The Buffalo Evening News had been a pioneer in the field of wireless communications, from wireless telegraph station WBL which operated from The News headquarters, to setting up the radio relay of election results on “radio’s birthday” in 1920.
“A new voice of the city is on the air, bespeaking new hopes and hoping to fulfill new opportunities for the entire Niagara Frontier,” read the opening sentence of the story in The News, celebrating the initial broadcast of WBEN on September 8, 1930.
“Through the magic of radio, it expects to become an increasingly powerful factor for knowledge, for culture, for good citizenship.”
The voice of announcer Merwin Morrison was the first to be heard on WBEN, but that first broadcast was opened with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, followed immediately by “the Maple Leaf Forever,” which was then the national anthem of Canada.
Buffalo Evening News Managing Editor Alfred H. Kirchhofer gave an address welcoming the listening audience to WBEN on behalf of the paper on that first day.
It was Kirchhofer, who would eventually serve as President of WBEN, who was more instrumental than anyone else in the paper’s move to start operating a radio station, and then later to develop FM and television broadcasting stations as well.
“We can promise you that we will be our own most severe critics and that nothing shall interfere with the rapid development of a station that will be a credit to Buffalo and a joy to the listener,” said Kirchhofer over the air that first night.
For the next 47 years, through the auspices of its newspaper owner, WBEN would be Buffalo’s most thoroughly marketed and photographed radio (and later TV) station, as is evidenced on the pages of this volume.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The year that the map we’ve been plotting out was published was also the year The Buffalo Evening News was founded by Edward H. Butler with headquarters at 200 Main St.
A few successful years later, a much-lauded News headquarters building was built a few doors down at 216-218 Main St. The spot is at the northern tip of the One Seneca Tower footprint, just south of Seneca Street.
The building was The News’ headquarters for 77 years.
The passerby might not have noticed anything extraordinary outside the building, save perhaps the founder’s daughter-in-law’s Rolls-Royce parked on the sidewalk in front of the building. Mrs. Kate Robinson Butler served as president of The News and later publisher after her husband’s death in 1956.
Her car pulled right up to the front door was a sign to the staff that the publisher was in the building. In her 90s, she was still a force at The News until her death in 1974.
Longtime News reporter, editor and columnist Jeff Simon remembers first setting foot in the building as a copyboy in 1964.
“That marble counter on the first floor and all of the brass atop of it was impressive,” said Simon. “You knew you’d walked into a serious place. I loved the old building as a copyboy. My favorite place in it was the ugliest and most unsavory – the sports department on the mezzanine floor between one and two.”
If you were impressed by the Rolls-Royce and the marble, the inverse was true on that sports mezzanine. Simon’s memories of the place make it sound like a film noir version of a newsroom, starting with the fact that it was the only place in the whole building where men could smoke at their desks.
“With the low ceilings the place was dense with cigarette and cigar smoke. You’re lucky if you could see two feet in front of you. On the floor – even in the early ’60s –there were spittoons. And they were used.”
When downtown progress pushed The News out of its longtime home, Mrs. Butler said cost wasn’t an option as she wanted a showpiece building designed and crafted in honor of her late husband’s memory. She wasn’t well enough to step inside the building that still serves as News headquarters at One News Plaza, but was able to take a car ride around the grounds as the structure neared completion, giving her seal of approval.
One News Plaza opened in 1973. Mrs. Butler died the following year.