Wrestling from Memorial Auditorium

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Starting in 1949, Friday night meant Ralph Hubbell, Chuck Healy, and TVs tuned to live wrestling from Memorial Auditorium—with the action and antics of folks like Gorgeous George, Ilio DiPaolo, Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, Coco Brazil, and the Gallagher Brothers and dozens of others.

During pre- and post-match interviews, the athletic Healy would often find himself somehow entangled with the wrestlers he was trying to interview— handling the headlocks from “bad guys” with the grace of a professional broadcaster.

There’s little question—especially in Buffalo, wrestling helped make TV and vice-versa in those early years.

In 1951, Ed Don George was promoting wresting in 30 cities, including Buffalo. “Let them try to besmirch the wrestling profession as much as they’d like,” said Ed Don, “But what other form of sporting entertainment gives as much to the fans as wrestling?”

He was proud of wrestling’s showmanship, which had blossomed since he had been the world’s heavyweight champ 20 years earlier. “Sure, there is showmanship in wrestling. We try to dress up our business just like the downtown merchant decorates his shop windows to attract customers.”

Wrestling with Ralph Hubbell & Chuck Healy

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo. Crowds sold out Friday night matches through the 30s, 40s, and 50s; first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows) and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered George’s flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one-dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!’”

Wrestling was cheap, flashy and easy to televise — and Gorgeous George was the performer that people loved to hate. It was said that in TV’s earliest years, Gorgeous George’s appearance on TV sold as many televisions as Milton Berle’s.

Another of TV’s favorite early sports was bowling. Chuck Healy was the host of “Beat the Champ” through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Nin Angelo and Allie Brandt would become among Buffalo’s most popular athletes because of their feats of bowling prowess on the show. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of the show.

Chuck Healy also hosted “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” Buffalo’s show for lady bowlers. Phyllis Notaro was just as popular as any of her male counterparts as one of the program’s great champions. Her family ran Angola’s Main Bowling Academy, and from there, she became one of the country’s top amateur bowlers and a US Open champ in 1961.

The WBEN sports team included Chuck Healy, Dick Rifenburg, Ralph Hubbell, and Don Cunningham.


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

WBEN 1973- Clint Buehlman, The Buffalo Braves, and more….

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo


Originally Posted: February, 2008

Just unearthed! Recordings of entire days of WBEN Radio… Unheard since the days they were broadcast over 35 years ago! Names like Clint Buehlman, Van Miller and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Read on!

WBEN AM/FM/TV, 1960

So where did these tapes come from? In 1995, Lin Television performed a massive cleanout of the 2077 Elmwood Avenue building they had just purchased as a part of their buying WIVB-TV.

Among the “treasures” I found dumpster diving, was a box of Reel-to-Rel tapes that appeared to be WBEN Radio Logger tapes from the early 70s. Many of the reels were blank… But even those with the audio intact were nearly useless… The tapes were recorded at 15/32 IPS. That is very slow, and at the time the tapes were rescued, the only way to hear the tapes properly involved about 4 hours of work for an hour of final product. For 13 years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to play these tapes back… And now… thanks to a new reel deck.. and some new digital audio editing programs, viola!

The audio quality is not the best… Its warbly sometimes… And it jumps quite a bit… And These logger tapes were in the Engineering Shop because there were problems with the recording…. But what is really amazing. Imagine your grandparents listening to WBEN all day… That’s what you get here. Things were slow to change at WBEN. Clint Buehlman’s Show in 1973 was not really all that different from the show in 1953. Van Miller is in great voice and cadence calling Buffalo Braves basketball. As far as I know, these are the only complete recordings of Braves basketball in tact.

Below, you’ll find exactly what and who is on these tapes… and some brief cuts from each.

Clint Buehlman

One of the most often asked questions to this website is, “What was the name of Clint Buehlman’s theme song?” The answer is, there were dozens of light airy instrumentals that were used to open each hour of the Buehlman show, after newsman Jack Ogilvie introduced Your AM-MC after each newscast. Listen below for several such opens, along with other snippets from the Buehly.

 

Newsman Jack Ogilvie (right) and AM-MC Clint Buehlman spent mornings together for over a quarter of a century starting in 1951 and ending in 1977.


Buffalo Braves Basketball

As Van Miller’s one time producer in both radio and TV, I can tell you I don’t know that he ever sounded better than behind the mic courtside at the Aud during Braves games, as shown to the left with Dr Jack Ramsey, standing.

Another of those popular questions is Do you have any Braves Games? Apparently, the answer has been yes for quite a long time… only they’ve been stuck on tapes I couldn’t play. But now, I have at least three Braves games in their entirety.

Braves vs Lakers: December 19, 1973
Kareem Abdul Jabbar visits Memorial Auditorium

Braves vs Bucks: February 2, 1973
Wilt Chamberlain visits Memorial Auditorium

 

Van Miller interviews Fred Hilton and Randy Smith in the WBEN studios circa 1972.

 


Some Highlights from WBEN Friday December 28, 1973

WBEN’s Al Fox interviews a cow.

Dick Rifenburg (l) and Clint Buehlman (r) receive an Award for Ski Coverage.

Ward Fenton

Dick Rifenburg

Jack Ogilvie

Ken Philips

Lou Douglas

Lou Douglas in Studio A

Stan Barron showing some kids around the studio.


Some Highlights from WBEN March 15, 1973

 

 


Random Highlights from WBEN 1973

 

Ed Tucholka at the WBEN-FM automation center.

Virgil Booth on the Channel 4 set.

Marty Gleason at the Editors Desk.

Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com