What it looked like Wednesday: The changing look in front of Channel 4, 1960 -2016

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

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.

 

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.

John Otto: Hold the Phone!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

 This page first appeared on staffannouncer.com in 2004, and was last updated May 21, 2014.

Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com
Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com

In celebration of John Otto’s 85th birthday, and mindful that it was 15 years ago this year that your congenial co-communicator signed off, we introduce several hours of John Otto recordings unheard since the day they were first broadcast in 1998.

It’s truly one of Buffalo’s greatest broadcasters at his finest: John Otto, broadcasting live from the Tralfamadore Cafe on the night he was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

John talks with and interviews dozens of our city’s finest broadcasters, and they pay tribute to him– on the radio, on the telephone, at long last.

And the more to come sign is up– As we draw nearer the 15th anniversary of our-operator-on’s last show, we will present dozens more recordings from the 1950s through 1999 in this space. We’ll get to that in as soon as it takes to tell it– in the meantime, enjoy that Hall of Fame day broadcast below, and hold the phone.

John Otto played many of his own sound effects on the show… You could often hear him fumbling for the right cart as someone asked to guess the voice, or Joann the Just would call– of course, the trumpet was necessary to announce her presence. Here are a few of the sound effects “Your operator on” would play– taken directly from the broadcast carts which he himself used on the show.

otto-cart-label

John spent most of five decades on Buffalo radio, and his show was introduced by various jingles and production elements through the years. Several of these were given to me by the late Ben Bass, who aside from sending 30 years as a disc jockey himself, was also an engineer on the Otto show in the 1970’s.

Finally, here are some clips of the man himself– These were saved at the radio station by many of John’s producers through the years, including Mike Maniscalco, Brad Riter, Greg Bauch, Ben Bass, and others. They are mostly short, entertaining John Otto clips on pop culture and bad callers– others are just a taste of how John sounded on the air. The last clip is 46 minutes worth of a show– enjoy!

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

Ray Marks reflective as he fights for his life

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – “It’s no picnic… It’s not pretty, but we have to go through it.”

This teacher and radio news man has been battling Leukemia since September, and is now slated for a January transplant.

Since his time as News Director at WGR Radio and WBEN Radio, Ray Marks (center, seated in the WGR Newsroom in the mid-1990s) has been teaching communications courses at St. Bonaventure, Buffalo State, and Medaille.(Buffalo Stories archives)

You may know him as Ray Marks, radio newsman. You may know him as Ray Markiewicz, professor and friend. But if you know Ray at all, you won’t be surprised to know that he’s come to deal with the overwhelming diagnosis of leukemia by wrestling the uncertainty of what’s to come into a long list of certainties to tackle one at a time.

“What a perspective, you know?”

Late last summer, Ray began to feel some unexplained weakness. A visit to the doctor quickly turned to a visit to Roswell Park Cancer Institute. After an especially painful bone marrow extraction, doctors were blunt and aggressive with their diagnosis and treatment plan. Get on board, or expect only a year to live.

1989, Buffalo Stories archives

That wasn’t easy to hear, but now since September, Ray’s endured round after round of chemotherapy, three shots in the stomach every time, along with blood and platelet transfusions as needed.

While painful and tiring, the course of treatment can only be temporary. The only hope of a cure is with a stem cell transplant.

Looking for Marrow Donors

1974, Buffalo Stories archives

Ray has siblings, but the fact that they are each over the age of 40, makes them ineligible as bone marrow donors. After going to the worldwide database, two donors have said they are willing to come forward to offer Ray his only chance at beating leukemia by allowing their stem cells to be harvested, flown Buffalo, and transplanted into Ray.

The surgery is planned for mid-January, and will likely be followed by a month long stay at Roswell Park, plus up to another 100 days of healing and convalescing at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge. He’d prefer to get better at home, but for the Markiewicz family, home is in Angola, and doctors insist that a stem cell transplant patient be no more than 20 minutes from the hospital for fear of rejection.

“The way the doctor put it was, we want you here now if that happens,” said Markiewicz, who added that his home is a half-hour from downtown on a good day with no traffic.

“After all that, the hope is for a cure, but there’s no way to be sure,” Markiewicz said, quickly adding that he’s doing his best to remain hopeful. Any hope is better than the diagnosis of what was to come without the surgery. “She said I had one year to live without the surgery. We’re talking dying here.” The thought of possible pending death has given Ray plenty to reflect on.

“Realizing how terribly important to live life to the fullest. I don’t have any regret, but I appreciate everything I’ve experienced more. Why are we here? We live to make the world a better place,” said Markiewicz. “I want to continue to do that.”

He’s thought a lot about his nearly 40 years in broadcasting, and the great friends, co-workers, and friendly competitors he feels honored to have known, but his primary focus these days outside of health and family has been on his relatively new-found love of the classroom.

Through the treatments, Ray has continued to teach two fall semester classes at Medaille College. “I love teaching, it means a lot to me, and believe it or not, I feel better while I’m doing it. It’s been tough… It’s getting hard, but I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and I’m going to finish it. It’s helpful when the endorphins fly. I love it, and it helps keep me going.”

Helping Ray

With the hopes of raising both his spirits and some funds to help alleviate the financial burden of his treatment, the friends and family Ray Markiewicz have organized a benefit in his honor in January.

Whether you worked with Ray, were taught or mentored by him, listened to him on the radio, or are just willing to help out a fellow Western New Yorker who needs a hand, event planners are looking for raffle basket and special auction donations, folks willing to buy a ticket, or maybe just a donation.

The event is Saturday, January 11, 2014, from 1-6 at the Newell-Faulkner American Legion Post 880 in Eden. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for kids 10 and under.

Listen to a great newscast, which opens with Van Miller shouting “The Bills are in the Super Bowl!”

WGR’s Biggest Loss Since Shane

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When you turn on your radio Monday afternoon, you’ll barely—if at all—notice the difference. That’s how they get away with it. An era, however, will have ended in Buffalo radio.

Greg Bauch behind the WGR controls.
Greg Bauch behind the WGR controls.
Greg Bauch’s last day at WGR is Friday.  Listeners to Schopp and The Bulldog might recognize Greg as the guy who plays funny sound effects or through his radio alter ego, Greg Buck.

While Greg is among the best at finding (and playing at the right moment) silly or interesting sound bites, and Greg Buck is the funniest bit ever on Buffalo radio, others will come along and play sound effects and be funny. That’s just what one does on the radio.

The real story is, after 15 years there, Bauch is, without question, the heart and soul of WGR.

He’s the type of guy who becomes the heart and soul wherever he goes, but in a business where heart and soul don’t often last much longer than the time the “ON AIR” light is lit, Greg has managed to strap that station to his back, allowing an institutional continuity and his goodness to permeate the product for a decade and a half.

I first heard Greg Bauch when he started the way everyone started at WGR a generation ago: as the man at the controls of the late night John Otto show.  The astute listener could hear that the brilliant Otto was often frustrated with the fact that his show was a training ground for “the new guy,” especially when that new guy “cared not a FIG!” about Otto or his show.

Broadcasting Hall of Famer Otto loved Greg. You could hear the smile through the radio as John,  John, your operator on referred to him as my humble man servant Gregor.

John Otto was the first in a very long line of wonderfully talented hosts who was able to find something special in Greg, which is someone who was happy with being, and supremely talented at being, a radio producer.

A good producer is someone who lives for the good of the show (not someone who lives for the opportunity to inject himself on the air.)

A good producer does whatever it takes to forge a relationship with the talent on the show he’s producing, and builds an unbreakable trust with that person, allowing the talent to freely host the show with the knowledge that whatever is happening “on the other side of the glass” is being dealt with the proper amount of care.

With all this, a good producer is an equal part of the success of the show which he produces, although any recognition of that fact is almost always an afterthought. He is also accepting of the fact that he might command a quarter of the pay of the talent, while often working at least twice as hard.

Speak to Chris Parker or Mike Schopp or Chuck Dickerson or Tom Bauerle or the late Clip Smith or the late John Otto.  They will tell you, invariably, that their shows were better because they had Bauch at the controls.

A thankless, lunch bucket kind of job in the midst of the glitz, glamour and fame of radio. Greg excels at it because that’s who he is.

But, as Van Miller used to say, that’s only the half of it.

To use a hokey hockey analogy, Greg has worn the “C” in the WGR dressing room for at least a decade as the quiet, stay at home defenseman, who not only moves easily among the superstar goal scorers, but always takes the new guys under his wing and shows them what they need to know.

Name anyone you’ve heard do a sports update on WGR in the last decade, and they were trained by Greg Bauch.  Or trained by someone who went to the Greg Bauch College of WGR Knowledge.

To use another stupid sports analogy, Greg is the quarterback who stands back and sees everything at the station, from all perspectives- the talk show hosts, the update guys, the producers, even promotions and engineering, and successfully has them all working together.

It’s ironic and rare in this day and age, that he has been able to force all that’s good out of that radio station, and the people working there, by his gentle touch, and the fact that you aren’t likely to meet a better human being.  Unless you know Howard Simon.  But Greg has hair, so Greg > Howard.

This isn’t just the end of an era because Greg won’t be there anymore. It’s the end of an era, because it’s almost certain there’ll never be another like Greg Bauch in radio in Buffalo ever again.

Like in many fields, the corporatization of radio has eliminated the middle ground where good producers once stood. Radio is ever increasingly becoming a place where there are a few reasonably well-paid on-air talents, and everyone else makes minimum wage without benefits.

Even if someone had the drive, personality, voice, comedic timing, leadership skills and hot wife that Greg Bauch has, it’s nearly impossible that the person could remain in a job that is no longer valued in the corporate structure of radio the way Greg has been able.

So, talk show callers… Your time to harass a legend is running out. Post game coming up.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

20 Years Ago Today: The Houston Comeback Game

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

vandemoniumBUFFALO, NY – Bills games were big doings in the late 80s and early 90s, but they were always big doing in my house. Among my earliest memories of listening to the radio is sitting in our 1977 Mercury Monarch with mustard colored nugahyde seats, listening to Van Miller describe Joe Cribbs run with the ball. It was only a 5 minute drive from our South Buffalo home to Grandma Coyle’s South Buffalo home, where watching my grandfather watch the game was more fun for me, hearing him curse about Joe Ferguson.

Fast forward a few years, when the Bills actually started winning, and my dad would have his 5 brothers over to watch the game. Football for me became an endless walk to the fridge for another beer for someone.

I remember the excitment, I remember the cheering, I remember getting Bills clothes for Christmas every year, and being able to wear them to school on the “Bills Spirit Fridays” before games days and weeks later.

But the actual games themselves all blend together for me before I started working in sports radio. That’s true with only one exception: The Houston Comeback Game. I remember that I was alone in the living room listening to the game on the awful stereo my dad got for free somewhere. No screaming uncles looking for beers. No one swearing when the team was getting killed. Just me… a high school sophomore, Van Miller, and that cruddy stereo.

I was already taping most of the things I listened to on the radio, but I didn’t tape the game for some reason… Maybe because they were losing early, and then I got caught up in the comeback… I don’t know. But I did tape it the next day, when they played back the second half and OT. And here it is, 20 years later.

In Part One, WGR’s Art Wander introduces a collage of highlights, and then the second half of action with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown at the score 28-3 Oilers. (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)

In Part two, the second half continues with Van Miller, Marc Stout, and Greg Brown… After overtime and the comeback complete, Paula Green does the news, and then briefly hear John Otto gush about the Bills. Its my favorite part! (The audio is low quality so that Bills fans reliving the glory days don’t shut down my website.)

I’ve been listening to this and thinking a loy about it, and realizing that a few months after taping this, I started working at WBEN. Then soon producing the Bills games on the radio, and covering media day at the stadium. The starting at WBEN in someways seems like only yesterday. That memory of sitting in my living room listening to this game seems like a a book I’ve read, but not something I actually lived.

John Otto’s Love Rubs Off: The best ever never lost his fire and passion

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

johnottopicSometimes the way life lines a series of seemingly unrelated events like lights on an airport runway can make a guy pause and question his sanity, because the answer is almost too clear.

For the past three days, I’ve been filling in for John Zach on Buffalo’s Early News on WBEN. The four-hour news show starts at 5am, and John does most of the writing when he’s here. For me, that meant getting up at 2:45am, in order to give myself about 90 minutes to put the local news together. John gets here earlier than that, and has been doing it just about every day for most of the 50 years he’s worked in radio.

I question myself often, would I be able to do this; get up like this. I did early morning weekends for a few years, but in 19 years of broadcasting, never a regular Monday-Friday, in-to-get-the morning show ready gig. John, who has worked the morning shift in parts of 7 different decades has said, “You never get used to it.”

I’ve filled in on the shift before, even for just a week or two, and always walked around feeling like a two-hour old grilled cheese; still crusty and gooey, but crusty and gooey in the wrong places. I just didn’t feel right, and never felt like I sounded as good as I could or should. And it always bothers me that when I set my alarm for 2:45am, my wife is rattled awake, too.

But this week, in the midst of working this early morning shift, one of the guys at work was cleaning out some files and handed me an old envelope he thought I might be interested in labeled MASTER TAPES– JOHN OTTO HALL OF FAME. Aside from being a master of the English language, the father of talk radio in Buffalo, and one of the top 5 broadcasters to ever grace the airwaves in Buffalo, John is somewhat of a personal hero to me.

Needless to say, I snatched the envelope, and delved inside not only to find hours of reels, cassettes, and DATs (an early digital tape format), but I also found a paper-filled folder labelled “John Otto.”

On top were a couple dozen e-mails and cards sent to WGR in the days following John’s death. Touching memories from fans and friends far and wide. Beautiful and filled with raw emotion. Then came John’s handwritten professional biography, tracing his radio career from the early 50s to the late 90s, only a year or so before his passing.

johnottoautograph

But what I found most gratifying were the notes that had been sent back and forth over the years to a succession of 5 or 6 supervisors at WGR. And while even a John Otto note complaining about a co-worker’s tardiness or an equipment problem flows across the paper the way a ballerina glides across the stage, that’s still not the point.

It started to strike me when I saw the note he wrote in 1995 asking to work Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day. He was begging to work those days. Days most of us would curse the boss who forced us to work, but here, 43 years into his broadcasting career, and John’s tone was nearly inconsolable, worried that some other program might pre-empt his conference call of all interested parties.

In case the point be lost, John writes it quite plainly in one note. “The very principle on which I’ve always conducted myself, to wit, if one is in radio, you want to be on radio at every opportunity.”

After an illness took him off the air for a spell, he wrote in another missive that he’s ready to come back “if you’ll have me,” adding, ” My appetite is restored, miracle of all, my taste buds are a-bloom once more. You’ve got no idea what life is like without the ability to taste… ’til you’ve not got it.”

John Otto, almost 50 years into his career had such a fire in his belly for it. Not a soul better, universally lauded; but still fearful that it could be taken away. Would that we all felt that way about anything in our lives, let alone our job.

It made me think of my friend Ed Little, who was that way, too. He worked a tremendous 62 years in radio, starting as a child actor. I was with him in 2000 when he delivered his last newscast on WBEN, also the last program to originate from the studios on Elmwood Avenue.

Septuagenarian Ed couldn’t get a handle on the new computers, despite going through extra training on his own. Within a few months, he passed away. His heart was bad, but I know it was a broken heart, too.

Twenty years ago, my fire was inexhaustible. I can remember going to work as an 18 year old within hours of my grandma’s cancer death.

Thinking back on it, it makes me sad that I went in to board op Buffalo’s Evening News that night, and didn’t spend the time with my family. But that’s what I was and what I did. I think I’ve learned a little about life and about work since then.

Family’s much more important. I write books. I have a website. I’m on Boards of Directors, and I give talks about Buffalo History. I also work a pretty much 9-5 job these days. It’s not often I’m challenged to see how hot that fire burns.

I know it there, because it has to be there to be working in radio, or in any number of jobs similar in that there really isn’t much money. And its not the fame or the notoriety,either. Its having the blessing of doing a job that thousands would line up behind you to do for free. And just having that job, and being blessed with the gift of it, and being able to live a dream. And not wanting to give it up for the world.

So I’ve been thinking about whether or not I could work the morning shift, and the answer is of course. And though I sometimes play the curmudgeon, and complain about getting up early on those days when the job calls for it, the fact of the matter is, I’d do just about whatever they told me to do to keep it going. And this week, I even loved the early mornings. Loved every minute of hosting that show with Susan Rose. Loved it with that John Otto fire.

Just today, I read a Forbes Magazine article, which talks about the only three questions employers need to ask perspective employees. I say, you only need to ask one of those three. Will you love this job?

If the answer is no, go find something else. When I say love, I mean LOVE. Not ‘like the hours,’ or the pay, or the doors it might open. Love the job. Put your heart into it. Life is just too short.

“You know me,” John Otto closes one note with, “I just want to be on the radio.” Me too.

Shane Brother Shane rocks Freedom City USA!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Hear what it sounded like… The Day Shane joined Sandy Beach and Danny Neaverth on Sandy;s show in WBEN on July 31, 2009.

dannyshanesandy
Shane with Sandy Beach and Dan Neaverth on WBEN July 31, 2009

See and hear more classic Shane:

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