Making Buffalo Buffalo: Bob Wells

By Steve Cichon

Among the things that make Buffalo… Buffalo is Bob Wells.

Bob Wells at the WEBR RCA-44, where his theme song was Gloria Wood’s “Teen Time.”

Bob Wells was the host of one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the post-war era– the Hi Teen show ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.

What kind of music did you hear on Hi-Teen?.

“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Channel 2’s Rich Kellman during a late 70s interview.

Wells popularity with Buffalo’s youngest radio fans overlapped the rock ‘n’ roll era, but not by much.

Long after Hi-Teen was little more than a memory, Western New Yorkers continued to hear Bob Wells’ voice as the voice of Your Host restaurants.

WATCH: A Bob Wells-voiced Your Host commercial from 1977:

Bob Wells… and the Hi Teen Show.. just one of the things that makes Buffalo… Buffalo

Buffalo in the 60s: Satchmo, Basie, Duke, Brubeck headline Buffalo Jazz festival

By Steve Cichon

The word unbelievable is thrown around — but the lineup at the 1960 Buffalo Jazz Festival at Offerman Stadium was pretty close to unbelievable.

Buffalo Stories archives

The old baseball park behind Freddie’s Doughnuts at Main and Michigan played host to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Krupa and a half-dozen others.

In 1951, Main & Michigan and the area around Offermann Stadium was much more densely filled in. (Buffalo Stories archives)

The run up to the event received plenty of coverage in the Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo Evening News, and The Niagara Gazette.

Co-produced by Ed Sarkesian and George Wein, in association with WEBR disc jockey Joe Rico, the festival features a lineup of entertainers that reads like a “Who’s Who in Jazz.”

The idea for staging a Buffalo Jazz Festival represents the collective thinking of professional producers and interested local businessmen. Producers Sarkesian and Wein regard Buffalo as one of the top five jazz markets in the country, based on the  record of successful shows staged at Kleinhans Music Hall and local theaters.

–Buffalo Courier-Express, July 24, 1960

The Niagara Gazette reported that a ‘”Living Stereo” sound system was to be installed in Offermann Stadium at a cost of $6000, “assuring that the audience will hear every chord struck by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, every run from Louis Armstrong’s golden trumpet and every note played and sung by Dinah Washington, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie and the other stars who will appear.”

The Buffalo Evening News previews the show.

As far as the show itself:

Kenneth Gill’s review of the first day of the two-day festival from the Courier-Express. Dave Brubeck, Dinah Washington, Art Blakley, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie were among the performers. WEBR disc jockey Joe Rico was the emcee. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Gill also reviewed the last day of the show for the Courier.

The second part of Buffalo’s first Jazz Festival concluded last night at Offermann Stadium where again some of the top names in music produced an evening of fine entertainment for an enthusiastic audience.

The total attendance for the Saturday and Sunday night shows was 16,000.

On stage last night was an array of celebrities equal to the standards of the opening edition. Such personalities as Chico Hamilton, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Oscar Peterson and Louis Armstrong were on hand. It also marked the first Buffalo appearance of Jackie Cain, Roy Kral, and Cannonball Adderley.

Hamilton’s Quintet, which is built around his fine drum work; Ellington’s orchestra in the blue mood of the old master, Krupa’s torrid drums, and Peterson’s great piano playing highlighted the festivities.

Armstrong’s appearence brought the usual reception for the great “Satchmo,” whose trumpet and gravel voice are a must for any succesful jazz gathering.

Cannonball Is a Hit

Cannonball Adderley and his alto sax, backed up by his side men, brought about interesting improvisations on the jazz standards. The integration of vocal sounds with those of the instrumental, placed Jackie Cain and Roy Kral well up in their
chosen classification.

Local talent again received its opportunity. Patti Leeds, accompanied by the Sammy Noto Quintet, was as vocally pleasing as she was visually appealing.

She turned easily from sultry ballad to belting chorus, with all the accomplishments and polish of a top professional. All indications are that her future it very bright. (WEBR disc jockey) Carroll Hardy provided the program introductions.

Among the odd stories from weekend festival– it was the first major event where The Buffalo Police Department’s new K-9 squad was given a public appearance.

Working out of the Franklin Street station, “The dog, his handler and the van patrolman-driver form a team which check trouble spots anywhere in the city,” reported the Courier in a follow-up article. “No job is too small — roaming through pool parlors, mingling at crime scenes, even issuing traffic tags.

“Their finest hour was handling the crowd at the recent Jazz Festival in Offermann Stadium. Not one disturbance took place during the concert or on any streets afterwards. The promoter told Lt. Carr it was the only peaceful concert on his tour.”

Buffalo Stories archives

A few years earlier, Joe Rico, then with WWOL, brought another amazing show to Kleinhans Music Hall:

Buffalo in the ’50s: Basie, Gillespie, Billie Holiday headline Kleinhans show

Buffalo in the ’60s: Bowling was a big business in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon

We Buffalonians don’t bowl anywhere near as much as we used to, but just like we still consider ourselves a blue-collar town (even though most of the blue-collar jobs have been gone for decades) we still sentimentally feel a link to the game our parents and grandparents enjoyed over pitchers of beer in leagues all across the city.

Sattler’s and bowling– two entities that made Buffalo great in the 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Buffalo Stories archives

While for many bowling was a game that was as much about smoking and drinking and socializing as it was about rolling a ball down the lane, it was also serious business in Buffalo.

There was a time when Channels 2, 4, and 7 all aired local bowling shows– and Channel 4 had two shows– “Beat The Champ” with men bowlers and “Strikes, Spares, and Misses” with lady bowlers. WBEN-TV’s Chuck Healy was in homes six days a week for two decades as Buffalo’s bowling emcee as host of those programs. This 1971 ad describes “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” which aired daily at 7:30pm, as “Buffalo’s most popular show.”

When local TV bowling was at its zenith in the 1950s, even radio stations promoted their coverage of the sport. Ed Little, who spent 62 years working in radio, most of them in his hometown of Buffalo, read the bowling scores on WEBR Radio before he took the drive down Main Street to host live broadcasts with the stars performing at the Town Casino.

WEBR’s Ed Little with bowling highlights weeknights at 6:30. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo’s best bowlers became celebrities– well known from their exploits as televised. Nin Angelo, Allie Brandt, Phyllis Notaro, and scores of others became some of Buffalo’s best known athletes.

Sixty years later, families still beam with pride when relating the stories of their family’s greatest athletes, even when an elder has to explain most of the fuzzy details. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of “Beat the Champ.”

A Courier-Express photo illustration bringing together many of Buffalo’s great bowlers of the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

We live in an era where we’re watching the numbers of Western New York bowlers and bowling alleys dwindle rapidly. But five or six decades ago, it wasn’t just bowling alleys that were plentiful: The sports pages of The Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express were regularly filled with ads for the all the accouterments of  bowling.

Bowling was big, and judging by the pages of the city’s newspapers, there was big money to be made as well. The run up to league time in 1960 saw no fewer than five decent-sized ads for custom bowling shirts…. because it wasn’t just about your score, it was about looking good at the social event of the week at your neighborhood bowling alley.

Bowling shirts from Al Dekdebrun, who became famous in Buffalo as a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills of the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s. (Buffalo Stories archives)
Laux Sporting Goods sold bowling shirts from their original location at 441 Broadway on Buffalo’s East Side. (Buffalo Stories archives)
One of Buffalo’s biggest sellers of custom bowling balls was on the city’s West Side at Buffalo Rubber & Supply, Niagara Street at Pennsylvania. (Buffalo Stories archives)

WEBR’s “Today with Amanda” with tips from AM&A’s, 1951

By Steve Cichon

WEBR’s “Amanda” interviews an AM&A’s buyer on her midday shopping and fashion tips show at the WEBR-970 studios, 23 North Street, in 1951.
Buffalo Stories archives
“Amanda” was actually Dorothy Shank, president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio & Television. She later worked in marketing for AM&A’s, had a show on Channel 4, and was a host on WJJL in Niagara Falls through the 1980s. She was 81 when she died in 1989.
But my favorite part of this photo: in the middle, just to the left of the phone, Buffalo’s 1950’s equivalent of a Tim Horton’s cup– a glass “to go” coffee cup/milk bottle from Buffalo’s ubiquitous Deco Restaurants (there were more than 50 Deco locations around WNY when they were most popular.)

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware Drive-In, Knoche Road, 1963

By Steve Cichon

This one is more a case of built-up than torn down, but the Delaware Drive-In, prominently featured in the aerial photo by longtime News photographer Bill Dyviniak, was torn down to build the Youngmann Expressway.

Buffalo News archives

Landmarks which are still recognizable today include tiny St. Peter’s German Evangelical Church. It was built in 1849 by early German settlers of Tonawanda, including John and Eva Pierson (who happen to be my fifth-great grandparents.) It remained a church until 1967. It’s now the home of the Tonawanda-Kenmore Historical Society, and is easily visible on Knoche Road on the 290’s Elmwood Avenue exit.

Buffalo Stories archives

Opened in 1948, the 35-acre Delaware Drive-in featured a 63-foot-by-63-foot screen and accommodations for 1,000 cars for the twice-nightly shows.

Lucky Pierre broadcasts live from the Delaware Drive-In on WEBR, 1957 (Buffalo Stories archives)

The big screen was torn down in 1963 as the state built the 290 through Tonawanda and Amherst.

The coolest guy I know…

By Steve Cichon

What is “cool?” It’s a word and a concept that are virtually cliché, mostly because for the last 30 years, popular culture’s most popular people and things  are usually anti-cool.

C'mon, this is Al. Isn't he just the coolest?
C’mon, this is Al. Isn’t he just the coolest?

“Uncool” still isn’t cool, but anti-cool is the coolest. Many cool people use the word “cool” ironically, not as it may have been intended at some point long ago.

Let’s think back to when cool was cool, though. I’m 36. When I was kid, Michael Jackson and The Dukes of Hazzard were pop-culture cool. I liked those things, but if you ran into little Stevie Cichon on the streets of South Buffalo in 1982, and asked him to name one “cooool” guy, I would have said, without thinking, The Fonz.

Arthur Fonzarelli might be our national lasting impression of “cooool,” so to that measure, Little Stevie would have been correct.

“Adult” Steve (note quotes- ed.) finds Fonzie to be more indifferent than cool. Whether we’re talking about him or James Dean, these “cool dudes” were guys who tried hard to exude an image. A slick haircut, a leather jacket, a motorcycle, defiant smoking, dungarees, and of course, that defiant attitude.

That alone was enough to “own” Arnold’s in 1950-whenever-Happy-Days-was-supposed-to-have-happened.  That just can’t be “cool” now though, because even the squarest kids have some measure of the Fonz’s bad-ass defiant attitude and have their own ways of doing whatever they want.

I’d offer that the fact the Fonz’s act wouldn’t be cool today, means he was never really “cool.”

Before you tell me, “sit on it, Cunningham,” let’s think about this.

He tried hard to be cool, right? For me, that’s big. Any effort you put into being cool lobs off massive amounts of cool points.

To me, cool means, in part, someone who personifies not giving a shit about being cool to the n-th degree.  Someone who does what they do, and they go home and have a sandwich. Someone who– if is accused of being cool– immediately thinks the accuser is an asshole.

That’s cool.

According to some website (which supports my point of view so I’ll accept it), “cool” came into English as slang in 1825, meaning “calmly audacious.” It’s with that connotation that “cool” came to mean “fashionable” in Black America in the 1930s. The word was propagated by some of the really coolest men who ever lived, jazz musicians of the 1940s and 50s.

Speaking generally, jazz musicians qualify as cool. They mostly don’t care what you think about their music. I don’t know much about jazz, but I appreciate watching jazz live. You can just about see instruments connected to the souls and guts of the guys who play them. It’s pure, raw music art.

So some guy, who has played with legends and travelled around the world, and made and lost a lot of money, sits in a hole-in-the-wall bar, bares his soul by means of a horn, people are blown away, and he gets in his car and goes home and has a piece of toast and mows the lawn.

That guy is cool. Right?

Al Wallack isn’t a jazz musician, but he is a jazz man. It’s the soul, not the ability with a musical instrument in hand.

For 40 years, Al has used his ability to convey the spoken word and ability to record and edit and manipulate sound on the radio in the same artful, beautiful and soulful way that the guy blowing sax does.

Al’s opus work was “Jazz in the Nighttime” on WEBR AM-970 in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It wasn’t a job for him, it was a passion.  He did it because something inside of him made him do it.  In many ways, it was his life.

To say Al is the best is wrong, because just like the jazz artists he put in the spotlight for so many years, it’s better to just call him a great artist, and like all great artists he’s different, unique, and in a category all his own.

Ask him, and Al will tell you he’s just and old disc jockey who likes to sit home and drink cheap beer, and that he’s not deserving of going into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, as he is set to do tonight.

He can’t be more right and more wrong. While I can’t think of a more deserving member of the Broadcasting Hall of Fame, based on what’s truly a legacy of artistry and commitment like none other in the history of Buffalo radio… He’s also just an old disc jockey who likes to sit at home and drink THE CHEAPEST light beer he can find.

He’d also look at me with a perturbed look on his face, and think I’m an asshole for saying it, but on this day I’ll take the hit: Al Wallack is the coolest guy I know.