In the simplest of terms, after decades of economic depression and war, young people of the late 1940s had less responsibility, more economic freedom and a growing segment of pop culture being cultivated to employ and take advantage of that free time and free cash.
For 70 years, more mature generations have been panning the choices of teenage girls and especially the fervor with which they make those choices.
The names change, but from Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber, rigid-minded adults can’t understand all the swooning over (some singer) with (some bizarre haircut, bizarre dance, etc.).
By 1964, American fuddy-duddies had withstood the waves of bobbysoxers and Elvis’ wagging hips — but the arrival of a moppy-headed quartet of singers from England took the genre up another notch.
If there’s a start date for Beatlemania, you might choose Feb. 9, 1964 — the date of the band’s first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” About 60 percent of American televisions were tuned to the performance of the nation’s No. 1 top single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It aired in Buffalo on Ch.4.
Immediately, adults started to try to make sense of the mania.
In a matrix that has repeated itself time and time again as American Pop Culture has evolved, the aversion to the Beatles was just as strong as the fanaticism of their young followers.
What was it about the Beatles? everyone seemed to want to know. Was it the haircuts, asked the Courier-Express’ “Enquiring Reporter” of Western New York high school students?
Lining up to get on The KB Crush Beatles Bus Caravan to Toronto
One boy from Cardinal O’Hara High School was convinced that it was “The Beatles’ weird looks more than their musical ability” that made them popular. Many others agreed, but said it was the combination of talent and different looks that made the Beatles “just far out.”
Whether you loved the Beatles or hated them, they were clearly a growing economic force to be reckoned with.
It wasn’t just with the expected idea of record sales at places like Twin Fair, more staid institutions such as AM&A’s were offering “The Beatle Bob” in their downtown and branch store beauty salons. Hengerer’s was selling Beatles records and wigs.
A month after the group’s first appearance on Ed Sullivan, a couple of doors down from Shea’s Buffalo, the Paramount Theatre sold out a weekend’s worth of closed-circuit showings of a Beatles concert.
Eighteen uniformed Buffalo Police officers were hired to help keep the peace among the more than 2,500 teens who showed up to watch the show at the Paramount, which was hosted by WKBW disc jockey Joey Reynolds. The only slight hint of misbehavior on the part of Beatles fans came when the infamous rabble-rouser Reynolds declared on the stage, “I hate the Beatles!” and he was pelted with jellybeans.
Local bands like the Buffalo Beetles, later renamed the Mods, enjoyed popularity and even their own records on the radio. After the July, 1964 release of The Beatles’ first film “A Hard Day’s Night,” the summer of 1965 saw the release of the Beatles’ second movie, “Help!,” which opened at Shea’s before moving onto the smaller theaters and the drive-ins.
The Beatles also played a concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in August 1965. There were at least a couple of dozen Buffalonians in attendance courtesy of the WKBW/Orange Crush Beatles caravan, hosted by Danny Neaverth.
Danny Neaverth hosting on KB Crush Caravan to see the Beatles.
Sixteen-year-old Jay Burch of Orchard Park High School described Beatlemania from the midst of it in 1964 this way: “The Beatles’ singing is OK, but it’s the haircuts and dress that make them standouts. … The Beatles are different. They got a good gimmick and made it work.”
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison of The Beatles at a Toronto press conference, speaking into a microphone from Toronto’s CHUM Radio front and center.
Many of Buffalo’s Beatles dreams finally came true on Oct. 22, 2015, when Paul McCartney made his first appearance in Buffalo, singing songs that many in the audience had first heard 51 ½ years earlier for the first time on a Sunday evening with Ed Sullivan.
Art Wander was among the first Americans to hear The Beatles’ classic “A Day in the Life.” Yes, that Art Wander. Long before his sports talk show days, the native of Buffalo’s East Side was a national radio programmer, and hosted Beatles manager Brian Epstein in his WOR New York City office.
The KB mid-60s lineup included midday man Rod Roddy, who would later be one of the country’s leading game show announcers on shows like Press Your Luck and The Price is Right.
In the late 60s, KB issued two different top 300 lists. The band members are the KB disc jockeys shown on the previous page, with the exception of Lee Vogel—who had left the station, and was shown facing backwards.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
A young program director with a big mouth, big ideas, and a big appetite for promotion rock ‘n’ rolled his way into Buffalo in 1957, and Dick Lawrence permanently etched his taste for music and in-your-face radio into the taste and expectations of Buffalonians.
Even if they came along kicking and screaming. Buffalo’s newspaper radio critics reflected the feelings of most Western New Yorkers past the age of 16, with regards to the new sounds coming out of their radios.
Sturgis Hedrick of the Buffalo Evening News recalled Lawrence on the pages of the paper as “the energetic young man who brought the raucous, jangling—and alas, moderately successful—sound of ‘modern radio’ to Buffalo.”
The original WBNY Top-40 line-up included Lawrence, who appeared on the air as Felix with his pet parrot Fernando.
“A sound of hoopla and noisy disc jockeys went into full swing night and day,” said the Courier-Express’ Jack Allen. “Most 15-minute newscasts, a tradition at the station, were dropped and Gene Korzelius’ sportscasts were reduced. The fast-paced schedule eventually also did away with the Grosvenor Library Classical Music Show…The top-40 format with the rock ‘n’ roll beat was in to stay.”
The theme is pretty clear. It was also echoed by J. Don Schlaerth.
“Station WBNY, described as ‘the friendly voice of Buffalo’ seems to have given in to the noisy bounce of rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley to ‘keep up with 1957 musical tastes.’ Not long ago semi-classical music and standard favorites predominated on WBNY. Then there was no room for an Elvis.”
Henry Brach was a newsman and deejay at WBNY and as ‘BNY’s news director, gave Danny Neaverth his first job in Buffalo radio. He moved over to KB and spent more than 20 years there as the station’s gruff uncle and the butt of the jokes of untold numbers of disc jockeys.
If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.
Daffy Dan Neaverth, WBNY. Neaverth left WBNY for WKBW, inspiring the rath of Dick Lawrence—who made firing Neaverth one of his first acts when he became boss at KB. Neaverth went to work at WGR until returning to 1520 for a 26-year run at the station.
It was fast tempo music, fast tempo talk, fast tempo musical station IDs. It was also the only programming on the station. Rock ‘n’ roll could be heard elsewhere on the dial, but nowhere else was it the only music a station played.
Love it or hate it, the tiny 250-watt station– which could barely be heard outside of the city’s boundaries– was the talk of Western New York.
Other radio stations hated more than radio critics and parents of teens combined.
Four months into Dick Lawrence’s reign at WBNY, WGR announced that it is no longer in the rock ‘n’ roll business.
“Radio station WGR, after taking an impartial music survey among local housewives, has decided to go off the ‘hot’ music path into the relaxing realm of ‘good music,’” reported The Courier-Express. “It will let other Buffalo stations divide the rock ‘n roll spoils.”
The survey named Perry Como as favorite male vocalist followed by Pat Boone and Bing Crosby.
The next day, the paper printed reactions from local radio programmers and called Lawrence’s response “violent.”
“I’ve seen this policy tried before,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t work and I’ll be a pallbearer at their funeral.”
WGR went to the extreme, but most other stations had some rock music at some point during the day. The only station that didn’t, was WBEN.
“The changing styles in music have never affected the WBEN program policy of providing music, news, drama and public service for all members of the family,” a station official told the Courier-Express.
Other radio stations might not have embraced the music, but after six months, they were beginning to lose revenue. 50,000-watt WKBW Radio was losing to a 250-watt station.
WKBW General Manager Al Anscombe told the Courier-Express that the sound being put out by Dick Lawrence was “slightly wacky” – but the trends were there. KB could die on the vine, or go all in.
And did KB go all in. The station owned by a preacher with call letters standing for “Well-Known Bible Witness” hired away the young programmer and promoter who sent a donkey around downtown Buffalo wearing a sign that said, “Everybody is listening to the new WBNY but me, and you know what I am!”
Lawrence christened KB as Futursonic Radio, rock ‘n’ roll had a new home on Buffalo’s radio dial, and KB would begin a dominance that would last a generation.
Within a year of the change to a Top-40 format on July 4, 1958, WKBW Radio was taking out full-page ads in Buffalo’s newspapers touting their status as Buffalo’s most listened to radio station.
One of the most famous disc jockeys to spin tunes on WBNY only lasted about a month at the station– but would go on to a legendary career in syndicated radio and voice work.
Before he became the voice of “American Top 40” and Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo,” Casey Kasem was “Casey at the Mic” on WBNY in 1960. Shortly before his arrival, he set a record at WJW in Cleveland for what he called “world’s longest on-air kiss,” after laying an 85-second smooch on starlet Diana Trask.
Much later, Kasem would admit to “screwing around too much” during his short time in Buffalo. He’d land in San Francisco, and was well on his way to forever having his feet in the ground while reaching for the stars.
Early group shot of The Even Newer WKBW Futursonic disc jockeys, including Jim Taylor, Ted Hackett, Tom Shannon, Don Keller, Dick Braun, Gene Nelson, Bob Diamond, and Russ Syracuse.
Dick Biondi at a record hop in 1960, just before leaving KB for Chicago.
Dick Biondi was the first nighttime voice of the rock ‘n’ roll era on WKBW.
He referred to himself as “a screamer,” and often told the story about how he was fired from KB because he was too loud. He also claimed to have been fired from KB because he played an Elvis song that wasn’t approved.
What really happened: he told listeners that one of KB’s managers was driving down Main Street in an Impala convertible. “If you see him,” he said, “Throw a rock!”
Someone did—through the boss’ windshield. Maybe he was too loud.
Dan Neaverth, WKBW
Irv Weinstein joined the WKBW Radio news staff in 1958, ultimately becoming the station’s news director. He was responsible for creating a news sound that reflected the music and personalities on the station. He walked across the parking lot to become Ch.7’s news anchor in 1964.
When WNIA officially signed on in 1956, the station was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”
More than just Top-40, the record library at the Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.
But there was still plenty of room for rock ‘n’ roll. From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier-Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”
In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”
WNIA signed-on in 1956, and doubled its power in 1962.
While the power changed, what didn’t was the disc jockey’s names. For more than two decades, when you turned on the radio in the morning, the deejay identified himself as Tommy Thomas— even though it might have been a different guy with a different voice calling himself Tommy Thomas the day before.
Just like with Guy King at WWOL, station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.
He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.
WNIA saw itself as a more staid (and cheaper!) version of WKBW. KB wasn’t mentioned by name in one 1963 ad, but anyone reading it would have known what was being implied.
“As far as wild banshee, screaming announcers, wild nonsense gimmicks and promos… NEVER on WNIA.”
At 1080am, WINE was perhaps the least remembered of the handful of radio stations which tried to break in on the Rhythm music scene in late 1950s Buffalo.
“WXRA has changed their call letters along with their programming,” wrote Danny McBride in his column in the Blasdell Herald in 1957. “The new call is WINE, along with crazy sounds like the new WBNY.”
The WINE call letters didn’t last very long. In 1960, WINE became WYSL at 1080am.
1080am was then sold to WUFO, and the WYSL call letters moved to 1400am, displacing the old WBNY.
Before WXRA became WINE, Tommy Shannon had his first radio job there.
Hernando was the morning man at WXRA, and stayed on at WINE. The mic flag in this photo was edited from saying WXRA to WINE.
Hernando went on to do the all-night show on WGR, after the station “gave up” on giving up rock ‘n’ roll.
Greyt Scott appeared on other Buffalo stations as Charlie Griggs. Tap Taplin had been a regular on WEBR for at least a decade before moving to WINE, and Jimmy Lyons was Buffalo’s first full-time, regularly featured African-American deejay.
The WINE mobile unit—a Volkswagen van—always turning heads.
Disc jockeys joined forces to raise money for charity at a game at the Bishop Timon gym in 1959. Standing: Charlie Griggs (Greyt Scott) WINE, Rog Christian WBNY, Tom Shannon WKBW, Terry Mann WWOL, Dan Neaverth WGR, Danny McBride WEBR, Jack Kelly WKBW, Rick Bennett WWOL. Sitting: Bud Stiker (Jerry Jack) WNIA, Dick Carr WBNY, and Don Fortune WBNY.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
As the 1950s wore on, Stan “Stas” Jasinski would become known as Buffalo’s Polka King with his daily programs first heard on WWOL and WXRA, and then on powerful WKBW. The platform and his mix of Polish and English songs and commercials gave him a voice heard by the Greater Buffalo community as well as Polish-Americans.
Jasinski went on to found WMMJ Radio, which became WXRL when he sold the station to the Schriver Family as he began plans to sign-on WUTV Ch.29. Jasinski eventually sold Ch.29 as well, but continued playing polkas on the radio for a total of 60 years when he retired in 2000.
George Ratterman was a four-letter man at Notre Dame and the star quarterback of the Buffalo Bills from 1947-49, throwing 22 touchdowns his rookie year. When the AAFC folded, several of its teams moved to the NFL—but not the Bills. Ratterman moved on to several NFL and CFL teams before studying law and becoming the legal counsel for the American Football League Players’ Union.
His broadcasting career began at WKBW in 1950. Through the 60s and 70s, he was a color commentator for AFL and NFL games on ABC and NBC. He might be best remembered in the booth for his longtime partnership with Jack Buck.
Among his early assignments when Bill Mazer came to Buffalo in 1947, was to call the play-by-play of Buffalo Bills Football at the War Memorial Stadium for the 1940s incarnation of professional football in Buffalo.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
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.
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.”
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 1940s started with most of Buffalo’s radio stations changing their dial positions.
The governments of the US, Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Haiti signed a treaty agreeing on a realignment of the radio dial in 1940.
It meant that five Buffalo radio stations got new frequencies in a continent-wide attempt to clear up interference in the increasingly busy airwaves.
Lower end frequencies, like WGR at 550 kilocycles, weren’t forced to move, but in December, 1941, WBEN moved from 900 to 930 kilocycles, WEBR from 1310 to 1340, WBNY from 1370 to 1400 and WKBW from 1480 to 1520. WEBR moved again in 1945 to 970, putting Buffalo’s AM stations in the same dial locations where they still are today.
WGR and KB are also broadcasting from the same transmitter facilities eight decades later.
The Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation opened its transmitter and tower facilities in Hamburg on Big Tree Road in July, 1941. The facility cost $350,000– $6.1 million in 2020 dollars—and was described as “truly a showplace of electric marvels.”
When the building first opened, a series of telephone lines carried programs from the Rand Building studios of WGR and WKBW to Hamburg for broadcast.
WKBW’s mainstays were the network programs of CBS with stars like Orson Welles, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Kate Smith. WGR carried the Mutual Network featuring “The Lone Ranger” and Milton Berle.
The local talent celebrated in a brochure issued in commemoration of the new transmitter included Billy Keaton, Ralph Hubbell, and WGR Orchestra leader David Cheskin. Before Howdy Doody came along, Bob Smith hosted “The Cheer Up Gang” every morning, and before spending Clinton Buehlman hosted “WGR Musical Clock.”
The 50,000 watt signal which erupted from this building provided the coverage across much of the eastern part of North America which WKBW Radio to become, as their top-of-the-hour IDs would say during the Jeff Kaye era, “One of America’s two great radio stations.”
Herb Rice was WGR’s program director and the station’s creative force from 1929-43. He was an integral member of the Stoopnagle & Budd team, and was among the first to display the talents of Buffalo Bob Smith in 1933. In leaving Buffalo to become an executive producer for NBC, Rice worked with and wrote for Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Katharine Hepburn.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 was wheeled up Sheridan Drive to the Niagara River, and then floated on a barge to Bush Road on Grand Island.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 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
When his voice came through the speaker on your radio, you knew you were hearing something you weren’t going to hear anywhere else. He was rock ‘n’ roll even before the phrase rock ‘n’ roll existed.
“The Ol’man,” as he often called himself on the air, was an unlikely hero of Buffalo teenagers, but for George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, it was about the music, and bringing rhythm and blues music — and rhythm and blues culture — to a wider audience.
“The Hound” was the Godfather of rock ‘n’ roll radio, not just in Buffalo but around the country.
As a teenager working at a gas station, his first radio job came as an actor in dramas in the late 1930s. He got the job “because of his ability in imitating various dialects,” the Courier-Express reported, adding that he’d “often been cast in the role of the slicker in the racketbusting plays.”
A decade later, he was doing his Hound Dog routine on Niagara Falls’ WJJL. By the mid 50’s, Lorenz’s hip daddy style, and the fact that he was spinning soulful records from the original black artists — not the sanitized crooner re-sings heard elsewhere on the radio — made him an institution.
It went beyond the records. Events promoted by Lorenz usually included black and white artists playing together at a time in the mid-50s when that wasn’t always the case. Those audiences were also mixed racially.
Lorenz worked at a handful of smaller Buffalo stations before being picked up by 50,000 watt WKBW Radio in 1955. It meant that his show, with its different approach to music and to the way human beings relate to one another, could be heard all over the eastern United States and Canada.
Ironically, the man who introduced Elvis at Memorial Auditorium was out at KB when the station went rock ‘n’ roll full-time in 1958. Lorenz wanted nothing to do with a Top-40 format, and was known to give the time and temperature at the beginning of his show, and told listeners to “set their clocks and thermometers, because that was the last time they were going to hear that for the next four hours.”
While inspiring many of the changes that came to KB and many other stations around the country, the Hound stayed true to his style and founded WBLK Radio, where he continued to uncover and spotlight new rhythm and blues artists in Buffalo and to a syndicated audience around the country.
These photos are from the collection of Betty Shampoe, who worked with Lorenz.
Her grandson would love to hear from anyone who remembers “digging” any of the artists her grandma is pictured with here when they joined The Hound in Buffalo in the 1950s.