One of America’s Two Great Radio Stations: WKBW

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Riding a wave started with a change to a personality driven Top-40 format in 1958, KB dominated Buffalo radio for most of the next two decades.

Sold by station founder Doc Churchill to national broadcasting powerhouse Capital Cities, the wealthy corporate backing of KB’s monstrous 50,000-watt signal helped lead to the evolution of one of the finest examples of a full-service Top-40 station that ever existed.

Eventually grabbing as much as 50% of the market share, KB quickly blew all of the much smaller Top-40 competitors out of the water. Half of the audience was listening to KB. Never before, and never since, has a radio station been so dominant in Buffalo.

Left to right: Don Keller (Yearke), Tom Shannon, Doug James, Wayne Stitt, Jay Nelson, Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, Dan Neaverth, Tom Saunders

The station’s base of homegrown talent sprinkled with some of the most talented people from around the country, helped build an unprecedented following for KB in Buffalo and around the country.

The first of those homegrown talents to leave a legacy was the great Tom Shannon, South Buffalo’s breaker of hearts and as smooth a disc jockey as Buffalo, Detroit, Denver, LA, or anywhere else has ever known.

Tom Shannon, in the WKBW air studio

Easy to listen to, debonair and literally the boy next door, the handsome and ultra-cool Shannon was a graduate of Holy Family grammar school and Bishop Ryan High.

As if owning nights on KB and driving a Corvette convertible wasn’t enough, there was the night Swedish sex-symbol Ann-Margret was in Buffalo on a promotional tour, and hopped in Tommy’s sports car for a date at the trendy Candy Cane Lounge, downtown next door to the Market Arcade.

That was the same nightclub where Shannon met the group that would ultimately become known as “The Rockin’ Rebels,” who would take “Wild Weekend,” their instrumental version of the Tommy Shannon Show theme song, to the national record charts.

At KB, he started as a weekend jock and fill-in guy, and didn’t even rank high enough to get his own theme song. It’s part of the KB magic that his self-produced, garage-band sounding musical opening touting “Top tunes, news and weather, so glad we could get together, on the, Tom Shannon Show” could become a nationwide Top Ten hit.

Shannon was at Fort Dix doing a hitch in the Army when he heard his song come on the radio and almost couldn’t believe it.

Tom Shannon sits in the WGR studio, holding a copy of the Rockin Rebels’ Wild Weekend album.

“It was so exciting to be a part of Buffalo radio back then,” Tom Shannon said in 1996. “Sometimes the disc jockeys were more popular than the rock stars.”

He was bigger than life hosting the night shift on KB, and Buffalo’s teens couldn’t get enough of Tommy. In 1961, tickets to his “Buffalo Bandstand” TV show on Ch.7 were being counterfeited and new procedures had to be put in place after the number of kids on the dance floor swelled out of control.

While a deejay at KB, Shannon hosted Buffalo Bandstand on Ch.7. When he later moved to WGR Radio, he hosted Hit or Miss on Ch.2.

Tom Shannon hosts a WKBW Record Hop, with Paul Simon, left.

Tom Shannon appeared in a series of 1964 print ads for Queen-O.

After spending the 60s and the 70s moving around the country and around radio dials, Shannon was back in Buffalo for his 30th grammar school reunion at Holy Family on South Park at Tifft when he stopped by his old home, WKBW.

A week of fill-in work lead to a three year stay towards the end of KB’s run as one of Buffalo’s most dominant radio stations. After spending time as a host on the Shop at Home cable TV network, Tommy made it back for one more turn at the air chair in Buffalo hosting afternoon drive on Oldies 104 during the 1990s and 2000s.

From 1960’s “WKBW 6-midnight platter and chatter show” host, to 1997’s deejay with “a warm conversational tone and knowledge of music and performers,” Tom Shannon has been one of the leading voices of Buffalo’s baby boomers through every stage of life.

Joey Reynolds, WKBW

If there was a way to “one up” having your theme song land on the national charts, the guy who eventually followed Shannon in KB’s evening slot probably found it.  

Joey Reynolds, KB’s night man through the mid-’60s, got The Four Seasons to sing their No. 1 hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry” with the lyrics changed to “The Joey Reynolds Show.” What a show!

Another local guy, Reynolds grew up in Buffalo’s Seneca-Babcock neighborhood playing radio announcer at the neighborhood Boys Club, and was every bit of a shock jock 20 years before the term was created for Don Imus and Howard Stern.

Joey Reynolds interviews Bobby Sherman on Ch.7’s Joey Reynolds Show.

He started a boisterous on-air feud with The Beatles and refused to play their records or even say their name, calling them “the four norks from England.” The feud lasted until there was money in it for him– he helped promote the local band The Buffalo Beatles.

Reynolds’ bombastic and over-the-top style earned him a following complete with membership cards for the “Royal Order of the Night People.” That audience extended far beyond Buffalo and Western New York. Despite working at a station 300 miles away in Buffalo, he was one of the most popular radio personalities in Baltimore, with thousands of listeners of KB’s strong signal mixed with Reynolds’ big mouth.

Reynolds’ eventual exit from WKBW is one of the most fabled in the legends of radio.

As the 1966 Variety Club Telethon aired on Ch.7, Reynolds felt slighted for being slotted to host the overnight portion of the big event.

One of many memorable stunts orchestrated by Reynolds involved him grabbing Fred Klestine as a tag-team partner to take on the tough, mean Gallagher Brothers in a wrestling match at the Aud.

In his memoir “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella … But Don’t Get a Mouthful of Rain,” Reynolds admits to having had a few drinks before going on radio and giving TV star Frank Gorshin a hard time in an interview about the fundraiser.

Reynolds then insinuated another TV star and telethon guest host – Forrest Tucker of “F Troop” – was a drunk and had a case of booze in his dressing room.

One of the station managers took the episode personally – especially after Reynolds goaded him and made a joke about his bald head.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Joey put the writing on the door.

Rather than waiting to be fired, Reynolds, in an all-time display of brassiness, nailed his shoes to the station manager’s door with a note saying “FILL THESE” attached.

 Joey Reynolds, Tommy Shannon and Danny Neaverth all grew up in South Buffalo. Reynolds and Neaverth knew each other from St. Monica’s, the Babcock Street Boys Club and Timon High School. When teamed up on KB, the cross-talk between Neaverth’s afternoon show and Reynolds’ evening wrap was the subject of homeroom and lunch table discussion at every Western New York high school the next day, but was also the talk of water coolers and coffee break tables at businesses as well.

Beyonce. Bono. Cher. Some personalities are so renowned and celebrated just one name will do.  Such is Buffalo’s Danny.

Danny Neaverth is perhaps Buffalo’s greatest pop culture star. He’s remembered most for peeking at us through the hole in the record behind the microphones of upstart WBNY radio in the 1950s as Daffy Dan, then WGR Radio, and then 26 years at WKBW Radio — with most of those years as Buffalo’s morning man. Tag on a dozen more years at WHTT, and a few more at KB again, and Danny moved our fannies on the radio for half a century.

But it wasn’t just radio — Neaverth was also a TV weatherman on Ch.7 and later Ch.2.

He was the public address announcer for the NBA Braves and the NFL Bills.

 A few of his moonlighting gigs dovetailed more closely with his work as a disc jockey and radio host.

Danny signs hands at a Thruway Plaza record hop.

He was a concert promoter and recording artist (who could forget “Rats in My Room,” even if they tried?).

Of course, his face and voice were everywhere for Bells Supermarkets and dozens of other Western New York businesses through the years. His work in the community for dozens of causes and charities over the last 60 years has been unmatched. 

In the ’70s and ’80s, it was difficult to spend a day in Buffalo and not somehow be graced by the voice, smile and personality of “Clean Dan Neaverth,” a true Buffalonian who never forgot his Seneca Street South Buffalo roots and proudly plied his trade among fellow Buffalonians proud to call him one of us.

Danny took over mornings from Stan Roberts.

Stan Roberts at the KB mic.

Stan first woke up Buffalonians at WKBW from 1962-70, and then at WGR from 1972-82. He became “the first major Buffalo morning man to make the move to the FM band” when he joined WBUF-FM in 1982. After seven years at WBUF, Stan took WBUF mornings to the number one spot in the ratings— and the very next day, he jumped back to AM, hosting afternoon drive and working in sales at WBEN.

As WGR’s morning man, he narrated “Great Sabre Highlights” on the flip side of the very successful record single, Donna McDaniels’ “We’re Gonna Win That Cup.”  Stan also wrote at least two joke books, including “Sabres Knock-Knocks.”

Stan still hasn’t lived down the early 80s Royalite television commercial where he put a lampshade on his head, and in the late 80s, when, as the Bills PA announcer, he had to implore fans to “please stay off the field” while they stormed the Rich Stadium field, taking down the goalposts to celebrate the Bills’ clinching the AFC East in 1990.

The warm friendly voice of Fred Klestine felt like a cup of cocoa near the fire.

Fred Klestine, right, visits Xavier’s Meats at the Broadway Market

“An institution in Western New York,” his radio career when he was working at Lackawanna’s Bethlehem Steel, and a manager at Lackawanna’s WWOL heard his voice and told him to audition. Deejay was considerably easier than working in a blast furnace, and Fred spent the next 40 years keeping Buffalo company.

In the 50s, Klestine worked at WWOL and WBNY, before his long famous run at KB Radio. He was later heard on WADV-FM, and then on WBUF-FM through most of the 80s.

Then there was Pulse Beat News. Irv Weinstein was the news director and spiritual leader of the KB’s news staff.

“In terms of style, I was sometimes asked who my idol was in radio, and that was an easy one: Paul Harvey,” said Irv in an interview for the book Irv! Buffalo’s Anchorman. “Paul Harvey was not fast-paced, but he had a pace of delivering the news that was compelling. I like to think I was Paul Harvey only a lot faster.”

Faster, with flagrant, more outrageous writing. In the early rock ’n’ roll days of KB Radio and Pulsebeat News, the pace and the shocking style of writing and delivery made Irv’s later Eyewitness News persona seem comatose.

Irv Weinstein, WKBW Radio News Director

“A Top-40 news guy; fast paced,” said Irv. “Over time I developed a writing style that had sizzle and alliteration, and the type of thing to grab the audience. I learned along the way, that before you can get people to listen to you, you have to catch their attention. One way to do that is in your writing– make it compelling. Sometimes it was overboard, frankly, but it was ok. It did the job.”

It was the perfect comingling of man and circumstance that put Irv in the position to really invent the style of newscasting he made famous in Buffalo– one that was copied around the country.

Henry Brach had been a drug store owner before working in radio, and there’s something about that which just seems to fit. Unlike nearly every other KB Pulsebeat News man, Brach’s voice didn’t boom into radio speakers. His cool, understated style fit in just as well at KB, making him the favorite of listeners and a long line of America’s most talented all-time disc jockeys, who were merciless in mocking the newsman.

Henry Brach in the KB studio.

Jim Fagan was a disc jockey and newsman at WBTA in Batavia, where he’s shown here, before heading to WKBW for a three-decade career. 

Jim Fagan’s voice was one of the threads that tied together the various eras at KB.  During the 27-and-a-half years that he was a newsman at WKBW Radio, he saw many come and go, but from JFK to Reagan, his was one of the voices that reported on it over KB.

His strong voice punched out the KB Pulsebeat News sound perfectly in those early years, and mellowed as the rest of the station did right up to the very end. Fagan was among the final employees when corporate owners pulled the plug on the local news and music on KB and replaced it with syndicated programming.

John Zach was born into radio. His father was a radio pioneer, having built the first “wireless set” in the city’s Kaisertown neighborhood. After attending St. Casimir grammar school and PS 69, he learned about the technical aspects of radio at Seneca Vocational High School– but John’s path into broadcasting was lined with guitar pics rather than vacuum tubes.

As the leader of “John Zach and The Fury’s,” he played record hops with Danny Neaverth, who worked with Zach and helped him develop his on-air sound.

1959 ad.

After spending time as a disc jockey in Georgia, Zach returned to Buffalo and was hired by Irv Weinstein for an overnight news job at WKBW in 1960. He spent most of the next five decades informing Buffalo’s radio audience, come hell or high snowbanks.  Twice during the Blizzard of ’77, John Zach came in by snow mobile to anchor the news during the Danny Neaverth Show. 

As KB Radio’s News Director for most of the 80s, a survey found that John Zach was Buffalo’s most recognizable radio news personality.

With long stops at WKBW and WGR under his belt, Zach joined WBEN in 1998 and spent 18 years with Susan Rose co-anchoring Buffalo’s most listened to radio news program, Buffalo’s Early News.

John Zach spent time as a disc jockey and news man in Georgia before spending nearly 27 years at WKBW Radio.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

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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.