Public Broadcasting comes to Buffalo

       By Steve Cichon

Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 

When the National Broadcasting Company gave up on its Buffalo UHF experiment and pulled the plug on WBUF-TV Ch.17, they sold off all the station’s assets but one—the license.

NBC donated the license to broadcast on Ch.17 to the Western New York Educational Television Association, which signed on WNED-TV on March 30, 1959 as New York State’s only public television station.

WNED-TV —which stands for Western New York Educational TV—began broadcasting with, what one station official described as “mismatched hand-me-down equipment held together by hope, dumb luck, and quite literally, masking tape… The ‘technical difficulties’ slide should have read ‘financial difficulties.’”

The station’s camera blew-out 30 seconds into the first broadcast.

A young John Zach operates a WNED-TV camera. Zach would go on to a career in radio news at WKBW, WGR, and WBEN that would span more than five decades.

Still, “The cultural appeal of the station was immediate,” reported Sturgis Hedrick in The News, as Buffalo’s Martha Graham Dancers were the first performers featured on the station.

It was touch and go for the first few years, with threats of programming cuts and layoffs of the already barebones staff, but over the station’s first decade on the air, WNED-TV saw “increased public support, state support and the greater recognition of public television’s role by the federal government.”

Starting in the old cinderblock building behind what is the Ch.4 studio today– WNED-TV moved to the penthouse of the Lafayette Hotel by the end of 1959.

Six local colleges joined with the station to create programming that would allow students to gain college credit through lessons learned on what could hardly be called “the boob tube” when tuned to Ch.17.

Board Chairman Laurence Goodyear reflected, “The services which Ch. 17 has provided to the community have been unique and distinctive.”

Bertha Hoffman teaches a French class on Ch.17.

Sister Jeanne, art professor at Rosary Hill College, teaches a class over WNED-TV.

Aside from grammar school, high school, and college credit programs, there were also typing classes, along with training for fire and police. Jack Call was the instructor on Ch.17’s “Train for Fire.”

Diane Sina was the host of “Type Right” on Ch.17.

For all the educational programming on WNED-TV, among the favorite and most watched programs was “Piano on a Terrace,” when announcer Matt Regan would play in the open air on the roof of the Lafayette Hotel.

Jack Paupst’s jolly shopkeeper Mr. Whatnot was the most popular show in the station’s early days.

Among WNED-TV’s original employees was publicity manager J. Michael Collins. He’d become the station’s manager, and in 50 years of creating a public broadcasting empire, he’d also become a familiar face during pledge breaks and events like “the Great TV Auction.”  He’s shown here with other staffers who survived the station’s first decade: Chief Engineer Gordon Knaier and Technical Operations Director G. Robert Bakaysa.

J. Michael Collins with two young WNED fundraisers.

WBFO-FM signed on in January, 1959, as a student-run, non-commercial, educational radio station at UB. “Classical music, poetry, symposiums and area college news” were on the schedule as the station only broadcast during the evening hours when first on the air.

Electrical engineering students built the studio in the Baird Music Building and a transmitting plant atop the Tower Dormitory.

“The student body benefits internally with the acquisition of broadcasting knowledge by the WBFO staff,” said Jack Mettauer, WBFO’s first program director, who was also a math student and a former WEBR engineer. “Externally, the wide variety of programs will stimulate

student interest in specific fields.”

Programming in October, 1959 included an hour of “pop tunes” each night—but “not to include Top-40 music,” followed by an hour of news from around the campus and around the world.

WBFO Chief Engineer Howie Barker at the controls, 1959

As the 60s wore on, WBFO found itself in the midst of the unrest on the UB campus, and became a pioneer in public radio as it’s known today.

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,, 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.