By Steve Cichon
Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting
“Buffalo’s newest radio voice spoke in its debut with a sound of moderation and sincerity, and promised an ambitious public service program,” reported Jack Allen in the Courier-Express as WUFO signed on at 1080am.
WUFO’s original on-air staff, 1961, including Eddie O’Jay, Jimmy Lyons, The Hound– George Lorenz, and Joe Rico.
Since 1961, WUFO’s programming has remained 100% dedicated to Buffalo’s Black community, which had grown 143% from 1950-1960.
“The only Black-owned and operated radio station in Buffalo and the only source of music and information reflective of the black experience,” said a 1981 station promotional piece.
Jimmy Lyons with Sammy Davis Jr.
In signing on, WUFO brought to the airwaves Buffalo’s first two full-time African-American disc jockeys.
The Courier-Express called Jimmy Lyons “the Jackie Robinson of Buffalo Broadcasting.”
When this photo of Jimmy Lyons was taken in the WXRA studios on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, he was Buffalo’s first (and only) black disc jockey.
By the time WUFO signed on, Lyons was a Buffalo radio and entertainment veteran who was first heard on local radio in 1937, when he won the Shea’s Buffalo Amateur show on WBEN in 1937 at the age of 17.
Through the ’40s, Lyons was a singer and dancer at nightclubs in Buffalo and across the northeast with a stint as an Army lieutenant in between, serving in Italy and Germany during World War II.
After settling back in Buffalo, Lyons became a draftsman for Bell Aircraft, while also entertaining in nightclubs and picking up weekend radio work at small stations around Buffalo like WWOL, WXRA and WINE where he was a pioneer in playing a mix of rhythm and blues and gospel music.
On WUFO, he hosted “The Upper Room” with gospel music twice a day and “The Lyons Den,” with R&B music middays.
Bob Wells wasn’t the only deejay to host dances at the Dellwood Ballroom. Jimmy Lyons with Sam Cooke and fans at the Dellwood, Main at Utica.
Ellicott District Councilman King W. Peterson, WXRA owner Ted Podbielniak, Jimmy Lyons, and attorney (and future councilman and judge) Wilbur Trammell celebrate Lyons’ work in the African-American community.
Eddie O’Jay came to Buffalo from Cleveland as WUFO’s program director and daily “Blues for Breakfast” host.
Eddie O’Jay (left).
He would later hold the same on-air job at New York City stations WWRL and WLIB. His fast-paced pioneering style in Buffalo and then New York inspired many aspiring young African-Americans, including Frankie Crocker and Imhotep Gary Byrd.
Both Crocker and Byrd were Buffalo natives who listened to O’Jay on WUFO, got disc jockey jobs at WUFO themselves, and then followed O’Jay to fame at WLIB in New York City.
When O’Jay died in 1998, both Crocker and Byrd attended his funeral and spoke to the New York Daily News.
“When I was growing up in Buffalo,” said Byrd, “there were no black radio stations and no black jocks. Eddie O’Jay was the first black voice I heard on the radio. He hit that town like a tornado.”
Crocker said of his mentor, “The deejay was the show. You never looked at the clock. When the record ended, you talked, and Eddie was a master. He’s the reason I went into radio.”
The most widely remembered claim to fame for O’Jay, whose real name was Edward O. Jackson, was the soul group the O’Jays.
The group that scored several hits in the ’70s including “Love Train” was formed in the ’50s as the Mascots. They renamed themselves the O’Jays in honor of the disc jockey after he began to heavily promote their music on the radio in the early 1960s.
O’Jay and Lyons starred in a series of radio commercials for Simon Pure Beer, where Lyons was aboard a spaceship called the “East Aurora,” which was fueled by Simon Pure Beer.
When WUFO first signed on, Courier-Express critic Jack Allen wrote, “O’Jay has arranged, along with Lyons, a schedule of daily broadcasts which at first listening seem conservative and in excellent taste, and which should gain wide appeal with its constructive service contributions to the community.”
Luckily for the nearly six decades of great radio it inspired, WUFO from its very earliest days has remained excellent in taste, but has veered from the conservative to the innovative more often than not.
WUFO newsman Malcom Erni
O’Jay spent about a year at WUFO and was replaced by Sunny Jim Kelsey. Soon after, Frank Crocker became a regular in WUFO’s lineup.
Sunny Jim Kelsey, WUFO
Frankie Crocker… Chief Rocker… The Eighth Wonder of the World!!! Revered as the man who changed the rules for African-Americans as both disc jockeys and musicians, Frankie Crocker started down the road to national fame via New York City and nationwide reverence from his native Buffalo.
A graduate of Buffalo’s East High School, Crocker was studying pre-law at UB when he was bitten by the radio bug, joining WUFO as News Director in 1964. There, he tasted early success spinning urban wax and never turned back.
Francis Crocker, East High Class of 1958
As a deejay at New York City stations WWRL, WMCA and WBLS, Crocker began playing album cuts and extended mixes from Urban artists, bringing a more diverse sound to the airwaves and opening the door for more creativity and wider audiences for artists of color. Adding to his cache, was the time he entered New York’s famous Studio 54 on white stallion.
Starting with his time in his native Buffalo at WUFO, Crocker helped to bust stereotypes and bring the music of an entire race from the remote corners of the music world to the popular choice of hip New Yorkers.
Frankie Crocker, at New York’s WWRL Radio shortly after leaving WUFO Radio in the mid-60s.
After Gordon McLendon bought WBNY 1400am and moved his WYSL call letters over to the station in 1961, WUFO Radio took over WYSL’s old spot at 1080am. The call letters at that frequency changed from WXRA to WINE to WYSL to WUFO in a matter of four years, but have remained WUFO for six decades.
WINE’s format was Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll, but WYSL was “beautiful music” when the station first signed on. By the end of the 1960s, WYSL was WKBW’s primary Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll competitor.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
The full text of the book is now online.
The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York.
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