WGR’s 100th Anniversary

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

WGR is celebrating 100 years of broadcasting and, as WGR Historian, I put together a handful of minute-long stories talking about the station’s rich history.

WGR’s Sign On

Just weeks after Buffalo’s first radio station… WWT first went on the air, On May 21, 1922, WGR broadcast its first programs the Federal Telegraph Company on Elmwood Avenue.

“Buffalo enters into the field of national radio broadcasting with the formal opening of one of the largest and most powerful broadcasting stations in the east….  thousands of dollars (have been spent) 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 as we see today,” reported the Courier.

The original owners started WGR to sell radios… and Federal Radio’s $25 set could easily pick up any broadcast within a 30-mile radius of the city.

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

In 1923, WGR became one of the earliest tenants of Buffalo’s brand new Statler Hotel, where it was a Class B station– authorizing broadcast on reserved frequencies, without interference, 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.

For a century now, WGR has been the voice of Buffalo heard around the world.

WGR Sign-on

Early personalities at WGR

Bob Schmidt, later known as Buffalo Bob Smith

For 100 years now, WGR has been bringing the great voices of radio to Buffalo.

Before he was Howdy Doody’s sidekick and one of television’s early stars, Buffalo Bob Smith, Masten High School grad Bob Schmidt was one of the stars of WGR in the 30s and 40s as “Smiling Bob Smith”

In the early years of radio, the country’s most powerful stations—like WGR—weren’t allowed to play recorded music. Conductor David Cheskin, the leader of the 18-piece WGR Staff Orchestra, was one of Buffalo’s most popular entertainers and a “one man wonder” during the pre-war Golden era of Buffalo radio.

The WGR Orchestra

Cheskin’s music made WGR nationally famous as he conducted 18 network shows a week— including “Buffalo Presents”— heard all over the country on NBC and CBS as performed live in the WGR studios.

Billy Keaton was one of WGR’s most popular hosts after he, like many early radio entertainers, settled down with radio after a life on the road as a Vaudeville man.

Billy Keaton in the WGR studios with singer Johnny Ray.

After his “Stuff and Nonsense” program took off, 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” on WGR.

As a long-time WGR Radio fan favorite, Billy was the natural choice to welcome the first viewers to WGR-TV in 1954.

Then and now, the great voices of Buffalo can be heard on WGR.

WGR– Early Voices

Baseball on WGR

For 100 years now, Buffalo’s best sports coverage has been a reason to listen to WGR.

From the earliest days of announcers recreating baseball games from tickertape print outs, complete with broken pencil sound effects for the sound of a hit

Roger Baker

To Bisons play-by-play from Offermann Stadium with Buffalo’s first sportscaster Roger Baker and his protégé who’d spend more than 60 years broadcasting sports in Buffalo, Ralph Hubbell.

Hubbell broadcast the games of Bison Great Ollie Carnegie as he set an International League homerun record which stood for 69 years.

Later it was Bill Mazer who was behind the WGR microphone when another great Bisons slugger—Luke Easter famously hit a White Owl Wallop over the Offermann Stadium scoreboard.

Pete Weber and John Murphy at the Rockpile

In the 80s, WGR was owned by the Rich Family—and with Pete Weber behind the play-by-play mic…

The station was instrumental in helping get Pilot Field built—starting a renaissance for building in downtown Buffalo, and a renaissance for classically designed ballparks all around the country.

Baseball on WGR through the years

Ted Darling on WGR

WGR was the long-time home of Ted Darling… whose smooth and exciting style brought gravitas to the expansion Sabres in 1970 and became a trusted uncle behind the Sabres play-by-play mic on radio and TV for the next 21 years.

Sabres broadcast crew, Mid-80s, in the Memorial Auditorium Press Box. Mike Robitaille, Jim Lorentz, Rick Jeanneret, Ted Darling

His genuine excitement for what he was describing on the Memorial Auditorium ice and the stunning pace of his broadcasts helped make listening to the radio almost as exciting as being there for a Perreault rush or a Korab check.

Darling’s voice instantly brings generations of Buffalo hockey fans to a different place and time.

There’s something that feels like home when you hear Ted Darling….

Ted Darling

Rick Jeanneret on WGR

Spine-tingling. Quirky. Explosive. Imaginative.

What can you say about Rick Jeanneret that even comes close to listening to him?

Across a span of 51 years—Rick Jeanneret’s has been an inseparable part of what the Sabres are to us…

And for most of those years, it was WGR that brought you that voice.

Rick Jeanneret

Van Miller calls four Super Bowls on WGR

There were different places around the radio dial you heard Van Miller’s voice through the years, but the only place you ever fastened your seatbelt for Van Miller Super Bowl fandemonium was WGR.

Van Miller, the Voice of the Bills (Buffalo Stories archives)

Thinking of those great teams of the 80s and 90s, our minds flash pictures of Kelly, Bruce, Andre and Thurman—but the sound is undeniably Van Miller.

Another voice that made WGR feel like home during the Bills Super Bowl run…

Van Miller– Four Straight Super Bowls

The Great DJs of WGR in the 70s

The 1970s were the glory years for big personality disc jockeys and rock ‘n’ roll music on WGR.

Shane Brother Shane was “Buffalo’s zany philosopher king.” The Cosmic Cowboy did it all to make smiles across the miles, hoping you fill your night with life, love, laughter, family, friends, fun and music.

Shane Brother Shane

Stan Roberts—whose WGR jingle called him the Corny DJ—is remembered for wearing a lampshade on his head on Royalite TV commercial and Dial-A-Joke, but also as a warm, friendly, and funny presence on morning radio across five decades.

Buffalo Stories archives

Frank Benny was one of the smoothest broadcasters to ever work in Buffalo– as the weatherman on Channel 2 and DJ on WGR starting in the 60s through the 80s.

The DJs of WGR in the 70s

The Commercials of WGR in the 50s & 60s

WGR has aired literally millions of commercials over the last hundred years…

Our sponsors have not only paid the bills, but have made for great memories themselves, like these Buffalo classics from the 50s and 60s:

The commercials of WGR in the 50s

The Commercials of WGR in the 70s & 80s

Hundreds of thousands of sponsors have aired millions of commercials on WGR over the last century…

Through the 70s and 80s, thousands of local institutions used the power of WGR with commercials you can’t forget–

The commercials of WGR in the 70s

The Voices of News on WGR

Sportsradio550 has been Buffalo’s premier source for Bills and Sabres news for decades, but for 80 years— WGR was also the home of some of Buffalo’s most beloved news voices.

Since his time as News Director at WGR Radio and WBEN Radio, Ray Marks (center, seated in the WGR Newsroom in the mid-1990s) had been teaching communications courses at St. Bonaventure, Buffalo State, and Medaille. He died in 2015. (Buffalo Stories/staffannouncer archives)

We also remember WGR personality and Traffic Reporter Mike Roszman and pilot Herm Kuhn, who died when the WGR Traffic plane crashed between reports in 1993.

WGR’s News voices through the years

Artie Baby Boo-Boo & The Coach

Back in 1988, Art Wander got Bills General Manager Bill Polian so mad, he told Art to get out of town.

Instead, Art spent the next decade taking your calls (and East Side Eddie’s calls) on WGR.

Then there was “The Coach,” Chuck Dickerson.

Chuck Dickerson, “The Coach”

He was a coach for the Bills—until Marv Levy fired him after Super Bowl XXVI for being a little too opinionated.

For a decade starting in 1993, Chuck Dickerson was the loudest football fan in Buffalo.

Art Wander & Chuck Dickerson

John Otto, Buffalo’s first talk show host

WGR has been heading to the phones as Buffalo’s call-in show pioneer for more than 60 years, starting with John Otto in the early 60s…

John Otto, WGR, 1975.

And you’ve been a big part of what makes WGR special ever since, taking part in call-in shows with hosts lke JR & Susie, Paul Lyle, Tom Bauerle, Ann Edwards, Clip Smith, and so many more…

But the brilliant and dry-witted John Otto– and his nearly 40 years overnights on WGR– is the stuff of legend.

Some shows were more legendary than others.

Thursday nights it was Desperate and Dateless, with co-host Shane Brother Shane (and later with Tom Bauerle.)

John Otto & WGR talkshows

This was a fun project and it was wonderful to celebrate so many great broadcasters and friends, but the truth is– it felt a bit funny.

For the first half of my broadcasting career, WGR was a sworn enemy of the stations where I worked– first as a news competitor at WBEN and then as a sports competitor at the now-defunct WNSA Radio.

But many of the guys I worked with at WBEN and WNSA now work at WGR, so I guess we won 🙂

During the decade I worked at Entercom Radio (2003-2013), I primarily worked at WBEN– although you regularly heard my newscasts on Star 102.5, KB Radio, and 107.7 The Lake.

You also heard me occasionally on WGR, filling in at the sports desk, like in this clip from 2003…

Cichon says, remember the time you spent listening…

Of course, my biggest on-air contribution at WGR was as the curator of the Haseoke archive.

Haseoke– Rubber Ducky

Published by

Avatar

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.