On the radio, on the telephone: John Otto (and elsewhere around the dial)

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


WGR Radio News Minutemen, 1961

“I try to skewer with grace. I love being called a curmudgeon.”

John Otto may have been Buffalo’s greatest curmudgeon. Scholarly and erudite, but with a playful silly streak that kept listeners glued to his “conference call of all interested parties” for nearly 40 years.

He spent the 50s and early 60s doing just about everything imaginable on-air— and doing it superbly, first on WBNY and then on WGR, both radio and TV.

He was a classical music host, radio news anchor, and TV weatherman– but he seemed best in his element once he began hosting talk shows, specifically WGR Radio’s “Expression,” a nightly moonlit program which invited “listeners to telephone spontaneous, unrehearsed opinions” starting in 1962. 

Such would be Otto’s gig, more or less, for the next 37 years.

“He’s a good show with his deep, pulpit-shaped voice because his unshakeable confidence forces you take sides,” wrote News Radio Critic Hal Crowther in 1973. “If you agree with him, it’s ‘Give ‘em hell, John,’ but if you’re against him you’re often sorry that there are six or seven miles of night between your fingers and his windpipe.”

“Dracula and I have a lot in common,” Otto told News reporter Mary Ann Lauricella in 1981. “Daylight rather frightens us back into our caves. My metabolism is so attuned to nighttime hours that I’m more comfortable at night, when a velvet cloak is wrapped around the world.”

“He takes delight in practicing conversation as an art,” wrote Lauricella. “He uses a metaphor here, a simile there, perhaps a humorous play on words and weaves them into bright conversational tapestries.”

But Otto preferred self-depreciation to plaudits.

“I’m certainly not modern in anything— from the way I dress to the way I think,” said Otto in 1978, who was still dressing in “outdated narrow ties and straight-legged pants.”

“Weekends, I tend to fall out in customary corduroy slacks and white socks. I even let myself go a day without shaving. It’s a very exciting life I lead,” Buffalo’s congenial co-communicator told News reporter Jane Kwiatkowski in 1986.

His biggest vice, Otto confided nightly to his listeners, was his “regular investment of fortunes at Hamburg or Batavia.” Otto loved the horses, and would announce the winners from the local tracks on his show.

“We have the first three from Batavia Downs,” he’d say, often with commentary on the horse’s name, but sometimes with the hint of disdain in his voice. “It’s the rental of a horse for two minutes to run across the finish line first, and they seldom do,” said Otto of his horsing around.

Catching him in a moment of serious self-reflection, it was clear Otto had loftier goals for his nightly meeting of the minds. “If it works right, it raises the level of community thought and sets people to thinking with some added knowledge they didn’t have before.”

“We want to occupy and engage thoughts and to allow the opportunity for people to have access to a forum they are otherwise denied,” said Otto. “Some people call in who are just passing through and want to say ‘hi’ to the world—to let others know they are alive—a fact sometimes overlooked by the rest of the world.”

Not every caller “wants to unburden himself on the big hot-line issues like Vietnam, Watergate, crime in the streets, drugs, and the rest.” Otto’s often hardboiled entrenchment on those issues easily and often made way for the kind of calls an overnight program attracts.

“We get a lot of older people, lonely people. What they need are some voices in the night. And they have other things on their minds besides the headlines,” said Otto.

“One thing I’ve learned on this show is that many of them have an abiding fascination for marvels. Anything about the supernatural, ESP, UFOs, and experience that can’t be explained—that will get them talking like nothing else.”

For decades, Otto was ol’trusty—the iron horse of radio. Starting in 1955, through his first 30 years in broadcasting, he never missed a day of work—not once called in sick.

John Otto, 1962

However, he landed in the hospital in 1985 with pneumonia. “Forty years of smoking,” he said. The streak was broken and over the next decade and a half, sickness in breathing would slowly take Otto’s life—right before your listenership’s ears.

Eventually, very labored breathing made it difficult for him to get around, and he spent his final year “on the radio, on the telephone” broadcasting from his home. Even in his final days, “John, John, your operator on,” didn’t miss a broadcast. He signed off with his signature “I’ll be with you” on a Friday, went to the hospital on Saturday, and died early Monday. He was 70 when he died in 1999.


Jim Santella’s presence and sensibility blazed the trail for progressive rock radio in Buffalo, starting at WBFO (above), then notably at WGRQ and WUWU. Santella’s on-air presence mellowed in the 90s in a return to WBFO as a blues host and the original co-host of Theater Talk with Anthony Chase. His 2015 book, “Classic Rock, Classic Jock” was itself an instant classic, with an in-depth look back at one of the great eras in Buffalo radio.

This ad from a 1967 Buffalo Hockey Bisons program explained some of the far-out jive coming from America’s youth. It was clearly meant as a joke, but probably actually provided insight to more than one dad, sitting in the gray seats at the Aud, flipping through the program to find a Hershey Bears or Cleveland Barons roster.

Lifelong Lockport resident Hank Nevins has been heard up and down Buffalo’s radio dial for more than 40 years, but his career began overseas.

He volunteered to head to Vietnam the day after he graduated from broadcasting school, and was heard on American Forces Vietnam Network in starting in 1969.

In Southeast Asia, he worked with, among others, Pat Sajak.

Since returning home, Nevins worked as a disc jockey, host, and manager at radio stations in Western New York nearly without pause. Most recently, he’s spent more than a dozen years as the Saturday morning host on WBEN.


Dennis Majewicz was both Mac McGuire and Mike Melody at WNIA in the late 60s. He went onto a long career in broadcast engineering at Ch.4, Empire Sports Network, and now back at 1230am.

The deejay’s names never changed at WNIA, neither did the fact that Richard Maltby’s Midnight Mood would play every night at midnight. To put it mildly, WNIA was a quirky station. The daily noon time Catholic prayers were bookended by rock ‘n’ roll music.

There was also the reminder to be big, be a builder. The minute-long, run-on diatribe was the brainchild of station owner Gordon Brown in reaction to the war protests of the late 60s.

The impression your friends and others have of you is based on what you do– to teach, to create, to accomplish, or to build, whether you dig the trench for the foundation for a building; whether you lay the last brick on its top; whether you work with a pick and shovel or with the tools and machines, or in the office, or sell the products or services of industry; whether you grow, prepare or harvest the very food we eat, whether you are a homebuilder raising, teaching or educating your family or others how to become a builder, no matter what you are or what you do, if you are a builder, you are one to be long remembered.

Those who attempted to destroy the pyramids of Egypt were despised and soon forgotten, those thousands who labored to build them will never be forgotten. Be big, Be a builder.


Muhammad Ali in the WBEN studios with “Viewpoint” host Garfield Hinton.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey makes a Presidential campaign swing through Western New York in 1968, with KB newsman Jim Fagan over his shoulder holding up the microphone. Next to Jim is Buffalo Congressman Thaddeus Dulski. Over Humphrey’s other shoulder is Erie County Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Western Connections

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


For 20 years, Sunday nights in many households across the country meant an episode of “Gunsmoke” before the late local news. For 19 of those years, a woman who attended Hamburg Junior High and Amherst Central was one of the stars of the show.

Long before Amanda Blake played Miss Kitty, the saloon-owning love interest of Marshall Matt Dillon from 1955-74, she grew up in Western New York.

Born at Millard Fillmore Hospital on Delaware Avenue, the young “Miss Kitty” began her elementary schooling at Kenmore’s Lindbergh Elementary, also living in Hamburg and Amherst until 1946, when her father’s job at Curtiss-Wright took the family to California.

A 1960 promotional trip was the actress’s first trip back to Western New York since moving out west—but it wasn’t her last. She stayed in regular contact with old friends and relatives, and visited several times—including to attend her 40th high school reunion– before her death in 1989.

Amanda Blake surrounded by her Gunsmoke co-stars, including a young Burt Reynolds, who played Deputy Quint Asper on the show for three seasons. Blake was on Gunsmoke for all but the final season of the show’s 20-year run.

Gene Barry starred as Bat Masterson for three years on NBC and Ch.2. On a promotional visit to Buffalo, he was interviewed by Helen Neville on WGR-TV and Dan Neaverth on WGR Radio.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

The WGR Flashcast

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


In 1940s America, the frenzied commercialism, hot-burning bulbs and pulsating neon of Times Square ignited a sense of wonder and excitement over what an American city could be.

Buffalo had its share of the lights – Main Street near Chippewa was aglow with what was described as “Buffalo’s great white way,” and the greatest display of dazzling and flashing marquees and signs between New York and Chicago.

One lighting element Buffalo didn’t have – until 1949 – was a flashcast news sign.  WGR Radio was the sign’s sponsor, which meant in red neon, those call letters brightly bookended the revolving ribbon of news headlines at Main and Court streets from atop the Western Savings Bank building. Visible from the WGR studios across Lafayette Square in the Rand Building, the scroll was controlled from WGR’s newsroom.

While the sign was promoted as Times Square coming to Buffalo, the event to throw the switch on the sign, hosted by Mayor Bernard Dowd, was called a “Hollywood premiere-type event.”

A few months after the first messages started streaming across the lights, a News story talking about improvements being made downtown mentioned the sign. “Here is a group of men at Main and Court streets, looking up at the Flashcast. They’re squinting a little to read the moving electric words in the sunlight.”

By the time WGR Radio’s studios had moved to the building behind Ch.4 at 2065 Elmwood Avenue in 1959, the sign had gone dark. It had been completely removed by 1962 when construction was started on a new $4.5 million, 12-story Western Savings headquarters next door.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Billy and Reggie Keaton & Sally Work, WBEN

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Billy Keaton in the WGR studios with singer Johnny Ray.

Like many of radio’s pioneers, Billy Keaton’s foray into the medium came in the pre-war days when he adapted his Vaudeville routine for WEBR, and then into the highly popular “Stuff and Nonsense” program on WGR.

His success turned a temporary Buffalo assignment permanent. After the war, Billy’s wife Reggie joined the act, and the two hosted the “Mr. and Mrs. Show” for a decade.

Reggie and Billy interview a monkey.

While the Keatons’ voices were familiar throughout the ’40s and ’50s, their faces were soon popular as well. As a long-time WGR Radio fan favorite, Billy was the natural choice to welcome the first viewers to WGR-TV in 1954. The Keatons later hosted several cable TV talk shows through the years, leaving a legacy of 55 years of entertaining Western New York.

Reggie Keaton panics as her husband Billy gets ready to lay a smooch on a cardboard cutout of starlet Linda Christian during the couple’s show in the WGR studio.

Sally Work spent the bulk of her radio career on WBEN, but was a pioneering Women’s Editor on WGR starting in 1926 first. By 1948, her show carried 15 sponsors and a waiting list out the door.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

AHK- Alfred Kirchhofer & around the Buffalo radio dial

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Starting in 1927, Alfred H. Kirchhofer spent 39 years at The Buffalo Evening News as the Managing Editor then Editor. He was also Vice President, then President of WBEN from 1930-67.

AHK (as he referred to himself) or Mr. Kirchhofer (as everyone else referred to him) was the man in charge of WBEN Radio before there was a WBEN Radio.

His influence was key in the News’ purchase of the station in 1930. From 1927 until his retirement in 1967, Kirchhofer ran and expanded a News Empire that included The Buffalo Evening News and added WBEN Radio in 1930, in 1936 added WEBR Radio (then a News property), WBEN-FM in 1946, and WBEN-TV in 1948.

Despite his founding of four broadcast outlets, Kirchhofer was first and foremost a newspaper man. After joining the Buffalo Evening News in 1915, he opened the News’ Washington Bureau, and became a familiar figure to Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, all the while being Buffalo’s eyes and ears in the nation’s capital.

Realizing the potential for radio beyond selling newspapers, Kirchhofer developed a staff of radio writers and newsmen for WBEN and put the station on top to stay for decades.

The FM and television stations developed under Kirchhofer were not only Buffalo’s first, but among the first in the nation.

Even as much of the broadcasting world reflected the changes in society through the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the staunch conservative content and dry delivery at the News Stations was a direct result of Kirchhofer’s editorial approach.

His News style book included a section titled, “avoid mentioning hideous creatures.” Rats and snakes became rodents and reptiles. Women weren’t “pregnant” but with child on the pages of The News, and “motherhood is not treated as a situation comedy.”

The approach made the News Stations “The Stations of Record” for generations.

Another famous Kirchhofer story involves the chair next to his desk, which was notoriously bolted to the floor, nominally as a way to keep “boozy salesmen and politicians from getting too close,” but in practice, it was an intimidation tactic for anyone speaking with him.

Elda Lucente broadcast the Italian Hour on WXRA in 1949. The station was founded in Kenmore in 1947, and sold to become WINE in 1957.
The 1947 WGR announcing staff consisted of chief Allen Lewis (seated), and David Getman, Bernard Ryan, Robert Sherry, and Don Gill.
Bob Glacy joined the WGR/WKBW staff in 1938. In the early 40s, he hosted WKBW’s “Headlines on Parade” morning news program. He was the long-time host of “Glacy’s Basement” on WKBW and through the 50s, was one of the stable of hosts and disc jockeys at WGR.

Over the more than 15 years Bob Glacy spent at WGR Radio and later WGR-TV, he did just about everything from newscasts to disc jockey to hosting Ch.2’s TV Dance Party.

Later on WEBR, he hosted “Coffee Break” between 10 and noon from the fourth floor Civic Room of the downtown Sample Shop at 554 Main Street.

“Glacy will be seated in a glass studio shaped like a coffee-maker. Shoppers will be able to watch the broadcast and have coffee and rolls. Relaxed music will be geared to the housewife and home-bound office worker.”

CHVC signed on from a studio next to the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1947. The station offered some of the first programming created by Black Western New Yorkers meant to be listened to by Black Western New Yorkers. Johnny Thomas and Flora Henderson produced programs on CHVC created for an audience in Buffalo.
“The Quiz of Two Cities” on WBEN pitted the people of Buffalo vs the people of Rochester, with Wally Nehrling, quizmaster.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Buffalo Radio at War (and after the war)

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


“Women’s Army” aired on WGR to help with the recruitment of WAACs. Announcer Denny Schute interviews Lt. Jeanne Gatt from the WGR studios at the Rand Building.

Blackout drills were a way of life during World War II, and the first came the day after Christmas, 1941.

Radio stations set aside their programming to help conduct the drill. The following account was in The News the next day, and shows a tremendous overview of radio in Buffalo at that time.

“Only lights burning in most Buffalo homes Friday night were tiny dial lights on radios, while the radio stations that poured out a stream of information about the blackout were lighted themselves by small blue bulbs not much larger than those on listeners’ sets.

“Although most stations possess “inside” studios which have no windows and thus could be kept as brilliant as possible, all preferred to switch out all lights except tiny blue ones near their microphones and technical-control panels.

“WBEN, whose studio windows in Hotel Statler were covered securely by wallboard shields, kept only a dim safety light burning in its inside “standby” studio where other announcers remained on duty while Ed Reimers described the blackout from a 20th-floor vantage point in City Hall. Control room windows were likewise covered and dimly lit.

A WBEN billboard painted on a building behind Buffalo City Hall, 1944.

“Blinds were drawn completely over all studio windows at WEBR in Broadcasting House, 23 West North Street.  A lone bulb glowed in one studio in use, and a tiny green light illumined control room switches and dials.

“Blue cellophane was fastened over control room lights, tiny meter bulbs were changed from white to red and only desk lamps were in use in two inside studios of WGR-WKBW, which linked to carry a description by announcers Jack Gelzer and Bob Sherry from an 18th-floor parapet of the Rand Building of Buffalo blacking out.

“Tight-fitting cardboard covered WBNY’s windows in the Nellany Building and one blue bulb glowed in the control room and another in one studio.

“Visible from vantage points about the city were red warning lights on WBEN’s transmitter towers on Grand Island, WEBR’s tower on the Larkin Terminal Warehouse, WGR-WKBW antennas in Hamburg and WSVS’ towers on Seneca Vocational High School.

“These warning lights must be kept burning at all times under federal law, unless ordered out by military authorities. The Civil Aeronautics Board ordered that aeronautical lights such as these must be kept burning during test blackouts. WBNY’s tower in East Eagle Street carries no signal beacons, not being so required because of its location and height.”

During the war years, stations offered plenty of patriotic programming. Several radio stations offered live coverage of the opening of the new Curtiss-Wright factory in Cheektowaga just before the US entered the war. It was the largest airplane factory in the country when it opened in 1941.

In 1944, Buffalo’s War Emergency Radio Service radio station signed on.

WQWT was part of a nationwide network meant to operate using portable transmitters in the event of emergency.

WEBR engineer Ray Lamy oversaw the operation, which, had it ever been used, would have employed amateur operators using their own equipment—all in an effort to save resources for the war effort.

WKBW’s “Commando Corps Court of Honor” was a program that encouraged young people to sell War Stamps and Bonds. Announcer John Boothby makes the announcement in the Lafayette Hotel Ballroom that the program had raised more than $330,000 by the end of 1942. To the right of the mic is Chief Announcer Jack Gelzer, who came up with the program. WGR-WKBW Announcers Robert Sherry and Jack McLean are also on hand.

“Junked radio sets and parts, salvaged from cellars and attics, are being rebuilt by amateurs and professionals into two-way stations and operated for the public good,” reported Popular Science in 1943.

Nominally meant as a means of communication during natural disasters, the system was built in anticipation of air raids on American targets. It was disbanded at the end of the war.

The High Hatters entertain at Curtiss-Wright, 1944.

In 1946, the long-standing Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation partnership of WGR and WKBW was broken up, as WGR was purchased by a group led by longtime Buffalo radio man I.R. “Ike” Lounsberry.

Signing the paperwork to buy WGR are, seated: Edward J. Gorono, BBC counsel; Leo J. Fitzpatrick, chairman of the board of WGR, and I. R. Lounsberry, WGR president and general manager. Standing: Edwin F. Jaeckle, BBC counsel; Norman E. Nobes, WGR secretary-treasurer, and Raymond J. Meurer, counsel for WGR.

Lounsberry was there at the very beginning of radio in Western New York, as one of the engineers/operators/announcers who put WMAK on the air in 1922.

As he explained in 1931, “In 1922, it was one and the same person who operated the technical equipment, announced the program, booked talent, did janitor duty and numerous other tasks.”

He stayed on when WMAK was absorbed into the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation, and stayed with the BBC until he broke it up with the purchase of WGR for $750,000 in 1946.

Esther Huff (left) plugs her ears as Bob Smith reads his watch to time a screaming contest announced by Clint Buehlman (far right) on WBEN’s “Early Date at Hengerer’s.”

Shortly after Clint Buehlman left WGR for WBEN, Smilin’ Bob Smith followed. With Esther Huff, they co-hosted “Early Date at Hengerer’s” live from the downtown department store. While Buehlman’s pace was fast and his persona was slapstick, Smilin’ Bob was more laidback and homespun.

Clint Buehlman works the room at Hengerer’s downtown store on Main St.
Buehlman, Huff, and Smith visit with a polio victim during Christmas.

Smith’s routine caught the ear of NBC executives in New York City looking to build a team for the network’s Big Apple flagship station.

Shortly after Smith left WBEN for the New York’s WEAF Radio in 1946, longtime News and Courier-Express radio critic Jim Trantor wrote:

“Buffalo’s Smilin’ Bob Smith, who’s become one of NBC’s fair-haired boys on the New York scene… is going great guns at the head of a television show for youngsters down there and looks to have just about the rosiest future imaginable.”

The show would become “The Howdy Doody Show,” and Smith was destined to become one of the great early stars of television.

After Smith left, Les Barry took over his spot on the Hengerer show which ran through the 40s. The show moved and was eventually taken over by John Corbett—Johnny from JN’s (JN Adam & Co. Department Store)

The “gay and charming hostess” of the show, Esther Huff, began her radio career at WGR in 1927 with an afternoon show for women discussing fashion, homemaking tips, and Hollywood news.

Esther Huff, WBEN

Through the mid-40s, she was a regular on several WBEN programs.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Buffalo Morning Radio Wars, 1940s style

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


With city hall as a backdrop, WGR morning man Clinton Buehlman takes to the ledge of the Rand Building during his wake-up show to wake-up motorists in Lafayette Square, 1942.

Clint Buehlman signed on as WGR’s morning man in 1932, and remained Buffalo’s undisputed king of morning radio until his retirement in 1977.

Buehlman, chained to the WGR mic

For 11 years on WGR, and then for 34 years on WBEN, there was no more listened-to, beloved, or marketable voice emanating from Western New York radios.

Almost immediately and for all his 45 years waking up Buffalo, Buehlman was able to turn his own popularity into sales when he talked about a sponsor.

The combination of fawning listeners and fawning commercial clients are what every station manager dreams of in a morning show.

WBEN announcer and Sun Greeter Club emcee Al Taylor, 1941.

WBEN had been on the air for more than a decade with little headway in making a dent in Buehlman’s dominance.

There was The Minute Men Show with Jack and Earl, and starting in 1938, emcee Al Taylor hosted the Sun Greeters Show on WBEN.

When Taylor—who interviewed Adolf Hitler as a newspaperman in the 30s—left for WCAU in Philadelphia, he was eventually replaced by a man The Buffalo Evening News called “silly… fast-talking… and glib,” Jack Paar.

Jack Paar sits at a WBEN typewriter in 1942, writing jokes and serials like “Joyce Jingle, Girl House Detective.” “She had a schoolgirl complexion,” Paar wrote, “until it graduated.”

“Jack is WBEN’s Sun Greeter who rattles along at breakneck speed from 6:05 until 9 in the morning, playing records, reeling off nonsense, telling the time, dishing out choice morsels of Hollywood gossip and what-not just about the time you’re eating your breakfast cereal,” wrote The News.

Almost two decades after he left Buffalo, Jack Allen wrote about Jack Paar in the Courier-Express as the former Buffalo morning man celebrated his fifth anniversary as the host of the “Tonight Show.”

The controversial host, at 25, patrolled the early morning for WBEN radio in 1942-43. His satirical quips ‘woke ’em up’ on morning radio as they now ‘keep ’em up’ on late-night TV. Paar entered the Army in 1943, to be succeeded on WBEN by Clint Buehlman.

Paar is remembered by some radio executives here as ‘a talented personality who worked hard at original comedy’ and ‘despite his humility he is strongly egotistical.’

WBEN hired Clint Buehlman away from WGR in 1943 after Jack Paar left for the Army.

Buehly welcomed to the WBEN’s Statler studios by Station Manager Edgar Twamley in 1943.

After a decade as the host of “The Musical Clock,” WGR’s morning show, in 1943 his new WBEN show was called simply “Clint Buehlman.”

“That should be sufficient but, for the newcomers to Buffalo, it means time announcements, all types of music, jokes, and anything else that helps to make up a fast-moving show,” explained The Buffalo Evening News.

“Clint is one of the few men who can work without script and whose ad-libs are funnier than many carefully rehearsed network programs.”

“Fast-moving” and “funny” might not be the descriptors those who remember Buehlman in the 60s and 70s might use, but he grew up and grew old with us on the radio.

Toward the end of his uninterrupted 46-year run hosting Buffalo’s top-rated morning radio program, Buehlman sounded like the cranky grandfather he was—reminding men to wear their rubbers and pay close attention to the road.

Still, even into his last decade on the air, more than half of radios that were on in Buffalo during the morning hours, had Clint Buehlman on. He may have been a crotchety grandpa, but he was the whole city’s crotchety grandpa.  

Buehlman was replaced on WGR by Foster Brooks— who’d later be known to television viewers around the country for his routine at the “lovable lush.”

Coming to Buffalo from WHEC Radio in Rochester, Brooks joined WGR/WKBW in 1943 as the emcee of the Musical Clock morning show Buehlman had made dominant, while also emceeing WKBW’s “Million Dollar Ball Room.”

Along with “Buffalo Bob” Smith and Johnny “Forgetful the Elf” Eisenberger, Brooks was the third member of WGR’s “the High Hatters,” a popular Country & Western vocal group. He was a late replacement trio after the original third voice left the group.

The High Hatters: Foster Brooks, Johnny Eisenberger, Bob Smith

Brooks left Buffalo around 1950 after winning an Arthur Godfrey talent contest—but spent most of the next 30 years coming back to Buffalo through the magic of television—as a guest on both Steve Allen’s and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, numerous guest starring roles on shows like Adam-12, and many Dean Martin-produced shows like Martin’s variety show and his celebrity roasts.

He became famous for his “Lovable Lush” routine, where he played hundreds of different characters who were so blotto they could barely stand—but didn’t think their inebriation was noticeable.

The comic had given up the bottle by the time his act had become famous, but he later admitted while in Buffalo, there might have been times where he resembled the character that he’d made famous.

“I was very fortunate I didn’t get in trouble,” Brooks said in 1978.

“There were times I’d get home at 4, wake up at 5, and be to work at 6. I had to close one eye to read the news and the commercials. There were two and three words where there was only supposed to be one.”

Fellow WGR announcer Ralph Hubbell—who wrote about his own public battle with the bottle in his book “Come Walk With Me”—would often drive Brooks home, and “Hubbell and my wife would explain who I owed apologies to.”

Brooks stopped drinking in 1964, and his star took off from there.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Buffalo’s radio staff musicians

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


The WGR Staff Orchestra, featuring conductor David Cheskin, right. Announcer John Lascalles is at the microphone to the left.

The best known and most remembered musician of Buffalo’s radio staff musician era is probably Dave Cheskin.

He was a “one man wonder” during the Golden era of Buffalo radio in the 30s and 40s, serving as WGR’s Music Director, band leader, and conductor.

Trained at Juilliard and then a violinist for the NBC Orchestra for three years, Cheskin came to Buffalo as the music director for the Erlanger Theater, soon taking on the role of Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation Music Director in 1931.

Dave Cheskin

His live broadcasts, conducting the 18-piece WGR Orchestra, were among Buffalo’s most popular radio programs of the day.

At one point, Cheskin was also conducting 18 network shows a week— including “Buffalo Presents”— heard all over the country on NBC and CBS as performed live in the WGR-WKBW studios.

WGR live broadcast with Dave Cheskin conducting.

Cheskin was tapped as the Buffalo Philharmonic’s Pops Conductor through the war years, and spent more than 30 years leading one of Buffalo’s premier dance bands.

The WGR Orchestra

The members of Cheskin’s bands and orchestras also move on to their own high-profile radio gigs as well.

Harold Austin, known for leading the bands at the Crystal Beach Ballroom and on the Crystal Beach boat “The Canadiana,” as well as in the Dellwood Ballroom during WEBR’s Hi-Teen Show, started his musical career as a musician in Dave Cheskin’s WGR Orchestra.

Through the years, hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians waited at the foot of Main Street to board The Canadiana. Once aboard, the sound of Harold Austin’s Orchestra filled the ship in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Violinist Max Miller was a featured star for many years with the WGR Orchestra, until he was named WBEN’s Musical Director.

Max Miller, conductor, WBEN Orchestra

Miller was nine years old, the first time he played the violin on Buffalo radio. After graduating from Buffalo’s East High School, he played regularly as a part of the Shea’s Buffalo orchestra.

Max Miller, center with violin, leads the WBEN Orchestra.

Miller took over the reigns at WBEN from Bob Armstrong, the trombone and cello player who’d lead the WBEN-NBC Orchestra for most of the 1930s.

Bob Armstrong’s Hotel Statler Orchestra in 1941 (above) was mostly the same group heard on WBEN at the time.

Vera Holly and Herman “Tiny” Schwartz were the featured vocalists, sitting at the front of the stage.

The musicians included, in the front row, Charlie Wullen, leader Bob Armstrong, Bill Jors, John Porejko, Stan Zureck, John McFadden, and Bill Wullen. In the second row, Pat Vastola, Dan Brittain, Hank Krompart, and Andy Dengos, with Ed Rydel and Tom Sist at the top of the bandstand.

The Federal Theater Jubilee Singers on WEBR in 1938. From left to right, Ruth Malone, Grant Johnson, Martha Boynkin, Robert Edwards, Harriett Baull, and Godfrey Tottin. The group was unit of the Depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project. They travelled the city to portray the origin of Negro spirituals and jubilee music.
The winners of WEBR’s 1940 “Barbershop Harmony” contest were James Davies, Daniel Colley, Crawford Anderson, and Donald Rowley.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Roger Baker

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


One of the original superstars of Buffalo Radio in the 20s and 30s for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation’s WGR and WKBW, Roger Baker was the Queen City’s first definitive sportscaster. His 40-year announcing career started when he was a musician sitting in the orchestra waiting to go on the air, but no announcer showed up. He stepped up to the microphone and never stepped back.

A pioneer in the art of baseball play-by-play– before him, calling the action of a baseball game was assigned to which ever announcer was next on the schedule. He was Buffalo’s first regular baseball announcer, and gained recognition for his descriptions of Bisons games.

Roger Baker’s play-by-play abilities transcended language. In 1935, his endorsement of Old Gold Cigarettes was translated into Polish and appeared in Dziennik Dza Wszystkich, Buffalo’s Polish language daily newspaper.

Those who remember him in the sports booth remember the ultimate professional– no focus on personality, so much as the product on the air. His work from Offermann Stadium was straight and by the book.

After being tapped by Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to call the 1933 World Series to a nationwide audience on CBS, Baker was called up to the big leagues in 1939, replacing Red Barber as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds when “the Ol’Red Head” moved onto critical acclaim as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Yankees.

Deco Restaurants were an early sponsor of sportscasts in Buffalo, including Roger Baker’s play-by-play broadcast of the Buffalo Hockey Bisons from the Peace Bridge Arena in Fort Erie in 1933.

In 1948, Baker returned to Buffalo as the news-reading General Manager on WKBW Radio. He eventually moved into the same news-reading General Manager spot at the short-lived Buffalo UHF pioneer WBES-TV Channel 59.

Along with Bill Mazer, Baker was also an original member of the WGR-TV sports team when the station signed-on in 1954.

“Years of experience covering sports events plus constant study of the sports picture account for the mature nature of Rog’s evening sports telecast. Master of play-by-play, his reporting of sports as they happen has set the pattern for imitators all over the country,” read a promo piece from the sign-on of Ch.2 in 1954.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

The earliest days of Buffalo broadcasting

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


History has set the start date of “The Radio Era” at November 2, 1920— when Pittsburgh’s KDKA Radio went on the air with the world’s first commercial broadcast, announcing the returns in the Presidential election that pit Ohio Senator Warren Harding against Ohio Governor James Cox.

History books don’t usually mention that Buffalo was on the air that night, too.

The Buffalo Evening News had set up a special direct telephone line to the home of amateur radio operator Charles Klinck, who was teacher of electrical science at Technical High School and was able to fund his expensive radio hobby a member of one of Buffalo’s top meat packing families.

After months of experimentation, he invented and pioneered the use of equipment that would allow for the clear transmission of phonograph records over his wireless transmitter.

“Well boys, how did you like that?” said Klinck, quoted in the Buffalo Courier after playing Strauss’ The Blue Danube. “Now listen, and I’ll give you a little jazz.”

That was the sound, on a March night in 1920, in the attic at 38 West Parade Avenue, as America’s first disc jockey took to the airwaves. You pass over the historic spot where it happened when you drive the outbound Kensington as you pass the Science Museum.

Klinck received word from as far away as Long Island that people were listening to his broadcasts. By mid-September, he reported that he was getting music requests from folks all over the northeast.

He also reported that from the beginning, the folks at the big wireless station in Pittsburgh were among his “most interested listeners.” Months before that “first broadcast,” the Westinghouse engineers at KDKA were tuned into Buffalo. On that Election Night 1920, Klinck was on the air from 6pm-midnight, offering election results interspersed with recorded music. Not only was he Buffalo’s deejay, but also Buffalo’s first radio newsman.

Charles Klinck, 1950

That first commercially sponsored broadcast in Buffalo was described the next day in The News.

As soon as the returns came into the Evening News office, they were telephoned over a special wire to Mr. Klinck’s residence, where they were received by a member of the Evening News staff. From 6 o’clock until midnight, Mr. Klinck sat at his wireless telephone apparatus and sent out the encouraging Republican news. Not only were city and county returns flashed out over the wireless outfit, but also state and national figures.

During the evening, Mr. Klinck… received word from several wireless operators in the city, in Lancaster and surrounding towns that they were getting the returns by wireless with perfect satisfaction… During lulls between dispatches, the operators who were listening for the returns were entertained by musical selections from a Victrola in the Klinck home.

Listeners in Lancaster were amazed as the radio returns beat out the Western Union telegraph service by minutes. Pine Street druggist Harry Frost told The News that he enjoyed the “returns by wireless telephone” immensely. “We sat around very comfortably smoking cigars and commenting on the election, while every few minutes, Mr. Klinck’s voice would roar out the results as he received them.”

Both the technical aspects and the reaction to Buffalo’s Election Night 1920 broadcast have been better chronicled than the “more historic” program the same night from Pittsburgh. The main difference remains that the KDKA broadcast was made by the Westinghouse Corporation in an effort to promote and sell the radio tubes they were manufacturing, while Charles Klinck was an amateur operator without much interest in self-promotion.

When he died in 1978, his pioneering radio exploits went generally unremembered. The Courier-Express, for example, made no mention.

In the decades leading up to the radio era, many advances and discoveries that laid the ground work for radio happened in Buffalo.

In 1909, The Buffalo Evening News was a pioneer in wireless telegraphy, building one of the world’s first wireless telegraph transmitting operations, Station WBL, on the fifth floor of The News headquarters building at Main and Seneca Sts. 

United Wireless Telegraph ran WBL from The Buffalo Evening News, 1909.

As early as 1924, a group of electrical engineers in Buffalo laid claim to having been the first to transmit and receive the human voice over radio waves in a series of experiments which took place at a Canisius High School laboratory in 1910.

John A. Curtin, later a professor at D’Youville College, reconfigured a primitive microphone to allow the voice to be transmitted and received over a wireless telegraph set.

The Canisius High School wireless set up, 1910

When Curtin said “A E I O U” into the microphone and across the airwaves, he might have become the first person to have their voice broadcast over radio. His voice was certainly the first broadcast in Buffalo.

About 18 months after the area got its first taste of commercial broadcasting with those election results, hundreds of people around Buffalo and Western New York tuned in their wireless radio receivers to hear the first broadcast of Buffalo’s first commercial radio station, WWT, on Easter Sunday, 1922.

The station was the first in Buffalo to be licensed by the federal government, and broadcast regularly three times a week. “Every Wednesday and Friday night and on Sunday afternoons the apparatus will be used to send out programs of an entertaining or educational nature,” reported the Buffalo Express.

Edna Zahn approaches the microphone at Buffalo’s WWT studios on West Mohawk Street on the station’s first day of broadcasting in 1922.

McCarthy Bros. & Ford company owned and operated the station from the third floor of its headquarters building across Mohawk Street from where the Hotel Statler was being built.  From electric washers and sewing machines to wireless radio receivers, McCarthy Bros. & Ford was in the business of selling electrical appliances and luxury items.

McCarthy Bros. & Ford, the home of Buffalo’s first radio station, WWT.

In order to sell radios, they needed to provide something for Buffalonians to receive on those radio sets.

That first transmission came at 3 p.m. on April 15, 1922. Buffalo’s airwaves were christened with the sounds of “throwing a kiss across the ether,” which was picked up in a radius of about 50 miles around Buffalo.

The lip smack of Genevieve Abraham kicked things off, followed by Buffalo soprano Edna Zahn and the piano accompaniment of Ethyol McMullen. These were the first sounds on Buffalo radio in the commercial era.

A look inside the WWT studios on the first day of broadcasting shows Ethyol McMullen, Edna Zahn and Edward O’Dea.

Edward O. O’Dea, who was later known as “Radiodea” on several Buffalo stations, was a sales manager for McCarthy Bros. as well as WWT’s station manager and announcer for that first broadcast. Edward H. Striegel was the first engineer.

Easter prayers and songs were offered by Episcopal and Catholic clergy and choirs during that first Easter Sunday.

Buffalo Chamber of Commerce President Albert Kinsley spoke on that first broadcast about the wonder of it all.

“Had I ventured, only 200 years ago, to say anything of the kind might be done, especially in Salem colony, I probably would have been burned at the stake for witchcraft.

“We have become accustomed to modern miracles that they are accepted now as a matter of course.

“When ancients credited Jove with hurling thunderbolts, they may have had the nucleus of an idea, but certainly no conception that I the 20th century electric waves would be hurled ‘round the world to carry the voices of mankind to serve our purpose.

“No man today can venture to limit the possible uses of this energy and probably none has the imagination to forecast its future.

“No one can say with certainty that we shall not yet step on a magic carpet of our own and be whisked where we wish to be with incredible speed.”

Buffalo’s first radio broadcast wrapped up with “Webb’s novelty entertainers” sending the sounds of jazz through the city.

WWT was first, but wasn’t alone very long.

On May 21, 1922, WGR broadcast its first programs from studios on the third floor of the Federal Telegraph Company on Elmwood Avenue, from a building that was the long-time home of FWS, and more recently has been renovated as the Foundry Suites and banquet facility.

Buffalo’s first two radio stations, WWT and WGR, both signed on the air in an effort to sell more radios.

Having only been broadcasting for five weeks, WWT Station Manager O’Dea suspended broadcasting for the first week WGR was on the air, to help avoid interference in WGR’s signal, as had happened several times when WGR was running tests using the experimental call sign 8XAD.

Shortly after WGR signed on, WWT took a break from its schedule for the summer of 1922. The signal and the memory of Buffalo’s first station faded away, mostly forgotten, into history.

As early as 1925, the Buffalo Courier ran a story asking readers if they remembered “old WWT,” “from a time when broadcasting was young.”

The earliest histories of broadcasting say that WGR was “Buffalo’s first commercially viable radio station.” When GR-55 celebrated 50 years on the air in 1972, the “commercially viable” part was dropped and they called themselves “Buffalo’s First Radio Station.”

WGR’s first home was on the third floor of the still-standing home of The Federal Telephone & Telegraph Co. at 1738 Elmwood Avenue. The building to the left is now the home of The Buffalo Spree. A viaduct was created to remove the grade-level crossing of the New York Central Beltline railroad, which now stands at the left side of this photo.

If WWT’s sign-on was met with a wholesome, “mom-and-pop” style fanfare, WGR’s sign-on came with a corporate marketing blitz.

“Next Sunday Buffalo will enter into the field of national radio broadcasting with the formal opening of one of the largest and most powerful broadcasting stations in the east, which may make Buffalo the ethereal center of this part of the country,” said the Courier.

WGR’s first week was billed as “Radio Week,” and each of Buffalo’s six daily newspapers were given their own evening to fill with programming. Monday was the Buffalo Courier; Tuesday, The Buffalo Evening News; Wednesday, the Buffalo Times; Thursday, the Buffalo Express; Friday, the Buffalo Commercial; and on Saturday, the Buffalo Enquirer.

An ad for a program from WGR’s first week on the air in 1922. The station isn’t mentioned, but there was only one on the air in Buffalo at the time.

The scheme assured a week’s worth of heavy promotion from the newspapers.

“(T)he Federal Telegraph & Telephone Company… has spent thousands of dollars to furnish Buffalo with a class of radio service which will be equal to that of stations which have been broadcasting since interest in radio began to assume such proportions,” reported the Courier.

L. R. Weller was the operator and announcer for WGR’s first broadcast. After prayers in Latin and then English from Rev. Michael J. Ahern, President of Canisius College, the first broadcast on WGR continued with addresses from Dr. Julian Park of UB and Rev. F. Hyatt Smith.

WGR’s first studio, 1922.

Buffalo Chamber of Commerce President Albert Kinsey was also among the first to step to the WGR microphone, and tell of Buffalo’s praises to radio listeners picking up the station in a 700-mile radius around Buffalo.

“He spoke of the great epoch of progress through which Buffalo is now passing and cited many instances of Buffalo’s material growth,” according to the Enquirer wrap-up of that first broadcast.

The station’s powerful signal was not only good for promoting Buffalo, but for promoting radio in Buffalo. Signals from amateurs and WWT were often weak and spotty and required expensive receivers to listen comfortably.

WGR’s first transmitting set, 1922.

The $25 set available from the owners of WGR radio could easily pick up the station within a 30-mile radius of the city.

“This renders radio reception in homes of Buffalo and vicinity no longer and instrument of the well-to-do, but for almost anybody who cares to use it.”

Radio had become a much more affordable hobby, but it was by no means cheap. Charles Klinck’s set-up was valued at about $5000 in 1920, which is more than $60,000 in 2020 dollars. That makes the $25 receiver much more affordable by comparison, but that price tag approaches $400 in 2020 dollars.

One trendy way the wealthy took to listening to the radio was as a railroad passenger. The Lackawanna Railroad heavily advertised that passengers could listen to WGR on the Buffalo Limited and the New York Limited.

“These train concerts are probably the most difficult type of radio work yet attempted,” bragged a Lackawanna ad. Below, the train’s radio receiver.

In May, 1923, WGR moved its broadcasting facilities from Elmwood Avenue near Hertel to become among the earliest tenants of Buffalo’s brand new Statler Hotel. These studios were on the hotel’s 18th floor. That space would later become the home of WBEN from 1930-1960.
Larco Radio set from The Larkin Store
The WGR staff getting ready to broadcast the 1924 Republican Convention: R.D.H. Nichols, operator; Milo Gurney, ad manager; Edward Stanko, operator; W.A. Rigg, studio manager; and T.A. Doddridge, operator.
Nichols, Doddridge, and Stanko in the WGR Statler Hotel control room, along with F.S. Martin, district manager for Federal Radio.

WGR was a licensed as a Class B station, which authorized it to broadcast on reserved frequencies, without interference from other stations, at high power. That meant the station could be heard regularly within several hundred miles, but could also be heard on occasion as far away as Hawaii and England. The special license also barred WGR from playing “canned music,” meaning only live performances were heard on Buffalo radio during the earliest years of regular broadcasting in Buffalo.

Another seller of radio equipment, Howell Electric, started WEBR Radio in 1924. Herbert H. Howell’s shop and station were located at 54 Niagara Street.

“With two stations in Buffalo operating alternately,” reported The Enquirer, “it will be possible for the radio fans to hear programs anytime during the day.”

Engineer John F. Morrison built and operated the station, the range of which was much more limited than WGR. Even through there were surprise reports of the station being picked up in Syracuse during tests, the intention was to “more fully serve local interests” with its programs.

WEBR owner Herbert H. Howell at the station microphone, 1925

WEBR’s sign-on stunt involved station owner Howell broadcasting over the station with instructions meant for Leslie Irvin—the parachute pioneer, who was flying in a plane above downtown Buffalo with pilot E.M. Ronne.

When Howell “directed the airmen where to send their machine,” the Courier reported, “almost simultaneously with the word of instruction the plane flew right and left, up and down.”

The station also initiated “the Sunshine Radio Club,” which was meant for radio fans to make a donation to help buy radios “for hospitals, orphan asylums, invalids, cripples, or, perhaps, a man who made a great sacrifice for you and me on the fields of France.”

After six months on the air, the station doubled its power as it moved from Niagara and Franklin to the top floor of the Bramson Building, the home of Marine Trust Bank on Main Street.

The new 11th floor studios and more powerful signal meant another Buffalo station was among the small, but growing handful of large stations operating across the country.

After several test broadcasts, the station received a letter from a new “regular listener” 1,200 miles away in Norman, Oklahoma.

Children visit WEBR’s Uncle Ben program, 1935. The boy furthest to the left is Gerhard Lang, nephew of the Lang Brewery owner, who was a regular junior announcer on the show after having told a bedtime story on the station’s first day of broadcasting. The large round object, draped in black bunting is the microphone, hidden to help relieve the anxiety of performers, unaccustomed to such devices.
The World Series was heard in Buffalo in 1925 over Station WMAK (as seen on the microphone), with Associated Press telegraph operator Charles Wiest reading each play as it came over the cable from Pittsburgh. This night, the Pirates beat the Senators in Game 2 by a 3-2 final.

In Lockport, Norton Laboratories began operating WMAK Radio in 1922, with I.R. Lounsberry as the chief engineer and manager. Lounsberry’s name would be associated with Buffalo radio right through the rock ‘n’ roll era as President of WGR.

WMAK became associated with The Buffalo Evening News, after The News broadcast election results on the station shortly after it signed on.

The station became more and more Buffalo-centric in its broadcasting, and in 1925, studios were opened in Buffalo’s Lafayette Hotel in association with the Buffalo Times newspaper.

Shortly after the studios opened, in October 1925, Associated Press telegraph operator Charles Wiest announced play-by-play action of the World Series in Pittsburgh under the direction of the Buffalo Times.

Wiest read the telegraph cables over the air moments after they happened on the diamond.

In 1926, WMAK’s place in history was secured when the station joined a “remote control broadcast chain” of stations across the northeast and Midwest in “an precedented demonstration” of “radiating a program” in nine cities simultaneously.

It was the world’s first network program, and the network that would grow from that first network broadcast was the Columbia Broadcasting System, CBS.

A pair of 60-foot radio towers stood atop Seneca Vocational High School until 1953.
Seneca Vocational students put on a radio drama over the WSVS airwaves, 1930s.

WSVS was another early Buffalo station, signing on in 1926. The studios were operated by the students of Seneca Vocational High School, and while many private high schools and colleges around the country received special licenses to broadcast, Buffalo’s Seneca High was the only public high school in the nation with a fully-licensed radio station.

Students at Seneca Vocational School learned the engineering and maintenance side of radio in classrooms as a part of the educational operation of WSVS.

When WSVS first signed on, many of its programs were on par with the commercial broadcasters of the day, with a heavy schedule of bands, orchestras, signing groups and soloists.

Through the years, WSVS’ broadcasts became more intermittent and more school-centered, as the station eventually shared the frequency of commercial broadcaster WBNY.

By the time WSVS surrendered its license in 1942, it had already been allotting near all of its broadcasting time to WBNY for years. Still, it was the last of the early educational stations to leave the airwaves, and the milestone was celebrated as the silencing of a pioneer in a national trade magazine.

Another selection in the long-forgotten alphabet soup of early Buffalo radio call letters is WPDQ. The station went on the air from the garage at 121 Norwood Avenue, owned by Nelson P. Baker (no relation to the Lackawanna priest.)

Garage owner Nelson Baker, upper left, WPDQ co-owner Hiram Turner at the controls, Frank Miller in the WPDQ studio at the microphone, 1925.

The station was on the air for one day—December 30, 1925—before the federal government suspended its license. The station eventually made it back on the air, broadcasting from the Varsity Theater on Bailey Avenue, until the station was sold and the call letters changed to WKEN and the studios moved to the corner of Delaware Avenue and Sheridan Drive.

WKEN also had regular broadcasting capabilities from Kenmore Presbyterian Church at Delaware and Hazeltine Avenues in Kenmore, and from the Great Lakes Theatre on Chippewa Street in Buffalo.

A federal rule change called barred some stations from being in residential areas, so the studio moved once again. This time literally.

The small building which was the home of station WKEN was taken by barge from Tonawanda to Grand Island in 1928.

The small building was wheeled up Sheridan Drive to the Niagara River, and then floated on a barge to Bush Road on Grand Island.

WKEN broadcast nightly stock report information, sponsored by an investment house in the Ellicott Square Building, 1930.

The callsign for WKEN was lost to history when The Buffalo Evening News bought the rights to its radio frequency and allowed the station to go dark, before signing back on as WBEN in September 1930.

From the moment WKBW first signed on, November 7, 1926, the evangelist owner Dr. Clinton Churchill said the randomly assigned call letters stood for “Well Known Bible Witness.”

Dr. Clinton Churchill, WKBW

Churchill came to understand the power of radio when his earlier broadcasts on WMAK and WEBR brought in bushel baskets filled with requests for more preaching, more music, and assumedly, a couple of dollars mixed in as well.

The preacher turned his Main Street Tabernacle building into a radio studio—it would later be the home of Channel 7.

“CT” inscribed on the studio seating for shows like Dialing for Dollars didn’t stand for “Commander Tom,” but for “Churchill Tabernacle.”

The Churchill Tabernacle’s Great White Robed Chorus ready to perform from what would become, 30 years later, audience seating for WKBW-TV shows like Dialing for Dollars.
WKBW Radio’s first studio, 1926.

As radio became more popular and businessmen around the country began to realize ways of making broadcasting lucrative and profitable, to that end a handful of wealthy Buffalonians moved to bring together Buffalo’s radio stations under a single umbrella.

In 1929, a million-dollar corporation was formed by a group of Buffalo bankers and businessmen to create the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation— known informally as the BBC.

Linking WKBW, WGR, WMAK and WKEN promised “a vision of Buffalo as one of the country’s largest radio broadcasting centers.”

The directors of the new company included Marine Trust President George Rand, Western Savings President Charles Diebold, Jacob Schoellkopf, Irvine Kittinger, and Clinton Churchill.

“Nothing musical in Buffalo will be beyond the reach of the corporation,” said Churchill. “We will produce the very best in radio broadcasting, technically and artistically.

“We will maintain staff orchestras, bands, musicians and soloists, and we win immediately set about to eliminate the cheaper and undesirable types of programs.”

When the BBC was incorporated, it left WEBR as the lone independent station on Buffalo’s radio dial.

But not for long.

S.S. Wallace, Master of Ceremonies and announcer for the BBC, early 1930s
Oklahoma Hank and his Western Entertainers, on broadcasting on WGR with a BBC microphone.
Station personnel from WGR and WMAK as published in a national radio almanac, 1927.
Prince Edward, Later King Edward VIII, dedicating the Peace Bridge in 1927.

In 1927, WGR made world history by hosting the first international remote broadcast of its kind when the Peace Bridge was dedicated.

A “great network” of stations in the US and in Canada agreed to transmit the address simultaneously for the first worldwide broadcast ever attempted. It was heard from Britain to Australia.

The Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VIII, was the featured speaker in the program for the nearly 100,000 spectators who lined both sides of the Niagara River, which also featured Vice President Charles Dawes, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and New York Governor Al Smith.

Graham McNamee and Milton J. Cross, the top announcers for the National Broadcasting Company, were in Buffalo for the historic broadcast.

As New York Governor and then later as President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was no stranger to Buffalo and its microphones. Here, a speech by Gov. Roosevelt is being picked up by Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation microphones.

As a pioneering and early developing radio market, many of the talented people who helped shape the medium here in Buffalo through the 1920s moved on to fame and success outside of Western New York and became pioneers not just in Buffalo radio, but pioneers influencing the entire future of the medium.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon