For the few thousand with TV sets that could pull in the new station, the wait was excruciating.
On February 27, 1948, WBEN-TV started telecasting daily—but only a test pattern for several hours a day.
Eleven weeks later, on May 14, 1948, Buffalo entered the television era with the sign-on of Ch.4, WBEN-TV. The station was among the first 25 to sign on in the country.
“Edward H. Butler, editor and publisher of The Buffalo Evening News, stepped before a WBEN-TV camera at Memorial Auditorium on May 14, 1948—and a new era in mass communications and home entertainment began on the Niagara Frontier,” read an announcement from the station.
The station’s first-day, four-hour lineup offered a taste of what television would be like over the next couple of years in Buffalo—a little bit of everything.
After the somber address by Mayor Dowd and Mr. Butler, there was a Town Casino Variety Show, including the Town Casino chorus, acrobatic dancer Dorothy Deering, and network singing star and emcee Mary Jane Dobb.
And the show that would be the station’s most popular for the next decade was also on Ch.4 that first night —There was wrestling live from Memorial Auditorium.
“The marceled master of mayhem, Gorgeous George, will take over the spotlight when the tele-cameras shift to the auditorium’s wrestling ring at 9:30,” read Buffalo’s first TV program guide.
Just as radio had been a truly pioneering experience 25 years earlier– with no one exactly sure what to do because no one had ever done it before, the first few years of programming at Ch.4 were an exciting and sometimes weird hodge-podge of adapting things that worked on radio for television mixed with completely new ideas for the completely new medium.
South Buffalo’s Fred Keller, who first joined WBEN as an announcer in 1942, was the creative spirit behind many of the shows on Ch.4.
Remembered as a sportscaster from the day WBEN-TV signed on in 1948 through 1977, Chuck Healy was also Buffalo’s most watched TV news anchor on Ch.4 through the ’60s.
The versatile announcer was also a versatile athlete as a boxing and football star at Syracuse University.
Television’s first ever cop drama, “The Clue” was written and directed by Buffalo theater icon Fred A. Keller, and starred Evening News Radio-TV columnist Jim Trantor as Private Eye Steve Malice. It was as an actor on “The Clue” that Canadian radio announcer Lorne Greene—later famous as Ben Cartwright on Bonanza—made his first television appearance.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
No one has anchored Buffalo’s TV news at a single station longer than Jacquie. She’s been at 4 even two years longer than Irv was at Channel 7.
It’s an incredible record, especially because in so many ways, she’s the anti-Irv.
If you had to describe what you love about Irv in a word, you might say brash or gritty. Jacquie, you might say is kind and genuine. And it’s true. She is kind and genuine– but still as gritty a journalist I’ve ever worked with.
It’s a great honor to call Jacquie a friend and for 36 years, it’s been a pleasure to watch her work her genuine kindness and journalistic grit each night in my living room.
Thanks, Jacquie, for making Buffalo a kinder, classier place.
I got to know Doug Smith while we were both working at Channel 4, but I loved him long before then. Thinking of him makes me think of my grandmother.
Grandma Cichon rounded up us kids and we took the bus from Seneca Street near the city line all the way up to Hertel Avenue for the first Italian Festival in North Buffalo after years on the West Side.
In perfect Grandma Cichon fashion, we prettyquickly walked up and down through the rides and games –it wasn’t much different from the Caz Park Festival we were used to… And then, eschewing the pricier Italian Sausage or ravioli, we ate lunch at the Burger King at the corner of Hertel and Delaware.
And since we were so close to K-Mart, Grandma couldn’t resist running in, which we did (probably for air conditioning, I’d guess, more than anything else.)
In the parking lot leaving K-Mart, heading for the bus stop, I think I spied him first. A real-live celebrity from Channel 4. Doug Smith! Right there! The guy with the convertible Beetle! In the flesh!
As if that wasn’t enough, Grandma– in her breathy, asthmatic voice– started moving toward him shouting, “Doug! Doug! Oh Doug!”
She knew him in her role as the longtime President of the South Buffalo Theatre on South Park Avenue.
“Oh Marie, how are you my darling,” he said, overacting the part, maybe even kissing her hand.
Italian Festival, Burger King, Doug Smith, and Grandma knows him! What a day!
Doug Smith would have made me smile even if I’d never met him… but that he was always great— and that he always makes me think of my grandma is really a bonus.
Then again, I think Doug’s the kind of guy that evokes layers of memories for plenty of people around Buffalo.
He was one of a kind– and warmly touched so many lives. He died today at 81. Rest in Peace, Doug Smith.
Television wasn’t even 3 years old in Buffalo when this photo was snapped inside WBEN-TV’s “Studio D” on the 18th floor of the Hotel Statler in 1951.
Buffalo News archives
Channel 4 was still Buffalo’s only television station, and its offerings of live, locally produced dramas were among the most popular shows that The News-owned station broadcast.
This one in particular, “The Clue,” is perhaps the best remembered. It was written and directed by Buffalo theater icon Fred A. Keller, and it starred Evening News Radio-TV columnist Jim Trantor as Private Eye Steve Malice. He can be seen in the scene wearing a hat.
It wasn’t long before local dramas were pushed off local stations around the country as networks began creating more high quality content for those stations to use.
When Don Paul retired as Buffalo’s pre-eminent weather authority last month, the folks at Channel 4 wished him luck on the message board in front of the station’s Elmwood Avenue studios. The high-definition display replaces a scrolling light sign which had been in place for at least 40 years.
Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories photo
The station now known as WIVB-TV has called 2077 Elmwood Ave. home since 1960, and until 2000, the building also was home to WBEN Radio. The yellow buildings across Elmwood Avenue in this 1983 photo have long since been torn down, and replaced by Popeye’s and Napa Auto.
Buffalo Stories archives
In 1977, it wasn’t Don Paul, but another fabled Buffalo weatherman — Channel 2’s Kevin O’Connell — who was then Channel 4’s main weatherman, broadcasting live from underneath the sign as a blizzard descended upon the region.
Buffalo Stories archives
It was a simpler sign — almost bizarrely similar to next-door neighbor and competitor WGR’s sign in 1961. The tiny building that housed WGR’s radio studios for several years has been owned by Channel 4 for decades. It still stands directly across Elmwood from McDonald’s.
Buffalo News archives
Looking further down Elmwood, none of the buildings in view past the former WGR building are still standing. A paint store stood where the former Don Pablo’s/Advance Auto now stands. Off in the distance closer to Hertel, the water tower of the Kittinger Furniture factory is visible.