Television wasn’t even 3 years old in Buffalo when this photo was snapped inside WBEN-TV’s “Studio D” on the 18th floor of the Hotel Statler in 1951.
Buffalo News archives
Channel 4 was still Buffalo’s only television station, and its offerings of live, locally produced dramas were among the most popular shows that The News-owned station broadcast.
This one in particular, “The Clue,” is perhaps the best remembered. It was written and directed by Buffalo theater icon Fred A. Keller, and it starred Evening News Radio-TV columnist Jim Trantor as Private Eye Steve Malice. He can be seen in the scene wearing a hat.
It wasn’t long before local dramas were pushed off local stations around the country as networks began creating more high quality content for those stations to use.
When Don Paul retired as Buffalo’s pre-eminent weather authority last month, the folks at Channel 4 wished him luck on the message board in front of the station’s Elmwood Avenue studios. The high-definition display replaces a scrolling light sign which had been in place for at least 40 years.
Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories photo
The station now known as WIVB-TV has called 2077 Elmwood Ave. home since 1960, and until 2000, the building also was home to WBEN Radio. The yellow buildings across Elmwood Avenue in this 1983 photo have long since been torn down, and replaced by Popeye’s and Napa Auto.
Buffalo Stories archives
In 1977, it wasn’t Don Paul, but another fabled Buffalo weatherman — Channel 2’s Kevin O’Connell — who was then Channel 4’s main weatherman, broadcasting live from underneath the sign as a blizzard descended upon the region.
Buffalo Stories archives
It was a simpler sign — almost bizarrely similar to next-door neighbor and competitor WGR’s sign in 1961. The tiny building that housed WGR’s radio studios for several years has been owned by Channel 4 for decades. It still stands directly across Elmwood from McDonald’s.
Buffalo News archives
Looking further down Elmwood, none of the buildings in view past the former WGR building are still standing. A paint store stood where the former Don Pablo’s/Advance Auto now stands. Off in the distance closer to Hertel, the water tower of the Kittinger Furniture factory is visible.
From 1948 to 1973, the children of Buffalo knew who the one, true Santa was — and it was the guy who read their letters on Channel 4.
During most of the 25 years the show aired, Hengerer’s sponsored the show to run from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve for 15 minutes on weekdays, a little longer on Saturdays. In 1956, the show that delivered approximately 50,000 letters to Santa through its run became Buffalo’s first locally-produced show regularly presented in color.
Two men played Santa on Channel 4. Announcer Ed Dinsmore was the first St. Nick from the show’s inception until his death in 1954. Station program director Bill Peters — who was also known on the Van Miller Show as Norman Oklahoma — played Santa from 1954 until the end of the show’s run 19 years later.
Santa, however, was barely the star of the show. Forgetful the Elf, played memorably by WBEN copy writer John Eisenberger, was there for the entire run of the show from 1948 to ’73. Not only was the elf he played forgetful, but he was silly. Most shows revolved around Forgetful trying to paint Santa’s sleigh with polka dots, or trying to convince Santa to get rid of his “old fashioned” red suit for something as bit more modern. Hundreds of times through the show’s quarter century, Forgetful was seen greasing up the reindeer’s antlers, with the hopes of making them go faster.
This clip is the only known remaining video from the long run of the Santa show. It’s not from the broadcast of the show– but from 8mm home movies shot by a Channel 4 crew member. This brief video shows Peters as Santa, Eisenberger as Forgetful, and Brook as Grumbles.
The soundtrack for the film is Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” which was used as the show’s theme song. It was also frequently used during the Christmas season by WBEN’s legendary morning man Clint Buehlman.
No full episodes or even short clips of this show — which ran for 25 years — are known to exist. The show was usually presented live, and recording was a more costly and difficult endeavor than it is today.
Santa and Forgetful had plenty of helpers through the years, all of whom — just like Peters and Eisenberger — had other jobs around the station. Grumbles the Elf was played by executive director Gene Brook and then floor manager Bud Hagman. Another director, Warren Jacober, played Freezy the Polar Bear. There were countless other puppets and guest stars, but none rising even close to the popularity of Eisneberger’s Forgetful.
The show ended along with Bill Peters’ death in 1973. Eisenberger died in 1984 at the age of 72.
Eisenberger as Forgetful and Peters as Santa. (Buffalo Stories archives/Steve Cichon collection)
By Steve Cichon | firstname.lastname@example.org | @stevebuffalo
BUFFALO, NY – My friend Libby wrote something the other day which made me think. She was talking about the cold and the gray and the snow, and how we don’t even realize how the darkness of it all creeps into our personality.
“Honestly do not even realize I am depressed, until the sun comes out and everything is sunshiny and I feel the depression lift!”
I read this amidst my going through my collection of old radio and TV trade magazines. In the late 50s and early 60s, these magazines were filled with ads from local radio and TV stations looking to appeal to national advertisers. They talk about how great the station is, but also how wonderful the city and it’s people are– a great place to sell your stuff.
There are plenty of great ads from Buffalo stations. It’s like a Buffalo version of the wacky creative efforts you might see from the guys on Mad Men.
I’ve used these old magazines as a resource for years. Decades even. This time, however, the feeling was different, and Libby’s exaltation helped me put my finger on what made some of these ads better than they were the last time I looked.
These ads look better and more interesting, because there is hope and brightness in Buffalo like we haven’t seen here since the late 50s.
These ads, from 1958 and 1964, show WBEN-TV’s excitement for Buffalo and what is to come, and are meant to showcase the “just-over-the-horizon New Buffalo” that was on it’s way.
These ads feel fresh and great, because while there was a 60 year lag, that New Buffalo really is just around the corner this time.
When we were filled with gloom and darkness about our city, we would look and read these, and point to the empty, rotting grain elevators as a vestige of a vanished industry.
We’d look closely on the Skyway image, and see the beams marked with the logo of Bethlehem Steel. It was a bridge built to get 15,000 men from the city to their jobs in a plant that’s been cold for 30 years.
We imagine what Buffalo would have looked like if we didn’t build highways and downtown office buildings for 2 million expected Western New Yorkers, and we lament the buildings that were lost because too much of downtown was torn down too quickly for the wrong reasons.
But now, with the sun out here for the first time in generations, we look at these images and see progress and what’s to come. We now recreate under the Skyway, with promise of more to come. Grain elevators and malt houses are becoming the avant-garde, up-and-coming spaces that the next generation of Buffalonians realize are incredibly unique to us alone, as moves are made to re-imagine and re-purpose what makes us unique.
And with cranes and scaffolds up in dozens of places around the city, the thought of “new building” isn’t necessarily followed by “oh no.”
As the sun shines, and us Buffalonians feel the depression about our city lift, we’re beginning to figure out how to make our dynamic past, part of our dynamic future.
And we’re getting excited about seeing how the same ol’stuff starts to look different with some sunshine on it, warming the face and the soul.
BUFFALO, NY- So sure, it’s freezing. This is a prolonged cold snap like many of us in Buffalo can’t remember, especially in light of a couple of really mild winters.
Now you’re thinking, so what does Cichon have for us today? More on the anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77?
Well, if you want that, here’s a copy of a Channel 4 newscast from just after the Blizzard. When I worked at Channel 4, I garbage-picked a 1977 copy of this tape when a newer copy was dubbed in the late 90s. This tape is very interesting, if you want to wallow in cold.
But me, I’m wishing for warmth. So instead of the 37th anniversary of the Blizzard of ’77, I’d rather talk about another upcoming anniversary: It was 25 years ago this year that the last cars groaned and creaked along the shores of Lake Erie on the Comet.
It’s been a quarter of a century since we spilled across the Peace Bridge to be greeted by delicious all-day suckers, Paul Bunyan, and that creepy piano playing guy in Laff-in-the-Dark.
If the thought of a quick PSSSSHT of air up your shorts in the Magic Palace or the sound of the talking garbage can thanking you for keeping the park clean doesn’t warm you up today, there might not be anything that will.
If you’re old enough to remember, watching this 30 second TV spot will warm your heart if not your skin today…
It’s the 25th anniversary of Crystal Beach closing this year, and it’s also the 10th anniversary of my Buffalo pop culture website, staffannouncer.com. All year long, I’ll be sprucing up some of the pages that have been there for a while, and creating a bunch of new ones that I’ve been meaning to create for years.
BUFFALO, NY – Alternately known as “A Visit with Santa,” “Santa’s Workshop,” or some combination thereof, The Santa Show brought the magic of the north pole into Buffalo living rooms on WBEN-TV from 1948 to 1973. The show ran for 15 minutes daily at 5pm from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and was the brainchild of WBEN-TV pioneer Fred Keller.
Santa was played by two men during the show’s 25 year run. Ed Dinsmore played the Jolliest of Elves from 1948 until his untimely death in 1954. WBEN staffer Bill Peters stepped in, and played the role for 19 years. Besides the Big Man, Warren Jacboer played “Freezy the Polar Bear,” both Gene Brook and Bud Hagman played “Grumbles the Elf,” and, arguably the most memorable cast member was Forgetful the Elf… as played by Johnny Eisenberger for nearly the entire run of the show.
The program was simple by our modern day TV standards– most of the 15 minutes consisted of Santa reading letters from WNY boys and girls. But its long run– and the feelings it engendered– makes it an all-time Buffalo classic.
Channel 4 helped deliver, on average, 50,000 letters a year to Ol’ St. Nick. The show was the first regular program broadcast in color in Buffalo starting in 1956.
BUFFALO, NY – Aside from all the photos, audio, and video in the staffannouncer archives, there are also hundreds of Newspaper and magazine articles… You’ll see plenty of those pop on on this blog as well.
Remember these faces? After this little introduction, this post is simply an exact copy of a piece that ran in the Courier-Express Sunday Magazine in 1982.
By Dick Hirsch
In the Mellow half-light of the motel room, the face was strangely familiar. The coiffure was stylish but understated. The makeup was careful by emphatic. The smile was inviting but relaxed. Then there was that voice… “Good evening,” the voice intoned, “I’m Ron Hunter, and here is the news…”
For a visitor to Philadelphia, it was a startling return to these slambang days of Buffalo television of the 1970s when Ron Hunter’s face not only peered out of TV sets but also seemed to be posted on the rear end of every bus and most billboards in WNY. Since his days at WGR-TV, he has left several forwarding addresses, with anchor jobs in Miami and Chicago. (AT print time in 1980) in Philadelphia, he (was) a reporter during the week and a fill-in anchor on weekends. He has learned to pronounce Schuylkill with the same uncertain clarity with which he mastered Scajaquada. The names and places have changed, but Hunter is still on the job, reading the night’s news to an eager public.
The re-discovery of Hunter, coupled with the “opening” of the “new” television season has prompted a nostalgic examination of some of the faces and voices who have been meeting with us at 6 and 11 each evening since the lights first went on in 1948.
Virgil Booth, Joe Brush, Ward Fenton
”Its a very visible job,” says Irv Weinstein, the WKBW-TV anchorman whose longevity on camera has made him the most recognizable public person in WNY. “Since you are visible,” he adds, “you are also vulnerable.”
He became a TV news director and anchorman in 1964, when, as he likes to explain, “Channel 7’s news ratings were fourth in a three station market.” Weinstein first came to Buffalo in 1958 as a radio newsman at WKBW. Managers have come and gone, but a combination of corporate patience and Weinstein’s deft flair for news and dramatic delivery has made him a fixture, if there is such a thing in TV.
Anyone remember Irv’s predecessor? It was Bill Gregory, a guy who stayed around long enough to learn how to pronounce some Polish last names but not long enough to make much of a dent in the ratings. Gregory is now a radio newsman in Philadelphia.
Channel 7 was the last of the three commercial stations to go on the air. It began broadcasting in 1958. Thus its cast of newscasters is smaller, and includes names like Roger Lund, Hal Youngblood, Nolan Johannes, and Rick Azar, Yes, Azar. He did some news reporting as well as sports. Johannes is remembered primarily for his work on “Dialing for Dollars,” but also did some news announcing…
Announcer is a title you don’t hear much anymore, but in the old days most of the faces on TV news in Buffalo were radio announcers who walked across the hall and did a stint before the camera.
Pat Fagan, Susan King, Roy Kerns
WBEN-TV (now WIVB) had a substantial headstart on its competitors. It began broadcasting in 1948, six year before Channel 2 and 10 years before Channel 7. The television and radio stations of WBEN were on the 18th floor of the Hotel Statler. In some of the earliest local public affairs broadcasting they would point the snout of the camera out a window and focus on the streets below just to give the cameramen some practice in transmitting a picture. An anonymous announcer in those days would intone a play-by-play of the street scene. “That is Genesee Street and there is a truck from Victor’s heading out to make deliveries and over there you can see the sign of Denton, Cottier, and Daniels.” It wasn’t exactly compelling, but then it was 1948.
Probably the first regular newscaster was Ed Dinsmore. He also did the “Luncheon Club” program on radio. After his death, there were others, like Frank Fredricks, Carl Erickson, Dick Westerkamp, Ward Fenton, Virgil Booth, Bill Ferguson, Lou Douglas, and Cy Buckley.
Buckley, now (in 1980), a revenue officer for the IRS in Buffalo, says that the early days were characterized primarily by reliance on radio veterans. “All we were doing was reading a radio newscast on TV. There was very little visual material. Later we got some still photos and some 16 millimeter film. There was no videotape and no rear screen projection. Nobody ever hear the term “anchorman” because that concept hadn’t been developed.”
John Corbett, Harry Webb, Bill Gregory, Bill Mazer
The longest running news personalities on Channel 4 were Harry Webb, John Corbett, and Chuck Healy, who also had radio responsibilities. In recent years, it has been Steve Rowan, Jim Mitchell, Allen Costantini, and the incumbants, Gary Gunther and John Beard.
Channel 2’s newscasters included early announcers like Roy Kearns, Pat Fagan, and Chuck Poth, who has been involved in local Democratic politics since his departure from TV, was one of the first to read from a telepromter rather than a script, enabling him to look directly into the camera during the newscast, a dramatic advancement. Others at Channel 2 included Lou German, John Gill, Joe Brush, Harry Gunter, Joe Pope, Goerge Redpath, Henry Marcotte, Hunter, Susan King,, and more currently (in 1980), Sheila Murphy, Molly McCoy, and Rich Kellman. (Since no roundup of Channel 2 news is complete without mentioning the long running, ubiquitous and opinionated sportcaster for the station, here goes: Bill Mazer).
Hope you enjoyed this Vintage Courier-Express piece from Dick Hirsch, written in 1980.