud…. We’re fed up with all the insults, all the jokes about our city. We Buffalonians have had it right up to here. We’ve got one of the best communities in the world.

“We’re proud of Buffalo. We’re not going bankrupt. We’re not having riots. And we’re not going to take your abuse any longer. So back off, America. If you want to poke fun, poke it somewhere else. We’re Buffalo. We’ve got a spirit. And we’re talking proud.”

Western New Yorkers were keenly aware of the problems at home—and for quite some time had been tired of hearing about those problems from outsiders.

It started as early as 1969, with a scathing piece as much about Buffalo as the Bills in Sports Illustrated. San Francisco sports writer Glenn Dickey made a city full of enemies for life as he was quoted calling Buffalo the “armpit of the East.”

After days and weeks of Buffalo Blizzard aftermath footage dominating national newscasts in 1977, Johnny Carson, whose Johnny Carson-brand suits were manufactured here by M. Wile, made Buffalo’s blizzard cleanup a longstanding punch line.

Even Howard Cosell, often derided for his sports analysis, specifically inspired the ire of Western New York with a jibe insinuating that Buffalo was a lesser “clone of Cleveland” on a Monday Night Football broadcast.

One Buffalo jab blew a bit out of proportion, but wound up with kumbaya.

In 1981, the Chinese owner of the Hilton, Clement Chen, was planning to build a hotel for Americans in Beijing, so he brought a delegation of Chinese chefs to train in American cuisine at his Buffalo hotel. CBS Newsman Morley Safer, who found the notion of Chinese chefs training in Buffalo “marvelously incongruous,” wrote a tongue-in-cheek commentary that was likely funny to most of America, but not to Buffalo—where jokes about Love Canal and the lake being dirty have never played well. Safer spoke of “the more than aromatic shores of Lake Erie” and said that Buffalo’s “greasy and impenetrable” “chemical cuisine” would result in “international ill-will.”

Thousands of letters from Buffalo later,  CBS president Gene Jankowski, a Buffalo native, “urged” (strong-armed?) Safer into accepting the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce to visit Buffalo.”My impression of this city has certainly changed,” the newsman said as he toured. “I wrote in my commentary about the mythology and now I’ve seen reality. You’ve just won a fan.”

Buffalo Community Development Commissioner Larry Quinn shows Morley Safer around downtown. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Later that morning, he told a throng outside One M&T Plaza, “This whole thing started in fun and I was determined not to apologize. But after one of the most gracious and spectacular mornings of my life, I must say I am sorry.”

“Talking Proud” was great for Buffalonians and showed outsiders that we cared. But in national talk about the juggernaut, more people echoed the negative notions the campaign was meant to dispel.

US News and World Report said the campaign was conceived to “disprove outsiders’ cruel jests picturing Buffalo as an urban desert.” TV Guide said the bright music and happy marching was “in contrast to Buffalo’s coldly forbidding image.”

Again, the print ads were far more succinct than the happy jingle.

“Give it to ’em, Buffalo. We’ve got an earful to tell America about living here.

“For starters medical care, food prices and home costs are among the lowest anywhere. So are our crime rates. Our schools are some of the best. Plus we get a gentle prevailing wind off our lake that gives our city four distinctive weather seasons and some of the best pollution-free air around.

“Sure, some of us moved out of Buffalo. We tried other cities like Chicago, San Diego, New York, Houston and Memphis.

“Funny thing, America, a lot of us moved back. We missed the short commuting times to work. And the cheap parking rates. We missed Buffalo’s unique nightlife. We missed quiet places like Delaware Park, the Marina. We missed neighborhoods that pull together, stay together and are being restored and renewed together.

“In short, America, we think the quality of life around here is better than a lot of places you offer.

“So we’re speaking our piece. Because we’re Buffalo. We’ve got a spirit. And we’re talking proud.”

There were many people who can take credit for giving life to the “Talking Proud” campaign.

Fred Dentinger, the great Buffalo philanthropist, was chairman of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce when he championed the notion of defending Buffalo against naysayers, and even going on the offensive if necessary. A few years later, Dave Smith was in charge at the Chamber, and joined by PR man Pat Donlon, laid the ground work for “Talking Proud.”

They hired Alden Schutte, the great ad man and artist, who oversaw the creation of every facet of the campaign.

Then there’s the actual voice we can easily hear in our minds without trying too hard. Teresa Giles, still hailed as one of Indiana’s premier session singers, was described as a “27-year old farm girl” when credited with singing the original track, recorded at Wolftrack Studios in Indianapolis.

The personification of Talking Proud, however, had to be the exuberant young actress selected to star in the TV spots.

Terry Licata-Braunstein has been seen in films like Raging Bull and Hide in Plain Sight, and on the small screen in Law & Order.

Terry Licata-Braunstein has been seen in films like “Raging Bull” and “Hide in Plain Sight,” and on the small screen in “Law & Order.”

Terry Licata grew up on the West Side, and had tried out for a role in an AM&A’s commercial. That didn’t work out, but producer Schutte remembered her, and the rest is history.

licata-terry-talking-proud0

More on “the high-stepping, diminutive lady in the red jumpsuit leading a throng of chest-thumping Buffalonians” from News Reporter Harold McNeil: ‘Talking Proud’ cheerleader still struts her stuff on screen

There’s also Joe Cribbs, Chuck Knox, Joe Ferguson, and the early ’80s Bills. When the Bills beat the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the “Talking Proud” song blared from the Rich Stadium sound system, 80,000 people danced and sang.  And we haven’t stopped showing that “Buffalo’s got a spirit” ever since… talking proud, talking proud.

Some of the best of 80’s Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

These are the kinds of thing that litter my hard drive and my attic.

This is what it means to be a “Buffalo pop culture historian,” having this sort of junk at my fingertips. And if I don’t regularly share images like these, people stop calling me a “historian” and start calling me a “hoarder.”

So these are from the Buffalo Stories/staffannouncer.com Archives.

If you survived the decade of the 1980’s in Buffalo, New York, you very well may remember:

goldcircleIn most locations, Gold Circle took over Buffalo area Twin Fair stores in 1982. Gold Circle stores closed in 1988, with many becoming Hills, unless there was already a Hills location nearby (such as on Lake Avenue in Blasdell.)
tricogoal copyRemember when the Trico ad in the boards lit up when the Sabres scored a goal at the Aud? Windshield wipers were invented in Buffalo, and produced in 3 various plants around the city, until Trico closed up shop and moved to Mexico. Also, remember when the Sabres scored goals?

 

gennycreamposterbigA field full of plants growing cans of delicious Genny Cream Ale? Don’t tell me you haven’t dreamed this dream. People will come, Ray… People will most definitely come.

 

chamberofcommerce82This is the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce in 1982. The best part is, the “Talking Proud” hook rug hanging on the wall might not even be in the top 5 most 80’s things about this photo.

 

crystalbeachsuperduperGet your discount Crystal Beach tickets at Super Duper. That’s exciting, but the real excitement, in retrospect, was the fact that you could very likely cross the Peace Bridge by answering one question with “US,” and then getting a “go ahead,” from a customs guy.

 

irvdietpepsi copyThis 1981 Irv Weinstein photo has a strong 1970’s look about it, but the early 80’s had a strong 70’s look about them. For some people in WNY, the 70’s ended and the 80’s began some time in 1992.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

Buffalo in the 80’s: Talking Proud latch hook

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In 1982, steel and auto manufacturing jobs were leaving Buffalo by the thousands.

chamberofcommerce82

The Chamber of Commerce, though, was in its 1982 glory with a “Talking Proud” hooked rug hanging on the wall, and a big giant computer that had about 1/320th the memory that the phone I’m writing this on has.