Irv. Danny. Van. Carol. The men and women who’ve watched and listened to have become family enough that we only need their first names. Buffalo has a deep and rich broadcasting history. Here are some of the names, faces, sounds and stories which have been filling Buffalo’s airwaves since 1922.
Scroll to read more about Buffalo’s Radio & TV History from one of WNY’s most counted upon broadcasting historians or search for a specific person or station…
Howard Simon might be the best broadcaster I’ve ever worked with.
So knowledgeable, personable, smooth and genuine that he really didn’t have to prepare.
Still, he’s the most prepared talkshow host I’ve ever seen.
Even though he’s the best broadcaster I’ve ever worked with– I don’t even feel moved to write about that when I think about Howard. All I can think about is that Howard Simon might be the finest human being I’ve ever worked with.
It’s the fact that he is a great, amazing human being that makes him a great broadcaster. Humble. Even keeled. Giving. Would rather make a caller or a co-host look good than put the spotlight on himself. Dozens– maybe even hundreds– of co-workers and fellow reporters owe so much to this kind soul who gives so much, sometimes it’s difficult to realize it’s happening.
I’ve known Howard for 30 years. He has never disappointed me. He doesn’t disappoint– as a talkshow host, as a journalist, as a human being.
The world needs more guys like Howard. Radio and sports broadcasting definitely could use more people like Howard.
Of course, the fact that Howard is so nice (and I am such a prick) makes him a very easy target for my merciless chirping.
He won’t like that I’m sharing some of these highlights from early in his career– but I know he’s expecting it. (Or at least he should be. The guy’s about to retire.)
As we listen to the clips below, we will all laugh at Howard talking up a Kajagoogoo or Wang Chung song, reading a newscast, or even being a country music disc jockey. We’ll laugh, because Howard lets us. We’ll laugh, but we’ll all be thinking, what an amazing talent at everything he does.
My favorite Howard protege is Chris Parker.
Even though it’s almost 30 years ago, it’s still one of my favorite shows to have been a part of– those two co-hosting on WBEN’s One-One-One Sports.
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
a century now, WGR has been the voice of Buffalo heard around the world.
Early personalities at WGR
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”
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.
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.
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
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.
a long-time WGR Radio fan favorite, Billy was the natural choice to welcome the
first viewers to WGR-TV in 1954.
and now, the great voices of Buffalo can be heard on WGR.
Baseball on WGR
100 years now, Buffalo’s best sports coverage has been a reason to listen to
the earliest days of announcers recreating baseball games from tickertape print
outs, complete with broken pencil sound effects for the sound of a hit
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.
broadcast the games of Bison Great Ollie Carnegie as he set an International
League homerun record which stood for 69 years.
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
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.
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.
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….
Rick Jeanneret on WGR
Spine-tingling. Quirky. Explosive. Imaginative.
What can you say about Rick Jeanneret that even comes close to listening to him?
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.
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.
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.
voice that made WGR feel like home during the Bills Super Bowl run…
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.
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.
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 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 70s & 80s
Hundreds of thousands of sponsors have aired millions of commercials on WGR over the last century…
the 70s and 80s, thousands of local institutions used the power of WGR with
commercials you can’t forget–
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.
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.
Artie Baby Boo-Boo & The Coach
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.
He was a coach for the Bills—until Marv Levy fired him after Super Bowl XXVI for being a little too opinionated.
a decade starting in 1993, Chuck Dickerson was the loudest football fan in
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…
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.)
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…
Of course, my biggest on-air contribution at WGR was as the curator of the Haseoke archive.
Bills Safety Jordan Poyer and sportswriter Jerry Sullivan have been going back and forth for a couple of weeks now… But there’s nothing new under the sun.
I recorded this 1997 postgame exchange between Jerry and Bruce Smith at the WBEN studios on Elmwood Avenue from a live feed coming from Rich Stadium.
With the static from our wireless microphones, it’s hard to hear exactly what Jerry is asking Bruce, but most of Bruce’s response is pretty clear. “You a punk ass motherfucker once you get (interference),” said Bruce, to the laughter of the assembled reporters, photographers and players.
“I know you’re going to say it,” said Bruce. “I know you ain’t gonna stop.” The first clear words we hear from Sullivan on the tape are, “(something) stop being an asshole…”
To which Smith replied, “Oh, I’m the asshole! I’m the asshole! Oh yeah,” before turning to another reporter and calmly telling him, “Go ahead, man.”
That year, I produced Bills games on the radio. For years, we’d run the postgame show without a delay. My timing or the exact order of events might be off, but I think we started running a delay on the player press conferences after Thurman Thomas stormed away from the podium microphone one time yelling something close to, “half of you ain’t ever put on a jockstrap,” but with the word “fuck” worked in there somehow.
I think I have that audio somewhere, but I couldn’t find it today.
Anyway, that running live on the radio earned me a strongly-worded note from my boss about trying to make sure to avoid those sorts of words going out on the air if possible.
When this Bruce Smith interview aired live, I was able to “dump” out of delay—so the WBEN audience never heard Bruce Smith call Jerry Sullivan a “punk-ass motherfucker” on the radio. The problem was, with the 1970s technology we were using at the time, there was no way for me to hit dump a second time so quickly and avoid allowing Jerry and Bruce calling each other assholes on the radio.
Back in those days, while there were relatively few ways to hear or see full press conferences, it just so happened one of the local tv stations—I don’t remember whether it was 2, 4, or 7—aired this press conference live on its post-game show.
The complete exchange between Bruce and Jerry was aired live on TV and talked about for weeks on sports radio talk shows on WBEN and WGR—as well as in letters to the sports editor as published every week in the Sunday News.
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.
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.”
His famous laugh filled Buffalo airwaves for more than 50 years, and the jingle that opened his WBEN talk show for 23 of those years says Sandy Beach is “bigger than life and twice as loud.”
Sandy Beach, inside the KB studio
That may be, but News critic Jeff Simon added this in 2007:
Sandy Beach “may be the most talented figure in (the) storied history of Buffalo radio,” and Beach was the “last legend still heard daily on Buffalo radio.”
Aside from a brief stop in Erie, Pennsylvania and four years in Milwaukee, Beach has been a constant in Buffalo radio since arriving at WKBW to take over the night shift there in 1968.
Listening to even five minutes of his show – any of his shows – over the course of 52 years is explanation enough for why News critic Hal Crowther dubbed Beach “the Needle” shortly after the deejay landed on the Buffalo radio scene.
In a 1972 interview, legendary WKBW Program Director Jeff Kaye said that within four years of arriving in Buffalo, Sandy had “worked every shift on KB except morning drive, and improved the ratings in each part.”
Beach spent the 70s, 80s and 90s in and out of Buffalo as a disc jockey, program director and eventually a talk show host. After leaving his post as KB Radio’s Program Director in the early 80s, he held morning show jobs at Buffalo’s Hot 104 and then Majic 102.
He hosted talk shows on WBEN and WGR before leaving town for the mid-90s, but when he came back to host afternoons on WBEN in 1997, he was ready to make the change permanent.
“I liked playing the oldies,” Sandy said coming back, “but you can only play ‘Doo-Wap-Diddy’ so many times.”
Six years later, he would play oldies once again, this time at WBEN’s sister station and his old stomping grounds, now sporting the call letters WWKB. For the three years KB played music of the 50s and 60s from 2003-06, Beach was a disc jockey mid-mornings and a talk show host for afternoon drive on WBEN.
The show was never edgy or provocative just for the sake of being so—but Beach was strong in proclaiming his often-conservative views and left little room for opinions (or leaders) he thought were weak or unfounded.
Stan Roberts, Dan Neaverth, Sandy Beach. Late 60s.
When he left WBEN in 2020, management called Beach a “provocative and edgy talk show host” who entertained with “distinct humor.” And an unforgettable laugh.
Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Tonawanda’s Jenss Twin-Ton Department store in 1969.
That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.
Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.
By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Jeff Kaye might be best remembered by his rich, well-controlled voice and his ability to use it. He came to Buffalo as a rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey in 1966, but very quickly was tapped for more substantial duties.
As program director at WKBW Radio through the late 60s and early 70s, his voice was the station’s anchor. Later, that voice brought an even-greater sense of gravitas to WBEN where did the impossible, replacing Clint Buehlman in 1977. Eventually, he became the voice of NFL Films and the sound that a generation of football fanatics would associate with those highly-produced highlights packages.
That all-time “voice of God” wasn’t even Kaye’s greatest asset. His ability to turn the fantasy in his head into great radio copy and superbly produced radio elements made him an all-time create force in the history of broadcasting.
His reboot of War of the Worlds on KB, first airing Halloween Night 1968, was an instant classic– impeccably conceived, produced, and promoted.
The masterful promotional folks at KB knew that by sending out this warning–with hope of it being published, that people would flock to hear– as Jeff Kaye puts it in the intro to the 1971 version of the dramatization– “what all the hubhub was about.”
As a producer and programmer, Kaye found superb vehicles not only for his own vocal talent, but also put the stars of KB in situations where they could shine brightest. The writing and production on a piece like “War of the Worlds” stands up 50 years later, and gives the listener a true sense of the talent that went into “playing the hits” on KB.
Three different versions of the War of the Worlds ran on KB. The primary difference in each is the news, the deejay and the music at the start of the show. Sandy Beach was in the original broadcast in 1968, Jack Armstrong was in the 1971 version, and Shane in 1973.
In 1974, Jeff Kaye became the afternoon drive host on KB’s competitor WBEN, effectively ending any future reworking of the “covering of the invasion” half of the show– which remained mostly unchanged through the different broadcasts.
Membership card showing Jeff Kaye, leader of KB’s Teenage Underground.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
“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
Known as Mr. Warmth, Bill Masters had feet planted in two different worlds. He hosted middays on WBEN through the 60s and 70s, but “understood” what was going on elsewhere in the culture and on the radio dial—He was one of the guys at the Babcock Boys’ Club with Danny Neaverth and Joey Reynolds.
Maybe he’d say something outrageous, but it was hard to notice, blending in with the calm, homespun, aw shucks delivery that made him a great fit on WBEN.
“He was known for his acerbic wit, rebellious stands and wild, unpredictable personality,” wrote News reporter Anthony Violanti in 1989.
But Masters’ world fell apart in 1975 when he suffered a nervous breakdown. Losing his high-profile WBEN job and his family, Masters would spend the next couple decades bouncing between radio jobs and the welfare rolls.
“Radio is a terrible f—— business,” Masters told Violanti. “When you are a radio personality, every day of your life you give your pound of flesh. Sometimes, you never get it back.”
Frank Benny was Buffalo radio’s “master of the one-liners.” He could fire them off as fast as Carson.
But that’s not necessarily what people think of when they hear his name.
Frank Benny’s story was called “the most outstanding comeback in the history of Buffalo broadcasting” by News critic Gary Deeb. Nearly half a century later, that record appears to be intact.
Benny was a constant on Buffalo radio dials for 25 years. His voice and style were smooth and sonorous. He quickly became Buffalo’s definitive warm, friendly announcer upon coming to WGR Radio in 1965. By 1968, he was a regular on Ch.2 as well, first on the sports desk, and then for nearly a decade as the station’s main weather anchor at 6 and 11.
By 1970, he was one of Buffalo’s most in-demand announcers. He told The News he was generally working on about four hours of sleep. His day started as WGR Radio’s morning man, then he hosted WGR-TV’s Bowling for Dollars and Payday Playhouse 4 o’clock movie, and he did the weather forecasts on Ch.2. He was the NBA Buffalo Braves’ first PA announcer in the 1970-71 season.
In five years at WGR, he became one of Buffalo’s most popular media personalities. That was helpful in identifying him the day he robbed a bank on his way home from the radio station in June 1971.
A holdup of the Homestead Savings and Loan at the corner of Main and Chateau Terrace in Snyder netted $503 for a man wearing a stocking over his head and brandishing a (later-found-to-be toy) gun.
Minutes later, Amherst Police were arresting Benny at gunpoint in the driveway of his Williamsville home.
Frank Benny, Ch.2 sports, late 60s
The case was a local sensation. Management at WGR and at least three other stations ordered that the on-air staff not make any snide remarks or jokes at Benny’s expense.
One notable exception was Ch.7, where the 6 p.m. “Eyewitness News Reel” featured the title card “Forecast: Cloudy” for the otherwise-straight Benny story. At 11, the title was changed to “Under the Weather.”
The disc jockey, TV weather man and father of two was charged with third-degree robbery and was tried in a non-jury trial. The prosecution rested when Benny’s attorney agreed to the facts of the case — that the announcer had indeed stuck-up the bank — but that he was innocent of the charges in the “poorly planned, ludicrous robbery” because he was temporarily insane.
Four psychiatrists testified that Benny was “not in sufficient possession of his faculties at the time of the holdup.” A Buffalo General psychiatrist who had examined Benny said that the temporary mental illness was caused by extreme and prolonged stress.
First, Benny was a central figure in a protracted labor strike at WGR AM-FM-TV. Eighty members of NABET, the union representing nearly all the operations personnel and announcers at WGR, spent nine months on strike. About 10 — including Benny — crossed picket lines to continue to work. Station management provided Benny an armed guard after rocks were thrown through the windows of his home and his family was threatened.
Benny’s family was also threatened the very morning of the robbery. He’d racked up thousands of dollars of gambling debts, and the bookmakers were calling in their markers — or else.
In October 1971, the judge found Benny not guilty by reason of mental disease, and he was ordered to spend two weeks at Buffalo State Hospital.
Frank Benny in the WGR Radio studio.
Then, in December, within six months of the robbery, Benny was back on WGR Radio and TV. Having been found not guilty, and “on a wave of public sympathy,” management thought it was the right thing to do.
“A lot of people have told me that it takes guts to do this, to go back on the air,” Benny told The News during his first week back at WGR. “But to me, it’s not a courageous thing. It’s a simple case of going back to what I know.”
That’s not to say that Benny wasn’t thankful.
“It’s hard to fathom that people can be that nice,” Benny told News critic Deeb. “It’s nice to know people can be forgiven.”
All told, Benny spent 19 years at WGR, walking away from the station in 1985. For a year-and-a-half, he was the morning man at WYRK Radio, before finishing out the ’80s as a weekend staffer at WBEN.
No matter what his personal life sounded like, he always sounded like Frank Benny on the radio. After leaving WBEN Radio in 1989, Benny left for Florida, where he was on the radio for 16 years — until he died in 2005 at age 67.
Frank Benny congratulates a WGR Hi-Lo Loser-Winner.
Two completely different looking AM Radio airstaffs of the late 60s. WBEN’s Christmas carolers are Bill Masters, John Corbett, Clint Buehlman, Ken Philips, Gene Kelly, and Al Fox. Van Miller, Stan Barron, Jack Ogilvie, and John Luther.
WYSL’s air staff was not quite as clean-cut. Standing outside the station’s 425 Franklin Street studios are Jack Evans, Roger Christian, Jack Sheridan, Michael O’Shea (Howard Lapidis), and Jim Bradley (Jerry Reo). Kneeling: Rufus Coyote (Lee Poole), Kevin O’Connell, Mike Butts, and George Hamberger.
From the back of the WYSL XXI Boss Oldies album, with Beethoven wearing sunglasses on the cover. Second from the left, Gary Byrd, went onto a ground breaking career in New York City.
Bishop Timon grad George Hamberger and Bennett grad Kevin O’Connell both enjoyed long careers in broadcasting. Hamberger was WGR’s morning man in the 80s. O’Connell worked at Ch.4 before heading to Los Angeles for the early 80s. He spent 25 years as Ch.2’s main weather anchor.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Through the 50s and 60s, WBEN AM-FM-TV was thought of as a single unit, The Buffalo Evening News Stations. Talent and technicians often moved between the stations to where they were needed, and the product in each place was reflective of each other.
In 1968, when Phil “Bucky” Buchanan and John Eaton (left) would arrive at WBEN around 4am to begin writing news for Jack Ogilvie, the most you’d hear from them is a mention from Jack about who was sitting at the Editor’s desk.
Soon thereafter, news gathering operations for WBEN Radio and Ch.4 were made independent for the first time. The newsrooms were at opposite ends of the same hall at 2077 Elmwood Avenue, and information was freely shared— but editorial decisions and staff were structurally separated. Five full-time writers and a news director were assigned to WBEN Radio, as separating the newsrooms allowed for a change in union rules which barred writers from reporting on air, and announcers from writing.
One immediate change was to hear the voices of long-time “news editors” Marty Gleason and Fran Lucca on the air at WBEN, after the two men had spent decades writing scripts for Ogilvie, Lou Douglas, Ward Fenton, and others to read.
Marty Gleason, right, at the editor’s desk
Fran Lucca spent more than 60 years in Buffalo media, starting with a column he wrote for the Buffalo Evening News as a Boy Scout in 1939. After returning from active duty in the Navy following World War II, Lucca spent 23 years at WBEN AM-FM-TV as a writer, reporter, and producer, and then another 14 years at WNED-TV creating documentary-style reports on local subjects for Ch.17.
Fran Lucca takes a quick smoke break in the WBEN-TV newsroom.
The change went both ways. Some longtime news “announcers” couldn’t handle the role of journalist.
Longtime announcer Lou Douglas loved it.
The Korean War vet came to WBEN-AM/FM/TV in 1957 and his unflappable, smart, level-headed approach to news anchoring and interviewing was part of the fabric of the station for 30 years.
In his early years as a junior announcer at The Buffalo Evening News stations, television still played second fiddle to AM radio. Many of his early assignments were on Ch.4, including regular 6pm walks from WBEN’s Statler studios to The Buffalo Evening News’ building near the foot of Main Street. He’d read– as announced at the beginning of each newscast, “From the Editorial Floor of the Buffalo Evening News” — the 6 o’clock television news as prepared by the newspaper staff.
Douglas would continue to appear as a reporter, host, and announcer on TV through the 1970s, but he is best remembered for his work at WBEN Radio. It was his voice that anchored radio coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Buffalo in 1962. He broadcast from inside the prison complex during the Attica uprising over WBEN Radio, as well.
Living in Kenmore, his home was closest to the WBEN’s Elmwood Avenue studios– which meant extended duty for Lou during the Blizzard of 1977.
In spanning three decades, Douglas really had two separate careers at WBEN– one as a staff announcer, and one as a journalist. He was one of the few to excel at both.
As civil unrest and student protests rocked the UB campus through the late 60s and early 70s, WBEN’s Lou Douglas (standing) was one of the voices of reason, using his evening news interview program to bring together school administrators and dissident students.
Al Fox brought humor and insight to the WBEN Farm Report show, which he hosted during the 5am hour on WBEN for 28 years, starting in 1947.
“I learned that you’ve got to spend time with the farmers to know what they are thinking,” he said in 1961. “Only then can you provide them with the kind of program they want and need.”
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon