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.
For more than 140 years, Erie County has held prisoners on Delaware Avenue between Eagle and Church streets.
The Erie County Jail was built in 1877 with room for 200 prisoners. It was connected by an underground passage with what was then Buffalo City Hall (and is now old County Hall and the County courthouse).
The current holding center building was built on the spot in 1938.
I don’t remember exactly how it started on the air, but I know that back in the early/mid-90s, when I was the producer of One-On-One Sports with Chris “The Bulldog” Parker on WBEN, I was buying up as many obscure albums as I could from Salvation Army and AMVETS thrift shops—including polka albums with interesting cover art of great song titles.
At some point, with me going through these albums, Chris must have said—we should have a Friday Night Polka—so we did.
The show closed with a polka every Friday night, and we
eventually had a good rotation of songs about drinking and about Buffalo.
Heard here for the first time in more than 20 years—a medley
of the Friday Night Polkas from WBEN’s One-On-One Sports with the Bulldog.
We’d only play a minute or so from each selection at 10:59pm to close out the show—these are the minute long clips we’d play.
Chris and I really enjoyed the music– but we’d get side eye from the lovely call screeners Monica and Rose (which is really how most of the show went most nights anyway.)
On this track:
“Bulldog Talking Sports” theme
Bulldog welcomes you to a Friday night, 1996
Ice Cubes & Beer, Ray Budzilek & The Boys
Buffalo Polka, Krew Brothers Orchestra
No Beer in Heaven, Li’l Wally
Bartender Polka, Walter Solek
Meister Brau Polka, Li’l Wally
Why don’t you people give the ball scores?— from a complaining voicemail
The Bulldog theme is taken from an aircheck… and you can hear the ancient WBEN delay system folding back on itself as the theme music plays.
One of my personal all-time favorite moments in music came when the late, great Tony Krupski of the Krew Brothers played the Buffalo Polka on demand– and grinned from ear-to-ear when I sang along with him, knowing all the words because of this great Friday night tradition in Buffalo radio.
I saw news on Facebook today that Manny Ciulla has died.
Manny’s on Seneca Street was the kind of institution we need more of… run by the kind of man we need more of.
After my ol’man’s bar closed, Manny’s was the only ginmill where dad’d feel comfortable, because Mr. Manny was more than just a guy who pushed drinks over the bar– he cared about his customers and the people of the Seneca Street community like family.
“Mrs. Manny” made great pizzas and burgers, but Manny’s was a clearly a tavern. Still, when I’d stop in as a 12 or 13 year old and ordered a Birch Beer at the bar, there was nothing untoward about it– and I know Mr. Manny loved it, and he’d talk to me like he talked to my dad or my uncles.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone who knew Mr. Manny who didn’t love him. Just like Tony Scaccia at Tony the Barber and Gerry Maciuba at The Paperback Trading Post, Manny was one of those Seneca Street shopkeepers who made Seneca Street– where both grandmas lived– feel like home to a kid who moved seven times before sixth grade.
Conrad Loewer is my third-great grandfather, born in the Holy
Roman Empire state of Hesse Cassel/Kurhessen (in today’s Germany) sometime
around 1855. He died in Buffalo in 1893.
With his father (my fourth-great grandfather) John (born
1821), sister Katherine, and brother Henry, he came to the United States aboard
the Bark Therese. The 52-day voyage from Bremen, Germany landed at the Castle
Garden immigration station in New York—the forerunner to Ellis Island– on August
John was a tailor in Germany and continued that trade in
Buffalo—passing it onto his son Conrad as he came of age in Buffalo. In 1885,
Conrad sold his property on Hickory Street near Batavia (Broadway) and
eventually made his way to Carbondale, PA, where he opened a men’s tailor shop on
Seventh Street there.
In 1887, newspapers in Carbondale and Scranton reported on
Conrad’s childhood association with one of the anarchists who lobbed bombs at
police officers in Chicago’s Haymarket square. In Hesse, Loewer attended school
with August Spies, who was eventually executed for his role in “The Haymarket
“It’s a pleasure to know that this early association with
the bomb thrower did not contaminate him, for Mr. Loewer is ‘mild-mannered’ and
an industrious citizen,” reported the Scranton Republican.
In 1888, Loewer returned to Buffalo with his wife and
children, moving around Jefferson Avenue and William Street. Living at 899
Smith Street, he died in 1893 from pneumonia.
My great-great grandmother, Jeanette “Nettie”
Loewer-Greiner, and her twin brother John were seven years old when their
father died. Sisters Agnes and Dora were even younger.
Especially after the death of my third-great grandmother Katherine
Weigand-Loewer in 1900, Conrad’s brother Henry became a father figure in the
lives of the Conrad’s destitute and orphaned six children, doing what he could
to support them. Henry also supported his elderly father John until his death
Henry A. Loewer was a cloth cutter at the Erie County Penitentiary
before he was elected Buffalo’s Morning Justice in 1901. For four years, he was
the judge who’d travel from precinct to precinct deciding on the cases of men
arrested overnight for drinking, fighting, etc. During his time on the bench,
he also solemnized 169 marriages.
When Henry died in 1907, the Buffalo Enquirer called him “one
of the East Side’s best-known Republicans,” and said, “he was a man of bulky
size and a familiar figure to the people of the East Side.”
Tracing the history of the Loewer family in Buffalo is challenging since there is another Loewer family with children named Conrad, Henry, and John. They were also from Hesse Cassel and also tailors. It’s very likely that they were related “in the old country,” but there’s no evidence of them working together, sharing business, etc in Buffalo—despite living only blocks away from one another in the Fruit Belt and the streets just south of the Fruit Belt with tree names in the Ellicott Neighborhood.
Conrad Loewer’s daughter Jeanette married Frederick W. Greiner, the son of Joseph Prentiss Greiner and Mary Atkinson-Greiner. Their daughter, Jeannette Greiner-Wargo married Stephen Wargo. They were my grandmother’s parents.
Longtime New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno died today.
Some of my most interesting times as a reporter happened when I was the only journalist on the scene.
As a radio guy without a camera, I think it puts a lot of newsmakers at ease— or maybe it makes them feel like they’re at an advantage.
Anyway, I was at an event to ask Joe Bruno about state budget negotiations as headed by Albany’s long-infamous “three men in a room,” where the governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader would swap and balance their special interests to make sure the budget would have the votes to pass for the governor’s signature.
Bruno was warm and overly friendly— and entirely evasive. We both played the game. I likely had at least two more stops that night and it was clear I wasn’t going to win a Pulitzer for the story that would result from the interview. It would probably just end up as a couple of quick sound bites for the morning show.
My last question was something like, so what is it like being one of the three men in the room?
With the same overly friendly approach, he said that three men in a room was a myth, not how it actually worked, etc, etc… it was a sound bite he’d been well-practiced at giving for more than a decade.
I thanked him and stopped my recorder.
“There’s no such thing as ‘three men in a room,’” he said, with calculated seriousness and determination in his eyes that hadn’t been there during the interview.
Then a gleam grew from that cold look and a faint smile appeared at the corners of his lips, but the way he straightened his spine at the same time gave more of a sinister vibe than a warm one.
He made sure our eyes were locked when he said, “but it’s great being one of those three men,” keeping that gaze long enough to intimidate but short enough to claim otherwise.
He was not only a tough old-time politician, but he was also a boxer— a good one.
WBEN signed on the air September 8, 1930—90 years ago today.
The station’s birthday is important to me because the station
has played such an important role in my life as a listener, employee, and now
alumni of the station.
I first walked into the station as a 15-year-old intern, and
would spend the next five years working my way up through the producer ranks up
to what was the highest profile producer job in radio—producer of Buffalo Bills
Football with Van Miller and John Murphy. I also met and worked alongside the
woman who’d become my wife during those days on Elmwood Avenue.
Five years later, I returned to the station, this time in
the newsroom—and over the next decade I worked my way up to news director.
Through all my years in media, I always took special
pleasure in being able to share my passion for Buffalo and Buffalo Broadcasting
with the listeners of WBEN, and the station’s birthday, I’ve dipped into the
archives to share some of the stories I wrote and produced about WBEN and the
people we all listened to at 930am.
WBEN’s longest serving announcer
The 90th anniversary of WBEN’s first sign-on brings to mind
many of the stable and authoritative voices which have unflappably informed
Buffalo over those decades at 930am.
The longest tenured of those voices remains a daily fixture.
From her early days of airborne traffic reporting from the
Skyview 930 helicopter to the last two decades as morning drive host, Susan
Rose has been a steady, unwavering, and professional voice on WBEN and a clear
connection to the great news voices of generations past.
Rose is not your typical “radio star.” She’s never
wanted to be. It’s exactly that which makes her a fit in the pantheon of WBEN
“A superb anchor,” wrote Buffalo News critic
Anthony Violanti. “Reads the news with journalistic style and skill.”
After graduating from Buffalo State College and starting her
radio news career at Lockport’s WLVL, Rose joined WBEN in 1985.
Her blue-collar approach to journalism combined with 35
years of continuous, daily broadcasting on the station puts her in the same
rarified company as past WBEN greats, many of whom she regularly worked with
across the decades.
Mark Leitner and Ed Little were WBEN stalwarts and frequent
Rose co-anchors through the 80s and 90s.
The legendary Lou Douglas was at WBEN for 30 years before
retiring, overlapping a couple years with Rose.
After three decades at WKBW, John Zach spent another 18 years at WBEN, including 16 years co-anchoring “Buffalo’s Early News” with Rose.
While she doesn’t have that booming voice— once considered
the most important hallmark of the then all-male radio news profession— Rose’s
even and reliable presence has been featured on the station longer than any
broadcaster, including Clint Buehlman, who hosted mornings at WBEN for 34
Perhaps that’s part of the secret why Rose’s approach and
sound is still as upbeat and fresh as the day she walked through the studio
doors 35 years ago.
She doesn’t project her personality into the news. Through
her career—rather than stand out in front— she has allowed her writing,
editing, news judgement, and steady on-air presence to support the team.
It’s even fair to say Rose avoids the spotlight— but it’s
also fair to say when crisis strikes in Buffalo, there aren’t many voices on
the airwaves today which bring credibility and calm like hers can.
A recent WBEN bio said “it was always her dream job to
work for the number one news station in Buffalo.”
Meet and reacquaint yourself with the people and stations that have created and reflected who we are as Buffalonians with this 432-page in-depth look at the first 50 years of radio and television in Buffalo.
Packed with more than 600 photos, it’s a look at the stories
of the people, places, and events that have entertained and informed
generations of Western New Yorkers over the airwaves– and under our pillows,
into our cars, into our living rooms, and into our hearts as a part of what
makes us Buffalonians.
From the scholarly to the nostalgic, the earliest pioneering
days of Buffalo radio will come to life with new research on Buffalo’s status
as one of the birthplaces of modern radio—and then the birth of rock ‘n’roll
radio here a decade later, about the same time television was wrangling more
and more of our attention.
We visit Clint Buehlman and Danny Neaverth; Uncle Mike
Mearian and Rocketship 7; The Lone Ranger & KB’s War of the Worlds; Meet
the Millers and Dialing for Dollars; John Corbett & Chuck Healy and Irv,
Rick & Tom; The Hound and John Otto and so many more of the great
broadcasters who were there as we experienced the best (and worst) times of our
The book’s covers by themselves are a study of the century
of broadcasting in Buffalo, with another 269 images, showing some of our
favorite stars in action.
Author Steve Cichon has spent three decades in Buffalo media
in radio, television & print. His journey started as a wide-eyed 15-year-old
at WBEN learning about radio, journalism and life. The lifelong Buffalonian sees this, his
sixth book, as a kind of family history– as these are the stories of the
people who made him the person he is today.
Today’s Marv Levy’s 95th birthday, and I was reminded by Greg Bauch on Twitter about a tape editing prank I did 25+ years ago.
Marv left a message for Howard Simon on the WBEN Sports voicemail along the lines of… “Hi Howard, it’s Marv Levy with the Bills, please give me a call back at 648-1800. Thanks.”
I edited out the “Howard” and left that on dozens of other people’s voicemails and answering machines. At least one friend forwarded it on to other people’s voicemails as well.
Listen to the actual message below:
The editing isn’t perfect, but it was also done before the days of digital editing. This was done with a grease pencil, a razor blade and Scotch tape– which, if I do say so myself, makes it even more incredible.
It took months to phase in the use of three-digit area code 716 for direct dialing across all of the Buffalo area, but quietly, a switch was flipped on Sept. 29, 1960 — and telephone users in Buffalo, Akron, Alden, Amherst, Boston, parts of Cheektowaga, Derby, East Aurora, Eden, Holland, Lackawanna, North Collins, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, Wanakah, West Seneca and Williamsville were all able to use direct dial service for long-distance calls.
Until that date, Western New Yorkers had to call the operator to be connected long distance.
Folks in Angola, Clarence, Grand Island, Hamburg and Lancaster had to wait a few more weeks, but soon, they too, were officially part of the “716.”
As a part of the move to direct dialing, the old exchange names for phone numbers were replaced with numbers. In Buffalo, the Amherst exchange became TF-2, and eventually 832. Grant became TT-4, eventually 884. Evergreen in Tonawanda became NX-4, which a few years later evolved into 694.
This list, as printed in the Courier-Express, was clipped and left near phones for years.
In November 1960, the work was complete.
“Through the wizardry of electronic marvels, the 244,000 customers of the New York Telephone Co. in the Buffalo area will be able their own long-distance telephone numbers starting precisely at 2:01 AM Sunday,” reported The News a few days before the final switch.
Our identity as members of the 716 tie into that day, when people gushed about the jet-age ability to simply pick up the phone and call any of the 60 million phones in the U.S. and Canada without the help of any other human beings.