Broadcasting live from the Erie County Fair is a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of TV in Buffalo, and Meet the Millers—starring turkey farmers Bill and Mildred Miller—were regulars at the fair all through the 50s and 60s. They’re shown here with another Ch.4 personality ready to broadcast live from Hamburg—John Corbett (left).
WKBW-TV’s broadcast license renewal was held up in the early 60s for a lack of quality local programming, but fans of campy old monster movies didn’t mind. Films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman were regular fare on Ch.7—and a generation later helped spark Off Beat Cinema’s quirky tribute to the genre on the station.
In 1968, WGR-TV’s new news team included George Redpath, Pat Fagan, Doris Jones, and Frank Benny.
By the end of the 60s, WGR-TV’s anchor team had changed again—this time with Henry Marcotte (above) with news, Mike Nolan (below) with sports, and Frank Benny—who had been on the sports desk—moved over to the weather map. Marcotte didn’t hide his conservative views– which made him the target of protesting UB students and striking NABET members who watched him cross their picket lines. Replaced by Ron Hunter, Marcotte went on to work as an editorial writer and booth announcer for NBC in New York City.
Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, R&B singer Ruth McFadden, actress Barbara Anderson, “You Asked for It” host Jack Smith, and telethon chairman Michael Allis in the Ch.7 studios.
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller visits with Irv Weinstein at Ch.7’s Main Street studios.
The media gathers for Jack Kemp’s 1969 announcement that he’s retiring from football and running for Congress. That’s Ch.4’s Ray Finch, Ch.4’s Paul Maze, Ch.7’s Sam Brunetta with handheld camera, Ch.4’s Virgil Booth, Larry Felser, Ch.4’s Len Johnson on audio, Ch.7’s John Winston, Ch.4’s Van Miller, Jack Kemp, and Ch.7’s Rick Azar.
Ch.4 photojournalist Bill Cantwell got mixed up in the action covering Buffalo’s civil rights protests of 1967. Cantwell was best known over his long career for his serene nature shots used during Ch.4’s weather segments.
TV news gathering and video recording technology rapidly evolved in the 60s. News editor John Kreiger (left) is writing copy from film shot by Mike Mombrea, Sr. (right) and edited by Quint Renner (center). Mombrea spent 32 years as a photojournalist at Ch.4, starting as a true pioneer—a TV news cameraman in the days when TV was just starting. It was through Mike’s viewfinder that Western New York witnessed the Attica Prison uprising, the installation of Pope John Paul II, and somewhere north of one million feet of news film capturing the day-to-day happenings of Western New York.
Recording video tape in the field for news purposes was still a decade away, but by Ch.4’s 20th anniversary in 1968, the station had three color video tape machines.
Engineers Frank Maser, Ralph Voigt, and Edgar Steeb with VTRs.
In 1969, WBEN-TV revamped its news format, calling their newscasts “First Team News.”
A deluge of print ads showed the team in action, including news anchor Chuck Healy, reporting from the dewatered Niagara Falls alongside the WBEN-TV News mobile unit, Van Miller from Bills practice with– among others– Number 40 Ed Rutkowski looking on, and weather man Ken Philips in studio in front of his maps.
WBEN also very heavily promoted the broadcasts of Buffalo Bills Football with Van Miller, Stan Barron, and Dick Rifenburg.In the booth at the Rockpile: Linda Arnold, Herm Brunotte, Willard Fredericks, Jim Georgeson, Bruce Wexler. Murray Wilkinson, Dick Rifenburg, Stan Barron, Van Miller, Tony Vacanti
The WBEN Bills Team: Bruce Wexler, Dr. Ed Gicewicz, Art Graff, Dick Rifenburg, Ray Sinclair, Willard Fredericks, Van Miller, Jim Georgeson, Stan Barron, Bob Werner, Linda Arnold, Herm Brunotte, and Tony Vacanti
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
Irv Weinstein used to joke that Ch.7 was the fourth station in a three-station market when he began anchoring the news there in 1964.
For most of the station’s early years, there were ABC network shows and lots of old movies—and legally, not enough of anything else. In 1963, the FCC withheld the station’s license renewal request “pending additional information on local, live programing” on the station.
It took a few years for the Eyewitness News approach to catch on and become number one in Buffalo, but even as early as Irv’s first year at Ch.7 and a year before Tom Jolls would come over from Ch.4– the approach of dispatching news cameras to every corner of the city was gaining traction in an era where the other stations in the market were comfortable with a news anchor reading into a camera with no video or graphic accompaniment.
“They can hear about it on the other channels,” said Ch.7 General Manager Robert King, “but they see it on Ch.7.”
Irv Weinstein with Bill Gregory. When Irv first came to Ch.7, they co-anchored the news.
Irv Weinstein led the team that informed and entertained generations of Buffalonians with his unmistakable style in writing and delivering the news. Together with Rick Azar and Tom Jolls, Irv was a part of the longest running TV anchor team in history, and their story is the story of Buffalo over the last half century.
WKBW-TV Ch.7 signed on in 1958, 10 years after Ch.4, and four years after Ch.2, and the new station had a hard time gaining traction.
“The ratings at Ch.7 were worse than the signoff test patterns on Ch.4 and Ch.2,” said Weinstein.
When Weinstein left WKBW Radio to join Ch.7 alongside Rick Azar in 1964, the evening newscast went on the air at 7:20pm to avoid competition from the other stations’ 6 p.m. newscasts.
A few years later, Tom Jolls joined the crew, and the Irv, Rick and Tom team that dominated Buffalo TV news in the ’70s and ’80s was complete.
The three men, plus addition of more local newsfilm, better tight writing and a display of personality and human interaction unseen before on local TV made Ch.7 — and Irv Weinstein — No. 1 in the market, virtually uninterrupted, from the late 1960s through Irv’s retirement in 1998.
“Basically, the other stations’ approach was very conservative, you know, the globe on the desk and the clocks in the background and the mature, deep-voiced guy sitting there,” explained Irv. “We were aggressive, we were razzle-dazzle. We covered every fire there was because it looked great.”
Irv also credited the styles and personalities of the three men — and the mix of those personalities — with the larger success of “Eyewitness News” during those years.
Tom Jolls, 1964
“You had Tom, every mother’s son; the flag, and apple pie, and all of those things that make for a fine American,” said Irv. “That’s what you saw, that’s what you got. That’s what Tom was, that’s what Tom is.
“Rick was more of a broadcasting personality,” said Weinstein. “Solid professional, knowledgeable, debonair, good looking guy. Very smooth, Mr. Smooth, the Latin Lover.”
And rounding out the trio?
“Me? I’m an ethnic type,” Irv said of himself. “Definitely an ethnic type. I felt very proud of the fact in a heavily Catholic, heavily Polish town, this Jewish kid was accepted.”
“Accepted” is an understatement. Irv Weinstein is remembered as one of — if not the — greatest personalities in the history of Buffalo television.
He got his start in radio as a child actor growing up in Rochester in the 1940s. After working in various radio and TV jobs, he wound up as a newsman at WKBW Radio in Buffalo. There, he became the news director and was instrumental in the rock ’n’ roll style newscasts that matched the music KB was playing in the late 50s and early 60s.
It was at KB Radio where Irv perfected the ra-ta-tat-tat staccato delivery style that he’d be remembered for; it’s also where he developed the sharp writing style, filled with alliteration and bigger-than-life phraseology that was the engine for that delivery.
There were no firemen tamping down a house fire. “Buffalo fire eaters” “battled spectacular blazes.” “Death was waiting along the side of the road” for someone struck and killed by a car. A teenage hold-up man was a “knife-wielding delinquent,” if he wasn’t a “pistol-packing punk.”
After leaving WKBW Radio for WKBW-TV in 1964, it took Weinstein some time to get used to being on camera and to adapt his writing style for television delivery, but over the next several years, he became comfortable with TV and Buffalo became comfortable with him.
By the time Irv Weinstein came to Ch.7, Rick Azar had already been there for six years. Azar was the announcer who signed the station on the air in 1958.
He had been an actor who took radio jobs at WUSJ in Lockport, WWOL in Buffalo and WHLD in Niagara Falls between acting gigs, and also served as a sports and weather man on Buffalo’s short lived WBUF-TV Ch.17 staring in 1956.
In the early days at Ch.7, he delivered weather, sports and news, along with general announcing, and even hosting “Buffalo Bandstand,” the local version of the Dick Clark show.
It was in sports broadcasting, though, where Azar became a long-remembered and trusted household name.
As a TV sportscaster, a play-by-play man for college basketball, and one of the voices of the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s, there were few broadcasters better known, liked and appreciated that Azar.
Rick Azar in the lockerroom.
In 1975, the fact that the “Eyewitness News” anchor team might have been the hippest guys in town might be reflected in the fact that there was a special edition Oldsmobile on sale called “The Azar.”
If Rick was hip, Tom Jolls was everyone’s favorite neighbor. The youngest of the three, Jolls and Azar actually met when Jolls was a junior high school announcer in Lockport and Azar was a disc jockey on WUSJ using the name “Dick Corey.”
Jolls eventually became the morning man at his hometown WUSJ. He also had early TV experience at another short-lived Buffalo TV station, WBES-TV. After a stint in the Army, Jolls returned to WUSJ before moving to WBEN AM-FM-TV in 1963. He was seen on Ch.4 and heard on 930AM for about two years before joining Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar and Dustmop at Ch.7 in 1965.
Commander Tom was more than just a weatherman, he was a beloved TV uncle who guided us through days that were stormy as well as salubrious, but also made sure we were entertained with the puppets he and his wife crafted from their children’s old stuffed animals.
Tom Jolls on a salubrious night on the original Weather Outside set on Main Street.
But even mild-mannered Tom Jolls was a part of the spice of “Eyewitness News.” For decades, it was Jolls who asked, “It’s 11 o’clock. … Do you know where your children are?”
Together, the facts say that at 24 years, Irv, Rick and Tom were the longest-running anchor team in the history of American television. The hearts of Buffalonians say they were also probably the most beloved.
Rick Azar broke up the band with his retirement after 31 years at Ch.7 in 1989. The following year, at age 59, Irv Weinstein gave up the 11pm newscast and was seen only at 6pm.
He stuck around in that 6pm anchor chair for just shy of a decade, retiring from Ch.7 in 1998. Jolls followed suit with his retirement in 1999.
The Eyewitness News team included Irv Weinstein, Nolan Johannes, Barbara Pawelek, Paul Thompson, Bill Nailos, Don Keller, Alan Nesbitt, John Winston, and Tom Jolls.
Aside from Dialing For Dollars, Liz Dribben anchored morning newscasts on Ch.7 through the second half of the 1960s. Among Buffalo’s first woman broadcast journalists, she became a CBS News writer and producer, working with Mike Wallace and Walter Cronkite among others.
The heavy promotion of Irv, Rick, and Tom as a team began after Ch.7’s early newscasts moved to 6pm in 1971.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
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.
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 fight over who would get the license to operate Buffalo’s final VHF station was a protracted one, with several years of hostile exchanges between Dr. Clinton Churchill’s WKBW group, a group including the Courier-Express, and the owners of WWOL Radio.
Rev. Clinton Churchill’s start in broadcasting came in 1924 when he brought his church choir to perform on WGR Radio in 1924. “A bushel basket” full of mail came in, filled with letters asking for more religious programming— and the checks and cash needed to help make that happen. Churchill is shown here with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita.
Once the WKBW-TV group was granted the license, the four months it took them to begin broadcasting was the fastest a US TV station had ever gone from approval to programming.
On November 30, 1958, Buffalo once again became a three-station market after Ch. 59 and Ch.17 both stopped broadcasting, and Ch. 7 joined Ch.2 and Ch.4.
The brief sign-on ceremony was hosted by Rick Azar, who introduced Dr. Churchill and several area religious leaders, before introducing the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Ch.2 had the elves and Ch.7 had “KB Bunny.”
An ABC affiliate from the moment the station signed on, Ch.7 went on the air with “a compact staff of three announcers.” Stan Barron moved over from WKBW Radio. Both Roger Lund and Rick Azar had been at WBUF-TV, which went dark only weeks before Ch.7 began broadcasting.
The sign-on of Ch.7 ushered in another new era in Buffalo TV. All three stations were now available on every television without the need for special equipment– and each of the broadcast networks now had a local station to air its programming.
“Competition Keen,” read the sub-headline in a piece by J. Don Schlaerth. “Now that three VHF television stations can be received in Buffalo, the keenest programming and advertising competition that has ever existed in this market will begin. It should mean better network and local services for area viewers.”
On November 30, 1958 Rick Azar was the announcer who signed on WKBW-TV. Six years later, he’d be joined by Irv Weinstein and Tom Jolls two years after that– to form the troika that would dominate Buffalo television until the turn of the century.
WKBW’s first newscaster, Roger Lund started in radio in 1935 as an actor at WGR, was chief announcer at WXRA from 1949-54, and after a year in TV in Elmira, joined WBUF-TV as a news anchor and weather man for two years until the station went dark. He served in the Marine Corps in World War II and Korea.
Stan Barron, WKBW-TV Sports Director, 1958
Stan Barron might best be remembered for his nightly “Free Form Sports” shows on WBEN, but that was the final act in a long career in sports and broadcasting in Buffalo. He came to Buffalo in 1952 and spent nine years at WKBW Radio and TV, working as 1520’s morning “Clock Watcher,” and Ch.7’s first sports director.
Through the years, he called the action for the Bills, the Griffs, and the hockey Bisons, but baseball was always his favorite. In 1956, he was instrumental in helping to bring community ownership to the Buffalo Bisons. Then in 1979, he was one of the leading voices to help bring professional baseball back to Buffalo after a ten-year absence.
Stan joined WBEN in 1967 and was a part of the Bills play-by-play team with Van Miller, Chuck Healy, and Dick Rifenburg. Barron was the “every man” of the group— not an accomplished athlete like Healy or Rife, not a polished, impeccably dressed announcer like Van. His gritty voice and common-sense opinions— always willing to tell you when he thought a team “looked like a bunch of donkeys”— felt like it could have just as easily come from the next bar stool than from the radio.
Stan Barron with Buffalo’s National Champion Cyclist Edith Ann Johnson.
Decades after the station first signed on, Bob Costello, Marty Stetter, Bill Hiller, Rick Azar, Norm Schultz, Jack Cook and Steve Zappia were all original employees still working at the station.
Shortly after first signing on, WKBW-TV’s “News Central” anchor team was Dave Thomas, weather; Bill Gregory, news; and Rick Azar, sports.
Irv Weinstein reports from South Buffalo’s Republic Steel.
Though his primary duties were as WKBW Radio News Director, Ch.7 viewers would catch occasional glimpses of Irv Weinstein’s reporting on Ch.7 before he moved over to TV full-time in 1964.
Ch. 7’s Don Keller interviews Buffalo Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Manch. He signed on WNIA as the first Tommy Thomas in 1956, moving to KB as Dick Biondi’s newsman. As Don Keller, the Farm Feller, he delivered agricultural news on WKBW Radio and Ch.7. After being sent to his first fire with a wind-up camera and being told by News Director Hal Youngblood to “point it at the flames,” his role evolved into Buffalo’s first modern street reporter– gathering and presenting news and interviews. Later known by his real name Don Yearke, he went on to serve as Ch.4’s Chief Photographer through the 80s and 90s.
Bow-tied Paul Thompson, like Yearke, was an early Ch.7 cameraman, who was often seen on-camera conducting interviews.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
A young program director with a big mouth, big ideas, and a big appetite for promotion rock ‘n’ rolled his way into Buffalo in 1957, and Dick Lawrence permanently etched his taste for music and in-your-face radio into the taste and expectations of Buffalonians.
Even if they came along kicking and screaming. Buffalo’s newspaper radio critics reflected the feelings of most Western New Yorkers past the age of 16, with regards to the new sounds coming out of their radios.
Sturgis Hedrick of the Buffalo Evening News recalled Lawrence on the pages of the paper as “the energetic young man who brought the raucous, jangling—and alas, moderately successful—sound of ‘modern radio’ to Buffalo.”
The original WBNY Top-40 line-up included Lawrence, who appeared on the air as Felix with his pet parrot Fernando.
“A sound of hoopla and noisy disc jockeys went into full swing night and day,” said the Courier-Express’ Jack Allen. “Most 15-minute newscasts, a tradition at the station, were dropped and Gene Korzelius’ sportscasts were reduced. The fast-paced schedule eventually also did away with the Grosvenor Library Classical Music Show…The top-40 format with the rock ‘n’ roll beat was in to stay.”
The theme is pretty clear. It was also echoed by J. Don Schlaerth.
“Station WBNY, described as ‘the friendly voice of Buffalo’ seems to have given in to the noisy bounce of rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley to ‘keep up with 1957 musical tastes.’ Not long ago semi-classical music and standard favorites predominated on WBNY. Then there was no room for an Elvis.”
Henry Brach was a newsman and deejay at WBNY and as ‘BNY’s news director, gave Danny Neaverth his first job in Buffalo radio. He moved over to KB and spent more than 20 years there as the station’s gruff uncle and the butt of the jokes of untold numbers of disc jockeys.
If you tuned to WBNY in the late 50s, you were likely to hear the voice of Daffy Dan Neaverth, Fred Klestine and Henry Brach. At WBNY, Neaverth would pull a rooftop like event similar to Guy King’s, throwing candy out to passersby. Neaverth, perhaps with his boyish good looks and demeanor, evaded arrest for his stunt.
Daffy Dan Neaverth, WBNY. Neaverth left WBNY for WKBW, inspiring the rath of Dick Lawrence—who made firing Neaverth one of his first acts when he became boss at KB. Neaverth went to work at WGR until returning to 1520 for a 26-year run at the station.
It was fast tempo music, fast tempo talk, fast tempo musical station IDs. It was also the only programming on the station. Rock ‘n’ roll could be heard elsewhere on the dial, but nowhere else was it the only music a station played.
Love it or hate it, the tiny 250-watt station– which could barely be heard outside of the city’s boundaries– was the talk of Western New York.
Other radio stations hated more than radio critics and parents of teens combined.
Four months into Dick Lawrence’s reign at WBNY, WGR announced that it is no longer in the rock ‘n’ roll business.
“Radio station WGR, after taking an impartial music survey among local housewives, has decided to go off the ‘hot’ music path into the relaxing realm of ‘good music,’” reported The Courier-Express. “It will let other Buffalo stations divide the rock ‘n roll spoils.”
The survey named Perry Como as favorite male vocalist followed by Pat Boone and Bing Crosby.
The next day, the paper printed reactions from local radio programmers and called Lawrence’s response “violent.”
“I’ve seen this policy tried before,” Lawrence said. “It doesn’t work and I’ll be a pallbearer at their funeral.”
WGR went to the extreme, but most other stations had some rock music at some point during the day. The only station that didn’t, was WBEN.
“The changing styles in music have never affected the WBEN program policy of providing music, news, drama and public service for all members of the family,” a station official told the Courier-Express.
Other radio stations might not have embraced the music, but after six months, they were beginning to lose revenue. 50,000-watt WKBW Radio was losing to a 250-watt station.
WKBW General Manager Al Anscombe told the Courier-Express that the sound being put out by Dick Lawrence was “slightly wacky” – but the trends were there. KB could die on the vine, or go all in.
And did KB go all in. The station owned by a preacher with call letters standing for “Well-Known Bible Witness” hired away the young programmer and promoter who sent a donkey around downtown Buffalo wearing a sign that said, “Everybody is listening to the new WBNY but me, and you know what I am!”
Lawrence christened KB as Futursonic Radio, rock ‘n’ roll had a new home on Buffalo’s radio dial, and KB would begin a dominance that would last a generation.
Within a year of the change to a Top-40 format on July 4, 1958, WKBW Radio was taking out full-page ads in Buffalo’s newspapers touting their status as Buffalo’s most listened to radio station.
One of the most famous disc jockeys to spin tunes on WBNY only lasted about a month at the station– but would go on to a legendary career in syndicated radio and voice work.
Before he became the voice of “American Top 40” and Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo,” Casey Kasem was “Casey at the Mic” on WBNY in 1960. Shortly before his arrival, he set a record at WJW in Cleveland for what he called “world’s longest on-air kiss,” after laying an 85-second smooch on starlet Diana Trask.
Much later, Kasem would admit to “screwing around too much” during his short time in Buffalo. He’d land in San Francisco, and was well on his way to forever having his feet in the ground while reaching for the stars.
Early group shot of The Even Newer WKBW Futursonic disc jockeys, including Jim Taylor, Ted Hackett, Tom Shannon, Don Keller, Dick Braun, Gene Nelson, Bob Diamond, and Russ Syracuse.
Dick Biondi at a record hop in 1960, just before leaving KB for Chicago.
Dick Biondi was the first nighttime voice of the rock ‘n’ roll era on WKBW.
He referred to himself as “a screamer,” and often told the story about how he was fired from KB because he was too loud. He also claimed to have been fired from KB because he played an Elvis song that wasn’t approved.
What really happened: he told listeners that one of KB’s managers was driving down Main Street in an Impala convertible. “If you see him,” he said, “Throw a rock!”
Someone did—through the boss’ windshield. Maybe he was too loud.
Dan Neaverth, WKBW
Irv Weinstein joined the WKBW Radio news staff in 1958, ultimately becoming the station’s news director. He was responsible for creating a news sound that reflected the music and personalities on the station. He walked across the parking lot to become Ch.7’s news anchor in 1964.
When WNIA officially signed on in 1956, the station was promised to be “as revolutionary to radio as color was to television.”
More than just Top-40, the record library at the Genesee Street studios boasted more than 10-thousand recordings.
But there was still plenty of room for rock ‘n’ roll. From early on, 1230am was “a home for top tunes” as J. Don Schlaerth put it in the pages of the Courier-Express, who wrote, “as a new station with lots of peppy music, the ratings began to jiggle.”
In 1957, Gordon Brown, owner, WNIA, told The Courier-Express, “We play the top 100 tunes half of the time and the old standards the other half of the time. I think people like the sweet popular music as well as rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had terrific results in the popular music field. We also like to play some soft music to help the housewife work around the house.”
WNIA signed-on in 1956, and doubled its power in 1962.
While the power changed, what didn’t was the disc jockey’s names. For more than two decades, when you turned on the radio in the morning, the deejay identified himself as Tommy Thomas— even though it might have been a different guy with a different voice calling himself Tommy Thomas the day before.
Just like with Guy King at WWOL, station founder Gordon Brown insisted that the disc jockeys at the radio stations he owned use those on-air handles instead of their own.
He felt the stock jock names gave a more consistent sound even as the DJs changed rapidly, it was always Mike Melody and Jerry Jack.
WNIA saw itself as a more staid (and cheaper!) version of WKBW. KB wasn’t mentioned by name in one 1963 ad, but anyone reading it would have known what was being implied.
“As far as wild banshee, screaming announcers, wild nonsense gimmicks and promos… NEVER on WNIA.”
At 1080am, WINE was perhaps the least remembered of the handful of radio stations which tried to break in on the Rhythm music scene in late 1950s Buffalo.
“WXRA has changed their call letters along with their programming,” wrote Danny McBride in his column in the Blasdell Herald in 1957. “The new call is WINE, along with crazy sounds like the new WBNY.”
The WINE call letters didn’t last very long. In 1960, WINE became WYSL at 1080am.
1080am was then sold to WUFO, and the WYSL call letters moved to 1400am, displacing the old WBNY.
Before WXRA became WINE, Tommy Shannon had his first radio job there.
Hernando was the morning man at WXRA, and stayed on at WINE. The mic flag in this photo was edited from saying WXRA to WINE.
Hernando went on to do the all-night show on WGR, after the station “gave up” on giving up rock ‘n’ roll.
Greyt Scott appeared on other Buffalo stations as Charlie Griggs. Tap Taplin had been a regular on WEBR for at least a decade before moving to WINE, and Jimmy Lyons was Buffalo’s first full-time, regularly featured African-American deejay.
The WINE mobile unit—a Volkswagen van—always turning heads.
Disc jockeys joined forces to raise money for charity at a game at the Bishop Timon gym in 1959. Standing: Charlie Griggs (Greyt Scott) WINE, Rog Christian WBNY, Tom Shannon WKBW, Terry Mann WWOL, Dan Neaverth WGR, Danny McBride WEBR, Jack Kelly WKBW, Rick Bennett WWOL. Sitting: Bud Stiker (Jerry Jack) WNIA, Dick Carr WBNY, and Don Fortune WBNY.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
I grew up in Buffalo and Western New York in the 1980s. Irv, Rick and Tom were a big part of that. While many fathers and sons bond watching sports, from the time I was very small, my dad and I watched the news together every night. Irv’s news.
Long before I could actually speak many important words coherently, my mother reports that I, as a toddler, gleefully talked about ‘Irv Tine-Tine’ and would run around the living room vocalizing the percussive Eyewitness News theme at 6pm. Around that time, I also began to realize that Commander Tom, wearing that red jacket with gold epaulets, was quite possibly the coolest guy on the planet wearing the greatest outfit I’d ever seen. And of course, it was a highlight of my young life to meet THE Rick Azar at the Broadway Market one Good Friday with my grandma.
One of my early thrills in working in media was as a 15 year old WBEN intern, taking a phone call from Irv each day to record a radio commercial for that night’s 6 o’clock news. I also recall several years later, when I was working in a competing Buffalo TV newsroom, the euphoria the day it was announced Irv was retiring– euphoria because now we have a chance.
I could really talk about these guys all day, but before I get to embarrassing myself, I’ve limited my personal comments to one page. There’s not a lot of heavy lifting on the pages to follow; hopefully just cause for smiles and memories of the way things used to be, and the story of how Irv, Rick and Tom came to be Buffalo’s best ever.
Steve Cichon August, 2011
Chapter 1: Irv, Rick, & Tom.
Chuck Healy. John Corbett. Stephen Rowan. John Beard. Carol Jasen. Bob Koop. Kevin O’Connell. Rich Newberg. Don Postles. That’s just a partial list of the folks who appeared as a regular news anchor at 6 o’clock on Channel 4 during Irv Weinstein’s tremendous, nearly 30 year run at Number One on Channel 7. The list from Channel 2 is three times as long.
So what made Irv so special? It’s not an easy question to answer. Irv is loganberry, The Broadway Market, Sahlen’s hot dogs, Crystal Beach, Mighty Taco, Jimmy Griffin, knowing how to pronounce Scajaquada, and knowing it connects to not “Route 33,” but “The 33,” all wrapped up into a single 5’7” newsman. Irv is the embodiment of Buffalo.
But really, what makes Irv so special?
A 1990 study of local newscasts scientifically asked several hundred Western New Yorkers a series of in-depth questions about television news in Buffalo.
Without prompting a name, Irv was the runaway favorite news anchor in Buffalo. He was the favorite of more than a third of those with a preference, and was more popular than the numbers 2, 3, and 4 combined. He was the favorite newscaster of young and old, men and women, those making under $25,000, those making $25,000-50,000, and those making above $50,000.
He was the favorite newscaster of those of Polish descent, Italian ancestry, Irish, English, and African-American, too. Also in Buffalo, the Erie County suburbs, Niagara County, and Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties, Irv was on top. In every category that was analyzed, Irv Weinstein was a runaway pick as Buffalo’s favorite newsman.
One special thing about Irv; you had an opinion of him. He wasn’t just a haircut and a baritone reading the news. Of those who had a least favorite news anchor, Irv was named by 44%. He was the favorite, and the least favorite.
But now, more than a decade after leaving the Eyewitness News anchor desk, Irv has transcended completely the picayune tastes of Western New York’s television watching public.
Just like so many other Buffalo institutions of the past, the name Irv Weinstein conjures up different feelings and emotions in different contexts:
Like Bethlehem Steel, Irv reminds people of what a giant Buffalo once was.
Like Crystal Beach, Irv reminds people of the way things used to be– back when life was a little more fun.
Like AM&As or Marine Midland Bank, Irv reminds us that many of our once proud local institutions keep on keeping on, but never the way they once were.
Of course, Irv is only a third of the story. It was the combination of Irv, Rick Azar with Eyewitness Sports, and Tom Jolls with the Weather Outside that made Eyewitness News– and each man individually– wildly popular.
“IrvRickTom is what we called them,” said Phil Beuth, who was Channel 7’s General Manager in the 1970’s and 80’s before moving on to run ABC’s Good Morning America.
“For many years, that’s the way we considered them: IrvRickTom, one word, one person. We literally saw them as a seamless team. So close, so well knit so much an extension of one another.”
“It’s very hard to define chemistry,” Irv said when being inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame with Rick and Tom, “but we had it almost immediately, the three of us.”
Viewers saw not only news, sports and weather, but also three guys enjoying each others’ company– kidding around a little bit between segments.
Each complimented the other perfectly. Paired with others, Irv may have been too brash. Rick might have seemed too slick and polished. Tom maybe a little too folksy. But the honest human interaction between each of these men, as they came into our homes at dinner time and again at bed time was so obviously real and so obviously reflective of the people in our own lives, we accepted them as members of our family in a way that no other Buffalo television personalities had been accepted before, and none likely ever will again.
“You had Tom, every mother’s son; the flag, and apple pie, and all of those things that make for a fine American,” says Irv. “That’s what you saw, that’s what you got. That’s what Tom was, that’s what Tom is.
“Rick was more of a broadcasting personality,” says Irv in analysis of his anchor desk compadres. “Solid professional, knowledgeable, debonair, good looking guy. Very smooth, Mr. Smooth, the Latin Lover.“
So where does Irv fit in?
“Me? I’m an ethnic type,” says Irv. ”Definitely an ethnic type. I felt very proud of the fact in a heavily Catholic, heavily Polish town, this Jewish kid was accepted.”
The mix of these three seemingly disparate characters, added to the humble beginnings of the team on WKBW-TV in the mid-60s, makes the fact that Irv, Rick and Tom are adored two decades after the team broke up even more improbable.
Irv likes to say when he started at WKBW-TV; it was the number 4 station in a three station market. He often quips, “The ratings at Channel 7 were worse than the sign-off test patterns on Channels 4 and 2.” That’s not that far from the truth.
Irv moved from WKBW Radio to WKBW-TV in April 1964. Rick Azar was already there. He was the announcer who literally signed the station on the air in 1958. Tom Jolls had been working at WBEN Radio and TV when Red Koch, the program director at 7, talked Tom into coming over to WKBW’s Main Street studios in 1965.
The rest of the story is one that is permanently woven into the fabric of our community. But before we get to that story, let’s look at the experiences that lead three men from different backgrounds entirely to come together to become the longest running anchor team in television history.
The Eyewitness Newsgame
Buffalo’s own Irv-based board game hit store shelves in 1980, and was available at places like AM&A’s and Hengerer’s.
Promos showed Irv, Rick, and Tom playing the game so intently, they almost missed the 11 o’clock news.
The box reads:
Your chance to become a junior reporter for Eyewitness News! Be the first back to the station with all the facts and get your story on the air.
Proceeds from the sale of the game went to the Variety Club.
Chapter 2: Irwin Weinstein, Junior Announcer
“As Buffalonians, if we could be smart, we’d want to be smart like Irv,” Phil Beuth once said toasting Weinstein. “Smart enough to give us the news, but also using his brilliance to make everyone smile and to occasionally be a wise guy. He was the smart kid that always made the whole class… except the teacher… laugh.”
A high school teacher told Irv he’d wind up in jail or famous.
So begins a look back at the life of the man that Buffalo lovingly knows as just “Irv.”
Despite all the fame and success associated with Eyewitness News, Irv counts another era of his broadcasting career as the “most thrilling and glamorous.”
At a time before there was any such person as Irv Weinstein, Irwin B. Weinstein was a big man on campus at Ben Franklin High School in Rochester because of his regular appearances on the biggest radio station in town.
“I had actually started at WHAM radio in Rochester as a boy actor. That was perhaps the most thrilling and glamorous part of my entire life in broadcasting. My gosh, I would see these announcers– who go into the booth once or twice an hour– dressed in a suit, shirt, and tie; and deliver into the microphone the call letters of the station. And that’s pretty much all they did. And they were making tremendous salaries. It convinced me, at that time, that this was a profession that I would want to pursue. It wasn’t the money– I would have paid for the opportunity to be an announcer.”
WHAM was founded by Kodak’s founder George Eastman, and was later sold to Stromberg-Carlson, a dominant and wealthy player in the manufacture of radio and telephone equipment.
“WHAM was one of the most prestigious radio stations in the country,” remembers Irv. It was (and is) a powerful 50,000 watt station that can be heard all around eastern North America.
“They had, in the mid-40s, a palatial station. One studio could hold an audience of two or three hundred people, had a raised stage, a control room off of the stage, and room for a studio orchestra.”
After answering an ad in the newspaper looking for teenagers willing to act on the radio, the man who’d 25 years later be Buffalo’s top newsman became a kid playing bit parts in radio dramas– and loving every minute of it.
“In those days, they would call me up and say, ‘We have a part for you as a state trooper,’ in a series called True Stories of the New York State Police. Because my vocal equipment was pretty much developed at 15 or 16, I would play adults—a state trooper, a bank robber, a farmer in Weedsport who was directing police to the scene of a crime.”
“I was getting $7 a show, which was pretty good money for a kid in the mid-1940s. Plus, I was a star at Ben Franklin High School.”
Young Irwin was one of The WHAM Junior Players as well, on a show that was mostly young people performing basic comedy skits. “It was similar to the things you’d see on sitcoms today,” says Irv, “except they’d run 5 or 7 minutes instead of a half hour.”
Memories of those days– the raw thrill of scripts flying, last minute changes, and being a teen actor couldn’t be matched even as Irv became the most celebrated personality in the history of Buffalo television.
“Possibly the apogee of my career at WHAM was when they brought some of the network shows to Rochester. They had done some remodeling at the station, and one of the shows they brought to originate from Rochester was the Henry Aldrich Show. It was a radio sitcom, and Henry Aldrich was supposed to be a 16 or 17 year old kid. The actor was, in actuality, a man about 40 years old named Ezra Stone.”
“My line was four words. I was the Ace Cleaners Boy. You heard the screen door open, and I scream up into the house, ‘Ace Cleaners, Mrs. Aldrich!’ and she yells back, ‘They’re in the closet, Harry.’
“This was pre-audio tape. They did two live shows, one for the east coast, one for the west coast. I was fine for the east coast, but for the west coast, 3 hours later, I blew one of the four words; which has embarrassed me my entire professional life. I don’t remember what word it was… maybe ‘cleaners.’ That would have been a difficult word for me at that stage. But I’ve never forgotten it. Those are the things that happen in your career that are of such an embarrassing level, that you just never forget it.”
“Nobody ever mentioned salary, and that was fine. I just thought they needed me for a bit part in this show– and that was fine. Now, about a month later, an NBC envelope arrives in the mail. The letter says, ‘Thank you for taking part in the production of the Henry Aldrich Show,’ and with it, a check for $230. Again, if there was any doubt about what I wanted to do with my life, $230 for 4 words? It was pointed out to me years later, that Winston Churchill wasn’t making that much for his speeches around the same time. I just had a great time.”
This was the big time for a high school kid during the mid-1940s; as big, he thought, as it could possibly get. “There was a chief announcer at WHAM at the time, Bill Hanrahan, who was leaving for New York City and NBC.”
Hanrahan would go on to be an NBC staff announcer for the next 40 years, best known as the voice of the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and later NBC Nightly News. His voice became synonymous with not only nightly news broadcasts, but with special news programs involving elections, political conventions, Watergate, and space and lunar exploration.
To young Irwin, however, Hanrahan couldn’t have done much better than the biggest station in the Lilac City. “I can remember thinking to myself, ‘Guy must be crazy! How could he want to leave a great job like this to go to NBC?!?’ That was my serious thought.”
It was also his serious thought that the glamour of WHAM was the life for him.
“When I got out of school, I thought that the natural thing was, I had worked two or three years at WHAM, and maybe there might be a job for me there. The chief announcer interviewed me, and he advised me that radio probably wasn’t the best vehicle for any future career for me. He just didn’t think I had it.”
At 18, it was the first of many professional let-downs for Weinstein.
Right after graduating from Rochester’s Ben Franklin High School, with no promise of a radio career on the horizon, teenager Weinstein hopped a train to Hollywood, with the idea of breaking into the movies.
“It was a two and a half day trip by train. Rochester to Chicago on the Empire State Limited, and then changed to the Santa Fe Railroad for the rest of the trip,” Irv recalls. He says it was trip that might have gone by faster with a little company. That’s the way it was planned, but it didn’t work out that way.
“I had a high school buddy who was going to take the trip with me, but he had chickened out at the last minute, so I was alone. I’d never been away from home. I had $400, which I had strenuously saved for this trip.”
He wasn’t sure how he was going to break in, but thought it might be easier than it actually turned out to be. “I didn’t think I would just walk in and they would sign me up to a long term contract, but I thought if I got an audition, maybe… I just had no idea, I didn’t have a clue.”
It was true in the 1940s just as it’s true today. Just about everyone in Los Angeles is an actor, writer, producer or director– even if they are shampooing your carpets or rolling you a burrito between jobs “in the business.”
Irv discovered this when the man who kept him from becoming a literal “starving artist” delivered him his greatest brush with Hollywood greatness.
“Now I wasn’t drinking that young, but I met a bartender, whose bar was near the place where I had a room. They served food, which was free. If you bought a drink; you got a sandwich. So I’d have a ginger ale, and have lunch.”
“I struck up a friendship with this bartender, who had told me that he was once an assistant director at Columbia Pictures. And, as young and unsophisticated as I was, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah right, and the moon is made of green cheese.’”
“One day he calls me up and says, ‘Irwin,’ -which is what my name was at the time, before I changed it professionally to Irv- ‘Irwin, how would you like to go to the studio?’”
“I said, ‘Sure,’ I put on my bar mitzvah suit, and we went out to Columbia Pictures. The whole time, I’m thinking this guy is pulling my chain. We go to the gate, the guy says, ‘Hey Art, how ya doin?’”
“Holy Mackerel, I thought to myself, this guy really did work here. We go into the studio, and go to a sound stage, where they’re shooting a Tarzan movie, with Lex Barker and Denise Darcel. Cheetah was on Lex Barker’s shoulder, and, well, did a doo-doo, so they had to stop the scene.”
“I’m just glowing with pride. He introduced me to Lex Barker, and Denise Darcel, and then he said, I think Bob Mitchum is shooting a film at another sound stage.”
“So we go to that sound stage, and there’s Mitchum, and Janet Leigh, shooting a scene from a movie called Holiday Affair. I was stunned. They had recreated a part of Central Park for this scene. “Art says to me, ‘When they break this scene, we’ll go to Bob’s trailer and I’ll introduce you.’ You can imagine what this is for an 18 year old kid from Rochester, NY. The scene breaks, we go to the trailer, and Mitchum says, ‘Hey Art!’ and he says, ‘Mitch, I’d like to introduce you to a young friend of mine, Irwin Weinstein, who’s out here trying to get into the business.’
“Now, Mitchum was probably about 6-foot-5, and I pull myself up to my complete 5-foot-7, maybe 5-7-and-a-half in heels. He sticks out his hand, ‘Good to meet you, Irwin,’ ‘Thanks, Bob.’ Then he asks, ‘How ‘bout a drink?’”
“Well, sure, I said, thinking, ‘I always have a drink at 9 in the morning to hold myself together.’ He pours me a gin, vodka, I don’t know what it was. But I was drinking it very slowly, believe me.”
“Finally, I’m thinking to myself, this is the opportunity of my life to talk to a professional and get a real answer. My voice raised several octaves when I asked, ‘Well, Bob, how do you get into this business?’ and he looked down at me and said, ‘To tell you the truth, I can’t tell ya. I’m having a hell of a time staying in the business. There’s always somebody climbing up the grease pole behind you.’”
“I thought to myself, well, he’s just kind of mentally patting me on the head. I wasn’t angry or anything, it’s just what I thought. This is great; at least I’ll have some great stories to tell my family.”
“Years later, when I really got into broadcasting, and I met some people in the business, and I had a greater variety of life experiences, I realized that he was being absolutely straight with me.”
“You are never, no matter how big you are, in the movies, in radio, in television, secure. There’s always somebody climbing up that grease pole behind you. You never have total security. From that time on, Mitchum, not just as an actor, has been one of my idols.”
In the end, he spent a year and a half in California, with nary a sniff at the silver screen; working instead at a shirt factory, department store warehouse, and meat packing plant.
“The closest I got to being in the movies, was at the Pantages Movie Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard watching Kirk Douglas up on the screen in the movie Champion.”
Leaving Hollywood, Irv was left with figuring out what to do next.
“At the point that it became obvious that the world was not waiting for a short, facially challenged kid for a starring role in an MGM musical, I had to change direction.”
A decade before the Queen City sat enraptured as he informed us of spectacular blazes, and careening cars, Irv was a furniture store salesman working odd jobs, and kept his hand in the business as a part-time vacation fill-in disc jockey.
“I was into my 20s, when I went to the School of Radio and Television Technique in New York City. I thought to myself, growing up in a middle class Jewish home, that maybe I should be doing something more practical than acting.”
Television, Take 1
The impudent child taking in this story might be asking, “Is this where Irv becomes a big TV star?”
The answer, with a grandfatherly chuckle is, no, not yet. After learning the finer points of television production, Weinstein broke into the nascent medium not as an anchorman– but as a director. That is, the man who calls the camera shots and runs a broadcast from a technical standpoint.
It was another difficult and humble beginning.
“My first TV job was in Waterloo, Iowa. I took a bus out there for the interview. I didn’t even have a job offer, and I took a bus. I sent out about 2,000 resumes, and I got 3 replies. One was at KWWL-TV in Waterloo, another was at a station in Missoula, Montana, and I don’t remember the third.”
It was an inauspicious beginning to the now-celebrated Irv Weinstein television career.
“I went out to Waterloo, and I got a job as a director. I wasn’t a very good director.”
After only 90 days of working in television, Irv was once again on the outside looking in.
“Basically, directing in television is hitting the right button and thinking very quickly,” Irv explained. “I lacked the digital facility. So, three months later, I was fired.”
There was little else to do but look for another job.
“I was married by that time, and Elaine and I took a barnstorming tour across the country, from Waterloo, Iowa, to my in-law’s home in Miami Beach. I have to say, my wife ‘the saint’ was very supportive during this difficult time. I hit every station, big market, small market, medium market, nothing.
“I have a memory of changing my pants on a road outside of St. Louis for an interview with a big station there, nothing.”
There were no television jobs to be had, but there was the comfort of home.
“We wound up in Miami Beach, and sponged off my in-laws for three months, and decided that wasn’t working. So we moved back to Rochester and sponged off my parents.”
During this rough patch, Irv Weinstein, later to be known as a peerless purveyor of staccato alliteration, tried to “go straight.”
“I had a couple of jobs. One was as a paint salesman for Sears Roebuck. After about a month, the supervisor said to me, ‘Irwin, you don’t seem to have the Sears spirit.’ I said, ’You know what, you’re absolutely right,’ and I can’t tell you how happy I was to get out of there.”
Fate almost landed Irv a life as a civil servant– until Mrs. Weinstein stepped in.
“I was offered a job as a permanent at the Post Office. I had been working there as a temporary. I came home and told Elaine, ‘Hey, I could make a hundred and a quarter a week, steady, very secure.’ She said, ‘That’s very nice, but I didn’t marry you because I wanted to be married to a Post Office worker.’”
Reinforced and re-energized in trying to make it in the world of show business, Irv went back to work, making contacts, sending out resumes, and finally landing work.
“I got a job at a UHF station, WTAP in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Elaine at this time was 7 months pregnant. It was a terrible station then, and I was again hired as a director.”
“Again, three months later, I was fired; only this time there was a complication: In the interim, Elaine had given birth to our son, Marc. I’m thinking, ‘this is awful.’ Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I’ll go back to Rochester, and my mother will have some hot soup and some comforting words.”
But once again, it was because of the love and support of Elaine Weinstein that the Irv Weinstein story continues.
She encouraged Irv to go knock on the door of a radio station and ask for a job. It was to be the easiest job he’d ever received.
“I wound up at WCEF Radio. C-E-F stood for Clarence E. Franklin, who was the station owner, general manager, sales manager, chief engineer, and he had a show on the air called the ‘Friendly Frank Show.’”
“I asked him if he had any openings, he said, ‘When can you start?’ I asked, ‘Don’t you want to audition me?’ to which he replied, ‘Nah, I know an announcer when I see one.’ So, there I was, at WCEF.”
It was there, in the mountains of West Virginia, that Irv took on what he considers the “watershed job of his career.” For $60 a week, for the first time ever, he was a newscaster, but he wasn’t yet Irv Weinstein.
Borrowing the name of his infant son Marc Robert, Irwin Weinstein became Mark Roberts on the air.
“I was about 27 years old the first time I did news. It was interesting, the station was a daytimer. I did news from 9 in the morning, for about 6 hours.”
“But then late in the afternoon, I hosted a music show called, Candlelight and Gold. Now this was a rock and roll station, but I really loved doing the news.”
After a week or so as the station’s only news anchor, he was named news director, even though, says Irv, “I was the only one doing news at the station; I was essentially director over myself.”
“I was there about a year, and continued to send out resumes, when I got a call from WBOY-TV in Clarksburg. I got the job there, and I found myself directing again. Not doing very well at it, but directing none the less.”
But Irv wasn’t going to spend too much more time as a TV director, and his family wasn’t going to spend too much more time in West Virginia.
WKBW Futursonic Radio
So it’s 1958, and Irv Weinstein is finally a newsman. But he’s not Irv Weinstein yet: On the air, he’s known as Mark Roberts. But he’s also in the coal mining country of Clarksburg, West Virginia, a situation he was looking to change.
“I got a call from a good friend of mine, a deejay, Russ Syracuse. Well, Russ ‘The Moose’ Syracuse had gotten a job at KB Radio. He told me there was an opening in the newsroom. I told him I didn’t have much experience, but he told me to send in a tape.”
“The Program Director, Dick Lawrence, got my tape, we exchanged a few calls, and I was very anxious to get out of West Virginia. There was no way we were going to raise our son in the Mountain State, and Buffalo was an ideal market, close to family in Rochester.”
Thus began Irv’s news career in Buffalo. But once again, it almost didn’t happen.
As Irv told Sandy Beach on Majic 102 in 1988, “I drove into the parking lot of KB Radio in a beat up DeSoto. Dick Lawrence called me in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and he told me I got the job.”
“So we loaded up the DeSoto, all of our furniture, Elaine and Marc (their son), and we drove up to Buffalo. We get to Buffalo, and I pull into the parking lot, go in and tell the receptionist that I’m here to see Mr. Lawrence. She says, ‘well, Mr. Lawrence is no longer with us.’
It was another of those moments you just can’t make up.
“My whole life began to pass in front of my eyes. Elaine is out in the parking lot with our infant son, all of our possessions are in the car, and I’m thinking to myself I’m out of a job. I quit this great job, making $75 a week in Clarksburg, and here I am; out of a job, again.”
“I seriously may have been hyperventilating when Clint Churchill, Junior, the son of the owner, walked out into the hall, wanting to know ‘what’s happening here.’ I explained the situation, and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got a job.’”
“Whew, I thought, catching my breath. ‘Can you do the next newscast?,’ he asked. ‘Certainly,’ I said, though maybe I wasn’t quite so certain. I was wearing jeans, I really wasn’t prepared.”
“But 10, 15 minutes later, I did the next newscast, and the rest of the newscasts; apparently someone had just left. At that time, KB Radio had newscasters and news writers, people who wrote the newscasts. That day, the person who was writing the casts was Art Wander. That’s enough to make a guy nervous right there, the Tiny Tot of the Kilowatt.”
“He wrote one of these wild stories about an accident, where the victim was killed. He wrote that she was whiplashed to death. Well, at that point, I didn’t even know my name. Whiplashed to death?!? Well, I read it, what was I going to do? I didn’t even have a chance to pre-read the copy.”
“So I get off the air, and Churchill called me into his office. He said to me, ‘I heard your newscast.’ He said it was ok. He said, ‘This is a top 40 station, and you sound too much like Walter Cronkite.‘ I’m thinking, ‘and that’s a bad thing?’”
“My whole terrible broadcast career passed before my eyes, but luckily it worked out.”
That early boss may have tossed the name Walter Cronkite his way, but it was another famous radio host who made an impression on Irv.
“In terms of style, I was sometimes asked who my idol was in radio, and that was an easy one: Paul Harvey. 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. It might be hard to believe for those who don’t remember, but in the early rock ’n’ roll days of KB Radio and Pulsebeat News, the pace and the shocking pointed style of news writing and delivery made Irv’s later Eyewitness News persona seem comatose.
It took some time to develop that sound, though. Irv readily admits, when he first arrived at KB, he sounded different. “My style was upbeat, but not the on-air style that I developed; which was basically, a Top 40 news guy; fast paced.”
It was in its fetal stage, but it was early development of the personality Buffalo would come to cherish over the next 50 years. It was also at KB Radio that Irwin first unwrapped a sleeker sounding version of his first name, and became forever more 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 co-mingling 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.
“My theatre background had a lot to do with it. I understood what they wanted. They wanted the listeners to barely discern the difference between Russ The Moose Syracuse and Irv Weinstein in terms of basic sound; the pace. And that was fine with me.”
News was still serious; different from the disc jockeys. But the KB newsmen, and Irv in particular, would leave that line blurred.
“Russ Syracuse would try to break me up during the news; he’d walk by the studio window doing an imitation of a fish. I must have had a death wish, because we had a cough switch, but I never hit it; I’d just laugh on the air. We used to get requests at the station, people wondering when I was going to laugh.”
Were it just his delivery, reading scripts written for him by Art Wander and others, Irv would still be remembered today. But it’s that unparalleled ability to turn a phrase while churning out news copy that was to become synonymous with Irv Weinstein over the next four decades of informing Buffalo.
“Again, I discerned what they wanted; and I gave them that, plus. I’ve often been quoted with lines like ‘Pistol packing punks pounded a Polish plumber into the pavement.’ I never, ever said anything like that. Close, but that phrase, ‘pistol packing punks….’ We did some outrageous things on radio.”
“I think the news was an integral part of KB Radio’s enormous success. There were a lot of rock stations around, but I think what really defines a station, what gives it some personality, some credibility, is the news. People hear the news, they trust the newscaster. KB knocked off WBEN Radio, and it took a while, with people like Clint Buehlman so entrenched, but we knocked off the other stations.“
KB was ‘number one’ across the board, one of the most successful radio stations in the country. Without question; Syracuse, Dan Neaverth, Tom Shannon, Joey Reynolds, Stan Roberts, and all the KB disc jockeys are due much of the credit for that success.
But it would be shortsighted to not also heap credit on Irv, Henry Brach, Jim Fagan, John Zach and all of the Pulsebeat Newsmen who gave the gravitas needed to bump off some long established Buffalo legends like Buehlman and newscaster Jack Ogilvie at WBEN among numerous others.
Remember, at this point, Irv Weinstein was a radio newsman. He could go shopping at the A&P or grab a coffee at a Deco lunch counter without fans mobbing him. His voice was familiar; his face, not so much.
Early on, after having listened to Irv and his big voice, people were surprised whenever he made public appearances. People heard that booming authoritative voice come through the radio; meeting the diminutive Irv in person didn’t always quite seem analogous.
“A Rabbi sent me a note after meeting me for the first time,” Irv recalls. “He wrote, ‘You know, you’re a very talented young man, because after listening to you for so many years, I’ve always pictured you as a tall, blonde Gentile.’ I wrote him back a similarly funny note.”
Soon, all of Buffalo would know exactly what Irv looked like.
Part of the experience of going to a Bisons game at North AmeriCare Park in the late 1990s was the 7th inning stretch presentation of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part 2), where it was understood instead of yelling “Hey!” for the refrain, the ballpark yelled “Irv!” in unison, as a pixilated image of Buffalo’s favorite newsman flashed on the scoreboard. It was all part of one of the last great promotional campaigns for Irv and Eyewitness News.
From a 1977 Eyewitness News Promo
Irv: Do you have this in blue?
Salesman 1: FanTAStic!
Salesman 2: Its…. its….
Salesman 1: Right! Would you mind repeating that again?
Irv: Do you have this in blue?
Salesman 2: No one’s ever said it like that before!
Salesmen: (singing)…. And that’s why we say…
Irv Weinstein, you’re really a pro…You got all the news, that we want to know… You tell it like it is, and never throw us a curve, Nobody says it Like Irv…. Eyewitness News!
Chapter 7: Beyond the News
It’s tough to imagine Buffalo of the 70s, 80s, and 90s without Irv Weinstein, just like it’s tough to imagine Irv without Rick and Tom.
When Irv and his young family arrived in Buffalo in that old DeSoto back in 1958, he couldn’t have known that 3 decades later he’d be a part of the fabric of the community.
“From the standpoint of where I was, Buffalo was the glowing city on the hill, a real toddlin’ town. Things were really happening in Buffalo.”
As a young man growing up in Rochester, Irv had some experience with Buffalo, enjoying the city’s shows and restaurants. But after spending some time working in Buffalo, he found the area’s greatest asset was something no economic downturn or political misman-agement could scuttle: The spirit of the people.
“One of the things that makes the Buffalo market a delight to work in, is that your audience is really tuned into what you’re saying, or what you’re showing. Because the city is buried under snow, or at the very least, extreme cold, for about 9 months of the year, they’re not going outside to play tennis, or jog down the street. They’re listening to radio. They’re watching television.”
“The day after a story ran, I’d have people say back to me, word for word, what was on the air the night before. So I knew that they were with us.”
Though it’s an overused expression, Irv, Rick, and Tom, over the decades they came into our homes, really did become like family.
“When I talk to people,” says Irv, “when I receive correspondence from people, they talk about that they had dinner with me, every night; that I was a friend, and I’m glad.”
“I think that is the highest compliment someone in broadcasting can ever get,” says Irv, “that your audience thought that you were a part of the family. “
It’s a feeling that continues for each Irv, Rick, and Tom to this day.
“When I come back to Western New York after over a decade of retirement,” says Irv, ”one of the things I love is that it’s a great ego booster. I walk into a grocery store or a restaurant, and it’s like I never left. ‘Hey Irv, how ya doin?’ Some people think I never left. Some people tell me they watch me all the time, and I haven’t been on in a decade.”
It’s something these working men had to come to grips with, a little bit anyway. Right after his retirement, Rick was having dinner at a diner in Amherst, and really didn’t know how to take it when a waiter became almost inconsolable, gushing about the effect that he, Rick, had had on this waiter’s life.
“It was hard for me to deal with; I had to ask him to stop. I was just a guy on TV. I had no idea that people would have these kinds of feelings about us,” says Rick.
“That’s when Irv and I started to talk about this kind of stuff, and try to understand this kind of thing. We think about that now, after the fact. I think it’s one of the reasons we were so successful, because we didn’t think about it then. It’s who we are. It always has been. We’re just who we are.”
But unlike some Hollywood types or big name athletes, Irv would be disappointed if he knew you thought about saying ‘hi’ but didn’t.
“I thrived on that, communicating with people,” says Tom. “Looking back, I think about how lucky I was. Not just to do it all for a while, but to do it for close to 40 years; very, very fortunate.
“I’ve never shunned that part of the business, people saying hi, or wanting to chat. I knew it was going to part of the business, and I had to be gracious to these people, because that’s what mattered: the people who were watching. If you weren’t nice to them, then you aren’t doing your whole job,” says Tom, who loved meeting people at the Erie County Fair so much that they named the park from which he broadcast there “Tom Jolls Park.”
Still to this day, Commander Tom loves when someone says hi or offers a kind word.
“It never fails to amaze me, and I always try to say to them, thank you for remembering. It’s just so ingrained in people that they didn’t forget. And that’s just so nice.”
It gets a little complicated for the Commander occasionally.
“The funny thing for me is, nowadays, you never know if someone is going to remember you or not. Some people don’t always say something right at the beginning. I went through a big project with a salesman a few weeks ago, I asked a lot of questions, and he was very helpful. Just before we parted and signed the deal, he made some off the cuff comment like, ‘So how does it feel not to have to stand outside anymore?'”
“I wasn’t sure that he had any inkling. After 10 years, a lot didn’t watch, and a lot of people don’t remember. People remembering makes it all worthwhile.”
Irv says, “People ask, doesn’t it bother you when people come up to you in a restaurant, or in line somewhere, and I say, ‘Bother me?!? I love it!’ Yes, the ratings are nice, but when people want to come over and talk to you, and feel that they can, it makes you feel like you must be doing something right. The satisfaction of having done a pretty good job; you can’t buy that.”
Part of the satisfaction for Irv was that it was such a varied group of people who would come up to him over the years.
“I knew that Buffalo was and is a very ethnic conscious community. Just look at the festivals and parades. Irish, Polish, Italian, Greek, and on and on. Generally, the people in those ethnic-type communities enjoy an individual who does something out of the box. And in a town where ethnicity is important, with a name like Irv Weinstein, I’m immediately identified as an ethnic person. And not necessarily Jewish, either. I was sort of like the universal guy, a universal anchor, everybody’s anchor. Both from a philosophical stand point and a factual stand point.”
And that was true; the numbers bore out, for not just the blue collar guys down at the plant.
“The Eyewitness News audience was everybody. People would say to me, ‘Yeah, Irv, you’re alright, you have the guys at Bethlehem Steel,’ but that’s bull. Lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists.”
People from all walks of life couldn’t get enough of Irv, Rick, and Tom.
“You talk about ratings, and at one point, we had higher ratings than the other two stations combined. That’s phenomenal.”
And again, that is not something that is lost on Irv.
“In the days before the remote control, people actually had to get up out of their chairs to change the station, and fine tune it, move the hanger on top of the set to get better reception. So viewers really had to want to see you at a specific time to get up and change the channel.”
“It wasn’t, ‘Boy, look at us, guys…’ We never felt like stars,” says Rick. “We never realized until after we left, after the fact, the impact we were making in our community.”
And it wasn’t just Buffalo. An entire generation of Torontonians made their assumptions about Buffalo, Western New York, and even the United States as a whole based on Eyewitness News.
WIVB-TV reporter Rich Newberg discussed it with Irv during an interview.
“People sometimes equate Buffalo with Irv Weinstein,” admitted Newberg who spent some time in direct competition with Irv when he anchored Channel 4’s 6 o’clock newscasts.
“People in Toronto would sometime mock the newscasts, and the city,” Newberg continued, ”wondering if there was a Western New York town left that hadn’t burned, or if there was a person walking around who hadn’t been shot at least once…”
Irv responded with a laugh, “I would tell these Torontonians, and I have, don’t be so snotty! It was just a roll of the dice that Buffalo had such a high number of wood frame constructions. Toronto had a huge fire years ago (The Great Toronto Fire of 1904) which burned much of the city’s downtown. Buffalo actually sent fire fighting apparatus to help put out the blaze. To their credit, in Toronto, after that fire, an ordinance was passed limiting the amount of wood allowed in new structures in the city.”
But it’s not all acrimony from Canada. Just as the stars of local Toronto and Hamilton televisions had and have a cult following in Western New York; Irv, too, is well loved on both sides of the border. Irv remembers a Toronto radio promotion ran on the basis of his popularity here and there.
“CHUM Radio ran a promotion in 1988, at a time when the US Presidential election and the Canadian Parliamentary election coincided. They decided to run a contest and run me for either President of the United States or Prime Minister of Canada. It was a lot of fun, spending a day on the media circuit in Toronto.”
Irv fully admits that Toronto wasn’t the only outside market that came calling for his services when Eyewitness News was one of the most highly rated newscasts in the country.
“Over the years, I had some opportunities to leave for a lot more money. I learned something from my experiences in Waterloo, Iowa; and Parkersburg, West Virginia, and also the brief times I worked in Portland, Oregon and San Diego. What you learn is, when you have a good professional situation, that leaves you fulfilled and satisfied professionally, you can’t buy that.”
“There were anchor people making more money than me in the Buffalo market, even though I was number one in the ratings. Did it bother me? Yeah, but not enough to really make any difference.”
It was a wonderful professional situation. But it was also that Buffalo provided a great place to raise a family. What was it like to call Irv Weinstein ‘dad?’
Irv talked about his family, and his family about him, in an early 1980’s broadcast of PM Magazine, at the time hosted in Buffalo by Debbie Stamp.
“If you compare me with Robert Young from Father Knows Best , I probably don’t do too well,” Irv said, “because early on in my career, when the children were small, I did not have a great deal of time to spend with them. And to be perfectly honest, on my days off, I wasn’t the kind of dad who went out in the street and played ball. I have guilt feelings about the time I didn’t spend with the children when they were small, and when I was trying to make it in this business.”
As Debbie Stamp put it, “The Weinsteins lived not in a mansion, but in a typical house, in a typical neighborhood in Kenmore.” Irv really is the typical guy we’d expect him to be watching him on television.
“I think my wife and I have an unusually good relationship. She has a very even disposition, as opposed to myself. I tend to be a little more volatile. Not as volatile as I used to be.”
“She thinks I’m the funniest guy in the world. I broke her up from the moment we met, she just laughs and laughs, and when you’re laughing, it’s difficult to become angry.”
“He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s fun to live with,” said Mrs. Weinstein of her husband. “I know his image is very often very businesslike and dignified, and he is that too, but, I was originally attracted to his sense of humor.”
The time since Irv, Rick and Tom sat together in our living rooms every night can now be measured in decades.
Rick Azar was the first to leave in 1989, making 25 years the mark to beat as the longest running anchor team in history. He’d been at Channel 7 since that first broadcast, 31 years before. Tom Jolls was the last to leave, a few months after Irv did in 1999.
On New Year’s Eve 1998, Irv Weinstein ended his 34 year run at the helm of Eyewitness News with a heartfelt final sign off:
Finally… Yes, finally. Is there anyone in the western world who doesn’t know that I’m retiring? Well apparently, there is. This e-mail arrived on our station manager’s computer a couple of days ago. It reads, quote, ‘I noticed on the TV tonight, on your channel logo saying Remembering Irv. I went to your internet page and there is no mention of your passing. Can you send me information on this?’ End quote.
Well, sir, if you’re watching, you’ll notice that I appear to be alive, in a manner of speaking, anyway. Things have been a bit hectic, recently.
Now then, for the rest of you, I’d like to answer some questions that I’ve been getting since I announced that I’m retiring. Am I planning to move? No. Am I going to write a book? No. What am I going to do with myself? Well, I’m going to kick off my shoes and goof off. Read books, go to the movies weekday afternoons, watch lots of television news, spend lots of quality time with our children and grandchildren, and drive my wife crazy. The usual stuff.
Seriously though, friends, even though I’ll no longer have a day job, I suspect that I’ll pop up from time to time on television and radio, and I plan to continue to take an active role in the life of our community.
Now, it’s time to thank some of the people without whom I would not have had the broadcast career that I had.
At the top of the list are my wife and children. Their unwavering love, support, encouragement, and honest criticism have always been there during the good times, and the not so good times.
And a big thank you to a couple of TV station managers, who hired me at the dawn of my career. If it wasn’t for them, I might now be directing a cooking show in Waterloo, Iowa, or live wresting in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
I’m grateful to all the Buffalo and Canadian newspaper columnists, and radio and TV personalities, who, in the last few weeks, have showered me with the kind of accolades normally reserved for people who break sports records or walk on the moon.
None of the last four decades would have happened for me without the owners, managers, and staff at WKBW Radio and Television, who were, and are, the best in the business.
But you, you the viewers were the key element whatever success I’ve achieved. We connected, on and off the air, you and me. I can never thank you enough. You made all of my dreams come true. May all of yours come true as well. Good night.
I once asked Irv about his legacy.
“You don’t think about everything you do, every single day. It’s a compilation of weeks, and months, and years of work that you hope has had some impact on people. And when it appears that it does, and that it has, it’s a very rewarding thing.”
“I was the original Irv Weinstein, that’s all I was really. Each person represents a particular talent, a particular ability. The impact I had in the market, may have set a fairly high watermark in the marketplace.
“For that, I am very grateful.”
Tom’s final words on the weather outside: “May all your days be salubrious.” A wonderful thought and one he meant from the bottom of his heart.
In many respects, it was a unique relationship Irv, Rick, and Tom shared, one not too different from brotherhood. One that continues to this day.
“We now keep in contact constantly over e-mail,” says Tom. “We were all together last summer, at Chef’s. It was the first time were together, all of us, in 14 years. We’ve seen each other separately of course, 14 years since we’d all been together. It was great, and it was like we’d never been apart. It was the same relationship there, and it will never go away.”
“We laugh, we cry. I can still make him cry at the drop of a hat,” Rick says of Irv. “Like a bag of mush. He comes on like this tough news guy, but he’s a mush. We’re in touch every day.”
Irv, Rick, and Tom. They really love each other. And we love them.
BUFFALO, NY – When Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, and Tom Jolls teamed up in 1965, it’s probably fair to say that more people would have been watching Channel 4’s test pattern than the news on Channel 7. But by the time Rick Azar retired in 1989, the three had not only become the longest running anchor team in history, but also gained an iconic status unparalleled for any other triumvirate in television news history.
For me personally, Irv, Rick, and Tom have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My dad and I watched the news together every day. My mom tells anyone who’ll listen that “IRV TINE-TINE” was among my first words, and I would run around the house singing my own version of the Eyewitness News Theme (ba-ba-BA, BA-BA, Badabadaba, ba-ba-ba-BA-BA, BADABADABA!).
Commander Tom and his pals Davey and Goliath kept me quiet and entertained, and left me having a great desire to have a red jacket with yellow epaulets. And then there was the time my Grandmother nearly passed out when we all met Rick Azar AND Mike Randall at the Broadway Market one Easter… “He’s so handsome, He’s so handsome,” Grandma repeated over and over.
Eyewitness News Audio
Some of the people, places, and stories of Channel 7 through the years…
BUFFALO, NY –There’s a lot going on in the 12 minute video I posted on YouTube today.
Oddly, iconic WKBW-TV news anchor Irv Weinstein was featured on the premiere of PM Magazine on WIVB-TV in 1979. Hosted by Debbie Stamp and Don Moffit, the show featured an in depth interview with Weinstein and his family, including son Marc Weinstein of Amoeba Records fame, with the rest of his “progressive rock group.”
Also featured are promos for Skybird 4, WIVB’s news helicopter, and a spectacularly ’70s promo for News 4 anchor John Beard, now with cross-town rival WGRZ-TV. How ‘70s is it? Suffice it to say, a fetching young woman mentions how much she likes John’s mustache.
At the end of the tape, another Buffalo pop culture treat– Glendora– known in here as a 1970s late-nite TV salesperson, but known around the country for her community access TV show “A Chat with Glendora” and activism in many arenas.
The stop and go of the tape capture two extra images as well—Danny Neaverth for Bells, and a Van Miller still. Arguably Buffalo’s three greatest radio and TV personalities all in one 1979 tape.
It’s classic Buffalo TV at its finest!
This tape was from Irv’s private collection. I dubbed it for him with a number of other tapes—including video from his wedding—about 15 years ago when I was working at the Empire Sports Network.
Still images from this video
Predating YouTube, I first posted a tiny, very low resolution version of this video on staffannouncer.com in 2006.
Irv Weinstein is remembered as one of — if not the — greatest personalities in the history of Buffalo television. But even as he sat on the set of Eyewitness News reading Buffalo the news for 34 years, his greater love may have been acting. Many times through the years, Irv took the time between the 6 and 11 to take to the stage.
Buffalo News archives
In this photo, Irv, along with Channel 2 weatherman and news director Stewart Dan and Channel 4 weather reporter Suzi Makai, prepare to open “Fiorello” at the Jewish Center on Delaware Avenue.
Dan played the lead role in the play; Makai was the director.