Category: &c, &c, &c: reflections from Steve’s desk
By Steve Cichonsteve@buffalostories.com@stevebuffalo
While my primary focus for this site is sharing about things that make Buffalo wonderful and unique, sometimes I have other thoughts, too. I share those here, along with some of the titles from other categories which I’ve written about in a more personal manner.
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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.
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.
Everything that was in the original soft cover book is in the process of being uploaded and presented online as a universally available resource in promoting and sharing Buffalo’s rich broadcasting heritage.
Written in 2020, 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting, Vol 1: 1920-1970 by Steve Cichon is formatted as a series web pages.
The original print volume was 432 pages with more than 800 individual images. While still available in book form at the Buffalo Stories Bookstore, eventually every page and every image will be linked using the subheadings in the book as seen below. Links will appear as each subheading is uploaded.
Beginnings of a teenage revolution: The Hound, Lucky Pierre, & Hernando
Legacy of the Seneca-Babcock Boys Club
“The calm before the storm”
WGR-TV, Buffalo’s Ch.2
Guy King ushers in bad boy rock ‘n’ roll
Dick Lawrence brings Top-40 to Buffalo
Jack Sharpe and WEBR’s Trafficopter
Buffalo’s third and final VHF: WKBW-TV, Ch.7
The relegated role of women, (con’t.)
Public Broadcasting comes to Buffalo
Boost Buffalo, It’s Good for You!
WBEN AM-FM-TV’s new home, 1960
A new voice for Buffalo’s Black community, WUFO
The Sound of the City, WEBR
One of America’s Two Great Radio Stations: WKBW
More listeners start tuning to FM
Irv, Rick, & Tom
Cable TV comes to WNY
Rocketship 7 & Commander Tom
Beatlemania hits WKBW
Ramblin’ Lou & The Family Band
Dialing for Dollars
Ground up by radio: Bill Masters & Frank Benny
On the radio, on the telephone: John Otto
Jeff Kaye & KB’s War of the Worlds
Sandy Beach begins a 52-year Buffalo run
Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting
On a personal note…
While organizing some of my archives very early in the COVID quarantine, it became clear that there was a book about the history of Buffalo broadcasting screaming out from the piles of material.
Well, that’s partly true. I’ve really been writing this book since I was about 6 years old.
Of course, I didn’t realize it then, but that’s when we’d visit Grandpa Coyle, and he was transfixed by the small black, paint-splattered radio sitting next to his orange rocking chair in the living room.
The exciting voices of Van Miller and Ted Darling came out of that little radio when Gramps, who was a season ticket holder for the Bills and the Sabres, would listen to away games. He’d throw his arms in the air and mumble a lot, and ask me to go get him another stubby bottle of Schmidt’s or Labatt 50 out of the fridge.
A few blocks away, Grandpa Cichon would sit on his porch with a similar radio, but a different experience. Instead of winding him up, Stan Jasinski’s polka program seemed to make life slow down into a warm smile for Gramps.
“What is he saying?” we’d ask my first-generation American grandfather, as Jasinski spoke in Polish. He’d make up something silly, but we couldn’t be quite sure whether what he was saying was true, because who else knew Polish?
Back at our home, the best bonding time with my ol’man came when we’d sit for an hour and watch the news together. I became acquainted with Rich Kellman and John Beard and Irv Weinstein as I learned numbers on that round, loud, clunking TV dial–when I’d act as Dad’s channel-changer in the days before we had a remote.
A few years later, my friend’s dad took our Cub Scout troop to the radio station where he worked—and my face just about fell off. I was hooked. I started waking up at 5am on Saturdays to go to work with him. That friend had a radio station set up in his basement where we’d make tapes.
When we moved, I had a “radio station” in my house. I’d make tapes and call talk shows. I recorded and saved my call to a disc jockey making a birthday request for my brother doing a really terrible Ronald Reagan impression. I was 10 years old.
At 15, I wrote letters to every radio station in Western New York, asking if they needed an intern. The only one to respond was the boss at my favorite station– Kevin Keenan at WBEN. I spent every moment of that summer at the station, and at the end of summer fulfilled a dream and went on the payroll as a weekend board operator. I was a high school junior working in radio, having the most fun of my life and feeling fantastic.
One of my first moments understanding that I was holding the power of radio in my own hands came with news of Ted Darling’s shocking death from Pick’s disease at the age of only 61.
Only 18 myself at the time, I wasn’t a huge hockey fan– but I had grown up loving the sound, the feel, the excitement, the magic of Ted Darling. I also felt the sadness of listeners who filled the airwaves remembering the great broadcaster and lamenting the loss of this great icon.
By then a full-fledged producer, I internalized the passion and grief around me, and put it into my work, spending hours combing through and editing highlights of his play-by-play to create a Ted Darling tribute which aired on WBEN.
The heartfelt and overwhelming reaction to that piece changed me and changed the way I looked at my job. To that point, I knew I could use radio to be goofy and have fun, but in that moment, I learned that radio could be an outlet for me, personally, to create things that are meaningful to people by reflecting what they long for and how they feel in my work.
Everything I’ve done in radio, TV, and print since then—including this book—has been a manifestation of that powerful realization.
It was one of thousands of lessons I learned by doing, working alongside many of the greatest broadcasters in Buffalo’s history. You know some of the names— folks like Van Miller and Danny Neaverth, but just as importantly are some of the folks you’ll get to know as you read this book and its future companion volumes– the folks who’d run 2,000 feet of cable for a live shot or who pressed the button to start the commercial when Van stopped talking.
Not everyone grew up working in radio and TV like I did, but it’s almost impossible to have lived over the last century without having the people of radio and TV become part of your family and part of the fabric of who you are.
They have been with you during the great and the dark moments in history and there for happiness and sadness in your life.
They are the broadcasters who whispered out of the transistor radios under our pillows, filled the screens in our living rooms, blared out the speakers in our car, and these days– stream on our phones and tablets.
It still feels like a dream to me that I have had the opportunity to be a part of your life in that way over the course of 25 years… especially knowing what the people I’ve listened to and watched have meant to me.
I mean all this to say that the book feels as much like a family tree as it does a book about Buffalo Broadcasting.
With that mindset, I didn’t want to leave anything out. As I began work on the actual layout of the book, it was clear that there was just too much for a single volume, so I split the hundred years in half… and here we are.
By the time you read this, know that I’ve already began squirreling away the photos and stories that will make up a history of the last 50 years of broadcasting—and it will be a much more complete work with your stories and photos contributed. You can start that ball rolling with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May your joy in reading this book be the same that mine has been in spending a lifetime putting it together—smiling, enjoying, and remembering the people who’ve added color, vibrance, and a sense of community to our Western New York lives for a century.
Steve Cichon June, 2020
About Steve Cichon
Author Steve Cichon is an award-winning writer and radio newsman who has spent the last three decades telling the story of Buffalo, one story at a time.
As a teenager, he wrote and produced news and sports programming on WBEN and served as gameday producer for Buffalo Bills Football. Later, he served as Executive Producer of the Sabres Radio Network.
His first shot in front of the microphone came again as a teen, this time high above Western New York’s highways as WBEN’s airborne traffic reporter. He was host of newsmagazine “Buffalo’s Evening News,” and an overnight night talk show host during the October Surprise storm.
For a decade, Cichon’s primary job was news anchor and reporter at WBEN Radio, covering courts, the Town of Amherst, the City of Buffalo, Hurricane Katrina, the crash of Flight 3407 and Presidential visits—but the beat that meant the most was the one he created for himself, that is, working to capture the essence of Buffalo in all of his reporting.
Even with “a face for radio,” Cichon worked in television as a producer at Ch.4, helped create and produce the “radio on TV” Simoncast with Howard Simon on Empire Sports Network and 107-7 WNSA, and was a producer on a PBS-WNED documentary on America’s opioid crisis.
Twice Steve has served in management roles in broadcasting. As a 24-year old, he was named Program Director of Buffalo sports talker WNSA Radio. He also proudly served as WBEN Radio News Director.
The author of six books dealing with various aspects of Buffalo’s history, Cichon has also written more than 1,700 articles for The Buffalo News on Western New York’s pop culture history, including his popular “Torn-down Tuesday” feature.
His work as a broadcast journalist has been recognized with more than two dozen Associated Press Awards AP for general excellence, use of medium, spot news coverage and enterprise reporting. Cichon has also been named Buffalo Spree’s Best of Buffalo Blogger of the Year, an Am-Pol Citizen of the Year, Medaille College’s Radio News Director of the Year, and was a Business First 40 Under 40 selection.
More than anything else, Steve’s a Buffalonian who worked and lived to see his childhood fantasies come to life under the soft glow of “on air” lights for nearly 30 years– and having the honor of sharing these stories of his broadcasting forefathers and heroes lets that feeling keep on riding…
Uncle Bob Cohen, my first radio mentor
Kevin Keenan, my second radio mentor, who gave me my first job and introduced me to my wife
My wife, Monica, who I met through the window of the WBEN newsbooth early one cold Sunday morning in 1993, when she came in to deliver a 5am newscast while I was running the board. Aside from being the love of my life, she also edited this book.
Ed Little, John Demerle, and Al Wallack are only three of the dozens and dozens of amazing people who took me under their wing and taught me the crafts of radio and journalism. And life.
Jarin Cohen and Marty Biniasz are two radio pals who are true brothers. My story is inseparable from theirs, and these stories are their stories, too.
Marty Biniasz, Jack Tapson, Dan Neaverth, Mike Beato, Bob Collignon, Jay Lauder, Walt Haefner, John Bisci, Scott Fybush, and dozens more have all shared items that have become a part of this work.
If nothing else, this book proves that newspaper writers craft the first draft of history.
Bits and pieces of biographical and factual data in this volume have been pulled from thousands and thousands of newspaper articles collected and read through the years.
Hundreds of writers and editors have had a hand in crafting those pieces, and I thank them all. But most notably, I’d like to thank the men and women who have either been on the broadcasting beat or have somehow made radio and tv something they’ve written about in the Courier-Express and The Buffalo News with regularity, among them, in no particular order:
Jeff Simon, Gary Deeb, Hal Crowther, Lauri Githens, Jack Allen, Anthony Violanti, Mary Ann Lauricella, Alan Pergament, Mary Kunz Goldman, J. Don Schlaerth, Don Trantor, Jim Trantor, Jane Kwiatkowski, Jim Baker, Scott Thomas, Sturgis Hedrick, Doug Smith, Margaret Sullivan, Rose Ciotta, and dozens of others.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Other kids wanted the coolest toys, the latest sneakers, and
the newest video game consoles.
There was only one thing I wanted as a kid. And that was to
be an adult.
I wanted it so bad I could taste it, and within my little-kid
view of what it meant to be a grown-up, I was ready to do whatever it took to
I insisted on wearing a suit to my first day of Kindergarten.
My only request for my 9th birthday was a brief case. It was about
that time I got by first job in a used book store.
But man, the two trappings of adulthood that were just out of my reach left me twitchy with anxious anticipation.
As far as I could tell, the final and temporarily unattainable
steps to full maturity were growing a mustache and smoking cigarettes. That
didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try.
From 1978-1989, I singlehandedly kept the stick-on mustache
industry in operation.
I probably wore hundreds of costume mustaches through the
years. One time, Grandma took us on the bus to George & Company on Main Street
next to Shea’s. There was a real Hollywood fake mustache in the plexiglass case
behind the counter, $29. It became a minor obsession.
On TV, Mr. Dressup was always making and then wearing fake
mustaches. As soon as the show was over, I would be running around the house
looking for black pipe cleaners or black yarn or for a big black marker that
would make the same kind of squeaking sounds that Mr. Dressup’s made on
tagboard as it squeaked out the outline of a “big moos-taache,” as he’d say
Once in passing my dad suggested that burnt cork was good
for drawing on beards and mustaches. From that point forward, when I wasn’t
thinking about the Cadillac of mustaches from George & Co., I was looking everywhere
for a cork to set on fire and smear on my face.
Speaking of fire, the only way to make a mustache even more
amazing, I thought, is to put some kind of lit tobacco product underneath it. I
learned my colors studying the different logos and packages of cigarettes in
the vending machine at my ol’man’s bar.
It wasn’t just colors. There was a lot about smoking I
studied. The ways different people held their smokes. The different brands people
smoked. The different ways they carried around packs. Aunt Peggy had what
looked like a coin purse, but it was just the right size for a pack of smokes
and a lighter. I was always excited when she’d ask me to go get her cigarettes.
Just like with the mustaches– bubble gum cigars, bubble
pipes, and candy cigarettes were all favorites. Candy cigarettes were a
frequent treat—they were really cheap, and lasted quite a while. I was always excited
to see mom unpack the groceries and to see her draw a “carton” of candy
cigarettes out of the brown paper bag.
Back then, the candy cigarette packs were exact replicas of
real cigarette brands, except the boxes were cardboard instead of the soft
packs that most people I knew smoked.
There were fights about choosing who got which packs. Marlboro
was always the first pack gone. Everyone loved Lucky Strikes. We all liked Pall
Mall, because it looked like a trick when Uncle Mike “Hooker” Doyle would open
his Pall Malls using the only hand he had on the end of his only arm.
I liked Chesterfield, because my dad said his grandpa used
to smoke them, so they must have been OK. No one really wanted Lark, but Lark
was still better than Viceroy.
There was always hope that I’d come across a pack of
Parliament candy cigarettes—that was Dad’s brand. Never did, though.
So not only did candy cigarettes teach us how to smoke, they
built multigenerational brand loyalty.
Some kids would suck the little white sticks into a point,
just like a candy cane. I’d suck on it a little while, hold in in my fingers,
flicking imaginary ash with my thumb. Then I’d loudly crunch down the whole
thing with the same satisfaction as mashing a butt into an ashtray. Then I’d
grab another one right away. When I had a pack, you know I “chain-smoked” those
sons of bitches, just like a real nicotine fiend.
Smoking was so wholly ingrained as some inevitable and
desirable part of adulthood, my yearning to pick up the habit hasn’t completely
In fact, if tomorrow, the Surgeon General said Just
kidding about those cigarettes! Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!, I’d probably
start a two-pack-a-day habit.
Doing ’80s research is dangerous for me. Any time frame earlier is “history,” and I love it… but it’s hard to be clinical when every turned page of a 70s or 80s Courier-Express or Buffalo Evening News is dripping with images and ideas that leave me drowning in nostalgia.
I could write a short book about when the bottom shelf of the pop aisle at every Buffalo grocery store was filled with Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola in tall, thin glass bottles.
Pop tasted so much better in those 16oz glass bottles. Those eight packs were always on sale, and even when they weren’t, it was the cheapest way to buy the name brand.
That’s why Gramps loved ’em.
Grandma Cichon lived a few doors from Seneca Street in a worn out, but grand old house. When you walked in the front door and looked straight ahead, you looked through the front hall, then a more narrow hallway, and then right into the kitchen.
If Grandma wasn’t at the stove cooking, she was the first thing you’d see when that door swung open, sitting at the head of the table, with a cup of coffee in a gold butterfly mug and Kool 100 burning in the over-full ashtray.
When you creaked open that big door and looked slightly to the right, if Gramps wasn’t working (which was a lot– he still had three jobs when I was little), he was sitting in that comfy chair right just on the other side of the beautiful leaded glass doors which lead into the parlor.
Grandma generally would see us first, and start to say hello, before Gramps– who was much closer– would take his eyes off of Lawrence Welk or Bugs Bunny to intercept us for a minute.
“Ha’oh dere, son,” Gramps would say in a pretty thick standard Buffalo Polish accent. I had no idea there was anything to notice about that. Isn’t that how everyone’s Grandpa talked?
“Can I get you a glass of pop or a sandwich?” Gramps would ask, and immediately piss off my ol’man.
“Jesus Christ, Dad, it’s ten o’clock in the mornin’,” Dad would say, walking toward Grandma in the kitchen.
Ignoring my ol’man completely, Gramps would give an inventory.
“Well help yourself. In the ice box we got two kinds of baloney… Polish loaf… olive loaf… pimento loaf… ham…”
The sound of his voice would trail off as we walked through the narrow hallway on the way to the kitchen.
Now I wouldn’t think anything of this hallway until twenty years later, when the girlfriend-who-became-my-wife asked me about it after visiting Gramps.
In the same way I never thought anything about my grandpa’s Polish accent, I never thought anything about his hallway filled with pop.
When I say filled, I mean the entire length of the ten-foot long walkway had pop pushed up against the wall, stacked two or three deep and two, three, or four high in some places.
It was mystical and mystifying. Gramps’ pop display was far more impressive than what you’d have seen at Quality Food Mart, half a block away at Seneca and Duerstein.
There were 2-liter and 3-liter bottles; flat, mixed-flavored cases of grocery-store brand cans; some times a wooden case or two from Visniak, but more than anything else, 8-pack after 8-pack of glass bottles.
Now Gramps had ten kids, but there weren’t ten kids living there at the time. And even for ten kids– hundreds of servings of soda pop lined up waist high, the first thing you see when you walk into the house… well, it was one of many things that made Gramps a true Buffalo original.
I’m sure there was something about taking advantage of a good sale… or getting one over on a cashier with an expired coupon… or (put a star next to this one) getting under my grandmother’s skin by buying things she’d say they didn’t need…
But Gramps really didn’t drink. He wouldn’t want a beer, but would relax with a coffee or a pop.
He also really wanted to share his pop, and make sure you knew it was OK to take it. He wasn’t just being polite in offering it. That wall was there to prove, “I got plenty! Go ahead and take one!”
You could expect to refuse a pop at least three or four times while visiting with Gramps, and then one more on the way out.
“Sure you don’t want a pop, son? Why don’t you take some home? I’ll get you a bag.”
Among the 5 or 6 big
projects I’m working on to keep myself from going (any more) crazy during this
lockdown, is organizing and straightening up the Cichon Archives, which fills
the third floor of the Cichon Estate.
I’ll share some of the interesting things I find as I find them.
The Iconic Memorex Cassette
Though I have far fewer now, through the years, I’ve had hundreds of these 90-minute Memorex cassette tapes.
For much of the early
90s, a ten-pack was $9.99 at Media Play, and I invested most of those Media
Play Gift Certificates I’d get for birthdays and Christmas into these tapes.
Many of those cassettes
I bought went right back out the door– creating mix tapes and recording
“radio shows” for my friends in my bedroom radio station.
Hundreds of others went
to recording the actual radio shows, hundreds of hours of which I’ve digitized
through the years, first to CD and then to mp3.
The digitized wing of
the Cichon Audio Archive is more than 600GB with more than 120,000 audio files.
There are still hundreds of hours of cassettes, reels, transcription discs,
DATs, and mini discs left to be digitized– it always comes in spurts.
Sorting through a pile
of these cassettes today, it was like I saw them for the first time– even
though thousands of them have slipped through my hands since this design was
introduced in 1987.
As a child of the 80s, I
love 80s design—but mostly the retro-look meant to inspire the 50s or 60s.
This design, however, is
purely pop 80s.
If Max Headroom or that
MTV astronaut was going to use a cassette tape, it would be the 90-minute
Memorex cassette, with angular shapes in bright blues, pinks, and yellows.
Since finding a pair of suspenders in the attic the other day, I’ve been walking around singing the parts of a song that Grandpa Coyle used to sing all the time– only I couldn’t remember all the words.
la la la la la la suspenders… la la la la la la la dance… .la la la la la la la la la….. Hey Mister, you’re losing your pants!
After spending an hour or so with Google and a couple of online archive sites, I finally came up with the song.
Here are the lyrics from as printed as “an oldie” in a 1940 newspaper.
"One night I forgot my suspenders, and took my girl out to a dance. While dancing I heard someone holler, Hey Mister! you're losing your pants!"