Buffalo in the ’70s: TV reporter chased with a hatchet at ‘Deep Throat’ debut

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Nationwide controversy erupted when the pornographic film industry took a step toward legitimate films with the release of “Deep Throat” in 1973.

Unlike previous adult flicks, this one featured a plot along with actual attempts at acting and cinematic values.

According to an Associated Press account, the film was “sneaked into Buffalo” one weekend in the fall of 1973 and played at the Allendale Theatre on Allen Street. That Monday, State Supreme Justice Theodore Kaiser viewed the film, along with co-feature “When the West Was Fun,” and ordered the films seized and the theater manager, 73-year-old Benjamin Solomon, arrested and charged with violating obscenity laws.

That weekend, as word spread of the controversial film being shown in Buffalo, a Channel 2 news crew set up outside the Allentown theater to talk with people on their way into watch the movie. When Solomon saw this, he bolted from the ticket booth wildly swinging at reporter Susan King and cameraman Steven Cocklin with a hammer hatchet.

He tried to hit King and missed. King, who was Buffalo’s first female television news anchor after coming to WGR-TV in 1972, filed a report with police and Solomon was charged with menacing and harassment on top of the obscenity charges.

First as the local news anchor during the “Today” show, then as a featured reporter and weekend evening news anchor, King had quickly become one of Buffalo’s favorite television personalities in only about two years in Buffalo. She also spent several months as the primary weekday anchor at Channel 2 after Ron Hunter left the anchor chair. She received widespread critical acclaim, but was ultimately replaced by Rich Kellman.

Buffalo Stories archives

At the time, there were wasn’t a television station in the country that employed a permanent, solo female news anchor. Channel 2 and King weren’t bound to be the team to cross that historic threshold, but there was no disappointment in an interview with The News.

“I can’t say that they lead me on,” King told The News in 1974. “It was a wild summer and I learned a lot,” she said, making reference to Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, all which came during her time in the anchor chair.

Buffalo News archives

Within a few months, King went from Buffalo to a station in Washington, D.C., before moving to ABC as a White House Correspondent.

Susan King is now the Dean of the UNC School of Media and Journalism in Chapel Hill, NC.

As for “Deep Throat,” in the end, the owners of the Allendale were fined $3,000 for showing the film. Theater manager Solomon admitted to swinging the axe at King, pleaded guilty, and was given a suspended sentence. The 103-year-old Allendale Theatre is now the home of the nonprofit Theatre of Youth Company.

Controversy erupted again in Buffalo the following summer when the Granada Theatre on Main Street in University Heights started showing “The One and Only Throat.” A judge put a ban on the showing of the film under that name as well — but not before ads made it into papers around Western New York.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo in the ’70s: Frank Benny pulls off ‘most outstanding comeback’ of Buffalo broadcast history

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Forty-five years ago, Frank Benny’s story was called “the most outstanding comeback in the history of Buffalo broadcasting” by News critic Gary Deeb. Nearly half a century later, that record appears to be intact.

Frank Benny, 1971. (Buffalo News archives)

Benny was a constant on Buffalo radio dials for 25 years. His voice and style were smooth and sonorous. He quickly became Buffalo’s definitive warm, friendly announcer upon coming to WGR Radio in 1965. By 1968, he was a regular on Channel 2 as well, first on the sports desk, and then for nearly a decade as the station’s main weather anchor at 6 and 11.

By 1970, he was one of Buffalo’s most in-demand announcers. He told The News he was generally working on about four hours of sleep. His day started as WGR Radio’s morning man, then he hosted WGR-TV’s Bowling for Dollars and Payday Playhouse 4 o’clock movie, and he did the weather forecasts on Channel 2. He was the NBA Buffalo Braves’ first PA announcer in the 1970-71 season.

1968. (Buffalo Stories archives/Steve Cichon collection)

In five years at WGR, he became one of Buffalo’s most popular media personalities. That was helpful in identifying him the day he robbed a bank on his way home from the radio station in June 1971.

Only minutes after the holdup of the Homestead Savings and Loan at the corner of Main and Chateau Terrace in Snyder netted $503 for a man wearing a stocking over his head and brandishing a (later-found toy) gun, Amherst Police were arresting Benny at gunpoint in the driveway of his Williamsville home.

The case was a local sensation. Management at WGR and at least three other stations ordered that the on-air staff not make any snide remarks or jokes at Benny’s expense. One notable exception was Channel 7, where the 6 p.m. “Eyewitness News Reel” featured the title card “Forecast: Cloudy” for the otherwise-straight Benny story. At 11, the title was changed to “Under the Weather.”

The disc jockey, TV weather man and father of two was charged with third-degree robbery and was tried in a non-jury trial. The prosecution rested when Benny’s attorney agreed to the facts of the case — that the announcer had indeed stuck up the bank — but that the he was innocent of the charges in the “poorly planned, ludicrous robbery” because he was temporarily insane.

Four psychiatrists testified that Benny was “not in sufficient possession of his faculties at the time of the holdup.” A Buffalo General psychiatrist who had examined Benny said that the temporary mental illness was caused by extreme and prolonged stress.

First, Benny was a central figure in a protracted labor strike at WGR AM-FM-TV. Eighty members of NABET, the union representing nearly all the operations personnel and announcers at WGR, spent nine months on strike. About 10 — including Benny — crossed picket lines to continue to work. Station management provided Benny an armed guard after rocks were thrown through the windows of his home and his family was threatened.

Benny’s family was also threatened the very morning of the robbery. He’d racked up thousands of dollars of gambling debts, and the bookmakers were calling in their markers — or else.

In October 1971, the judge found Benny not guilty by reason of mental disease, and he was ordered to spend two weeks at Buffalo State Hospital.

Then, in December, within six months of the robbery, Benny was back on WGR Radio and TV. Having been found not guilty, and “on a wave of public sympathy,” management thought it was the right thing to do.

“A lot of people have told me that it takes guts to do this, to go back on the air,” Benny told The News during his first week back at WGR. “But to me, it’s not a courageous thing. It’s a simple case of going back to what I know.”

That’s not to say that Benny wasn’t thankful.

“It’s hard to fathom that people can be that nice,” Benny told News critic Deeb. “It’s nice to know people can be forgiven.”

All told, Benny spent 19 years at WGR, walking away from the station in 1985. For a year and a half, he was the morning man at WYRK Radio, before finishing out the ’80s as a weekend staffer at WBEN.

Frank Benny at WGR in 1983 (Buffalo News archives)

No matter what his personal life sounded like, he always sounded like Frank Benny on the radio. After leaving WBEN Radio in 1989, Benny left for Florida, where he was on the radio for 16 years — until he died in 2005 at age 67.

Buffalo in the ’70s: Barry Lillis said it would be like this!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

With a smile and personality more reminiscent of a Vaudeville comedian than a meteorologist, Barry Lillis’ ceaseless efforts to make Buffalo smile while offering the forecast through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s have made him one of Western New York’s most loved all-time television personalities.

Buffalo News archives

Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Lillis grabbed his first broadcasting gig at WGGO Radio in Salamanca in 1963. After spending a decade all around the TV dial and all around the country as a weather anchor and children’s show host, he came back to Buffalo and WGR-TV in 1976 as the weather anchor alongside newsman Rich Kellman and Ed Kilgore on sports.

Barry left Channel 2 in 1981 for Pittsburgh, but two years later, he was back and hosting the cult classic all-night movie show “Barry’s Cat’s Pajamas.”

Had he just spent parts of three decades as Buffalo’s favorite weather goofball, it likely would have been enough. But what really endeared us was his heart—tearfully on display in the raw, as he became synonymous with Channel 2’s Muscular Dystrophy and Kids Escaping Drugs telethons.

Buffalo News archives

Since leaving Channel 2 in 1996, Barry has run for Pomfret town justice, was ordained as an Orthodox Catholic priest, and has opened a wedding chapel helping hundreds through their wedding vows.

He’s also helped hundreds through addiction. Lillis marked Dec. 21, 1984, as the day he began his own recovery from alcoholism.

In 2014, Barry moved Western New York’s hearts again as he made public his battle with late-stage cancer.

From the BuffaloStories.com archives, this is a 1976 Barry Lillis weather forecast, taking you around foggy downtown Buffalo and out to the airport, offering up a healthy serving of Barry’s standard zaniness as well.  Rich Kellman is at the Channel 2 newsdesk.

Buffalo’s Early TV Stars

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

AM&A's

Hope you enjoyed this Vintage Courier-Express piece from Dick Hirsch, written in 1980.

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