Early 50s Radio in Buffalo

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


As Clint Buehlman celebrated 20 years as Buffalo’s top morning man in 1952, the team that would be a part of his show for the next 25 years was in place.

Clint Buehlman, early 1950s.

Western New Yorkers began waking up to the news of Jack Ogilvie in 1952. He’d been WBEN’s evening newscaster and a jack-of-all-trades at WJTN in Jamestown.

Jack Ogilvie in WBEN’s Statler Hotel Studios, late 1940s.

Buehly’s “Mr. Operator,” Tom Whalen (below) started on the early shift working the Buehlman show in 1948, arriving each day by 4:30 to make sure the studio was ready for Buffalo’s AM-MC when his show began at 6am.

Tom Whalen

Through most of the 1950s, Buehlman’s show was Buffalo’s most listened to radio program, surpassing even nighttime family shows like Jack Benny, Lux Radio Theater, Fibber McGee & Molly and Dragnet.

During the afternoon hours, WEBR’s Bob Wells was most popular, but his ratings didn’t even approach Buehlman’s. 

1953 ad.

That didn’t stop WEBR’s owner, The Buffalo Courier-Express, to run stories with headlines like one on 1952 exclaiming “Bob Wells’ WEBR Program Rated City’s Most Popular,” before explaining in the story that the show was “the most popular weekday radio show in Buffalo during the greater part of the afternoon.”

It’s bizarre because it was unnecessary. Even in the moment, Wells was one of the most beloved personalities in the history of Buffalo media as the host of the extraordinarily popular and generation-defining “Hi-Teen” program on WEBR. 

Dancers pack the Dellwood Ballroom dance floor for a mid-50’s Hi-Teen broadcast.

Sammy Davis, Jr. signs autographs while Bob Wells looks on smiling after a performance on the Hi-Teen Show. The program was a known stop for many of the country’s top performing artists, who’d gladly give the kids a thrill on a Saturday afternoon before heading to a gig.

Hi-Teen one of Buffalo’s most popular radio shows of the era nestled between the end of World War II and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I was probably the last disc jockey in America to play an Elvis Presley record,” Wells told Ch.2’s Rich Kellman during a late 1970s interview.

Toronto’s Bluebops on the Hi-Teen stage.

Hi-Teen ran on WEBR for 17 years, hosting as many of 2000 kids in the Dellwood Ballroom at Main and Utica every Saturday.

Wells had been the Assistant Director of Music for Batavia Schools when WEBR General Manager Cy King asked him to produce a live show to help combat juvenile delinquency.

That was January, 1946— and America’s record hop was born with the first edition of Wells’ show. With the help of the Harold Austin Orchestra keeping the beat, Hi-Teen went on to serve as an inspiration for shows like American Bandstand. The tenth anniversary show, live from The Aud in 1956 attracted 10,000 teens to Memorial Auditorium.

Bob Wells, WEBR

After WEBR, Wells landed at WGR Radio and TV, hosting shows on Ch.2 like Pick-A-Polka, The Yankee Doodle Room (live from AM&A’s), and the Money Movie. Even after he was no longer a full-time on-air personality, he could still be seen doing weather on Ch.7’s weekend newscasts. He also spent more than 20 years as the radio and television voice of Your Host restaurants.

The stars that Wells missed during the day often wound up on Ed Little’s nighttime show on WEBR.

From boy actor to announcer to disc jockey to newsman, Ed Little’s 62-year radio career didn’t leave much undone.

Discovered by WEBR’s Al Zink as an actor in 1938 as a kid actor with a grown-up voice, Ed moved to announcing at WHLD and then WGR in 1942, eventually putting those skills to use for the US Army during World War II.

He’d fly along on bombing missions in the Pacific, recording live descriptions of what he was seeing to be played back over NBC on radios across America.

When he returned home from war, he joined the staff at WBEN, before moving over to WEBR in 1949.

Among other duties there, Ed was the host of a show that broadcast live from the Town Casino, with interviews and interactions with many of the day’s biggest stars, who’d stop by the booth to say hello.

In the 60s, he was the newsman on Joey Reynolds’ KB Radio show. In the 80s and 90s, his was one of the voices that distinguished WBEN as Buffalo’s home for radio news.

Ed’s was the last live voice broadcast from the Elmwood Avenue WBEN studios that were the station’s home from 1960-2000.

Buffalo lounge piano legend Jackie Jocko appeared regularly on WEBR in the early 1950s along with his partner drummer Joe Peters.

WEBR’s “Amanda” interviews an AM&A’s buyer on her midday shopping and fashion tips show at the WEBR-970 studios, 23 North Street, in 1951.

“Amanda” was actually Dorothy Shank, president of the local chapter of American Women in Radio & Television. She later worked in marketing for AM&A’s, had a show on Ch.4, and was a host on WJJL in Niagara Falls through the 1980s. She was 81 when she died in 1989.

Another piece of Western New York history in the photo: in the middle, between the microphone and the telephone, the 1950’s equivalent of a Tim Horton’s cup– a glass “to go” coffee cup/milk bottle from Buffalo’s ubiquitous Deco Restaurants (there were more than 50 Deco locations around WNY when they were most popular.)

Amanda with Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson.

Warren Michael Kelly, occasionally known as Warren Mike or Warren Kelly, was one of WGR’s top on-air talents during his two separate stints there in the 50s.

The Bennett High grad was a newsman at WBNY before serving in the Army during World War II.

After the war, he was Clint Buehlman’s newsman at WBEN and spent time in Detroit before coming back to Buffalo to host mornings on WGR. Later, he’d also be seen anchoring newscasts on Ch.2.

He moved on to management and sales, and was General Manager of WYSL and WPHD-FM.

Through the late 40s and early 50s, John Lascalles was WGR’s “Man About Midnight.” Nicknamed “Ol’Bones,” Lascalles would eventually move to mornings on WGR. He was also a familiar face in the early days of Ch.2, as one of the many “Atlantic Weathermen.” With the gas station as a sponsor, the man announcing the weather would wear the snappy uniform of an Atlantic gas station attendant while delivering the forecast.

Frank Dill spent a decade at WGR and Ch.2, from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. He was born in Williamsville, but grew up as a sports fanatic near Washington, DC. Like most of his WGR co-workers, Dill was seen and heard in a wide-ranging number of on-air jobs.

On the radio, he was a disc jockey and one of the play-by-play voices of the baseball Bisons. When Ch.2 first signed on, he was a part of the station’s original announcing staff as the host of “Sports Corner,” the game show “Tune-O,” and co-host of “Yankee Doodle” with Bob Wells.

Dill left Buffalo for San Francisco in 1963. When he retired after 34 years there, the paper called him “nice guy Frank Dill — an oasis of easygoing banter and chuckling good humor.”

WGR’s news men of the 1950s were widely talented beyond news.

Jack Mahl was born in Tonawanda and served in the Army during World War II. He came home to work at WKBW and WGR Radio, eventually spending time at Ch.2 as another of the The Atlantic Weathermen. Through the 70s and 80s, he could be heard up and down Buffalo’s radio dial reading news, most notably on WEBR.

David Getman spent a decade as a newsman and Special Events Director for WGR before moving on to public relations roles with the March of Dimes and Buffalo Mayor Chester Kowal.

Phil Soisson came to WGR from WBEN in 1952, and remained a steady news and sports voice on WGR through the 50s and 60s. He was the radio voice of the baseball and hockey Bisons, and anchored news and sports on Ch.2. He was also part of the original Sabres play-by-play team with Ted Darling in 1970.

John Gill started working in radio as an actor in dramas in 1937, and was on the news desk at WGR Radio and then WGR-TV through the 40s, 50s and 60s. He moved to WEBR, where he was one of the main voices of the news-centric 970 format of the late 70s.

Gill was a newsman’s newsman. “In 20 years of news reporting for WGR,” he said in 1958, “you learn that an analysis of news is vitally important. To paraphrase, every fire isn’t a conflagration, nor is every storm a holocaust. It’s the highly experienced men on our news staff that accurately describe the news when and as it actually happens.”

John Otto would join WGR’s news team in the mid ‘50s, after starting as a newsman and disc jockey at WBNY in 1951. He, by the way, was another Atlantic Weatherman.  

Otto stands for a promo shoot on the roof of the Lafayette Hotel.

“Helen Neville possesses one of those rare personalities that sparkles with friendliness and enthusiasm. She has friends and devotees from practically every walk of life.”

Neville’s broadcasting career began at WGR & WKBW in 1943, and was heard through the 1940s on WKBW’s “Modern Kitchen.”

Through the 50s, she regularly broadcast on WGR from her home at 1119 Delaware Avenue, interviewing people about the civic and social happenings around Buffalo.

On Ch.2, she hosted “Two For Lunch” (which later became “Two For Breakfast” when the time slot changed) for the first six years the station was on the air, 1954-1960.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

Bennett High’s future star power, 1946 & around the radio dial

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Bennett High School’s class officers in 1946 included John Otto (front row, leopard tie) and Sorrell Booke (standing, far right).

Buffalo Broadcasting legend John Otto was the 1946 Bennett High School Class President, but he was not the radio star of the class.

While he did appear on WGR as a ten-year-old accordion player on Major Bowes’ Amateur Hour in 1941, Otto didn’t become a familiar voice in the night (on the radio, on the telephone) until after serving in the Navy following graduation.

The class valedictorian Sorrell Booke had already been appearing in locally produced radio dramas for more than a decade, won a contest on WGR with his impersonation of Hitler, and was considered a regular actor on WEBR by the time he was a sophomore at Bennett.

Booke– the man who would ultimately be best known for playing Boss Hogg on TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard– was a classically trained actor who attended Yale by way of Bennett High School.

When Sorrell was 10, he began his radio career by hopping on a street car, heading downtown to the Rand Building and asking for an audition on WGR. He wound up with steady work as an actor in radio dramas through high school.

For most of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Booke saw steady work as a character actor playing roles on more than 200 TV shows before landing the starring role on The Dukes, which he called “gravy after a long career.”

John Otto’s broadcasting career began as a disc jockey and newsman on WBNY Radio, before moving to WGR, where he spent most of the 1960s as a “jack-of-all-trades” on both WGR Radio and WGR-TV Ch.2.

Otto hosted children’s shows, was a TV weatherman, and hosted a local TV talk show, as well as the radio work that he’d be best known for, starting with a program called Extension 55 on WGR.

Bennett High grad Sorrell Booke as “Boss Hogg.”

Remembered for his brilliance, class, and unparalleled ability to put the English language to its best possible use on live radio, Otto died in 1999, still hosting his “nighttime conference call of all interested parties” as many as six nights a week.

After “The Dukes of Hazzard” ended its seven-year run in 1985, Booke continued to act in guest starring roles on shows like “Newhart” and “Full House,” while also becoming quite prolific as a voice actor on animated children’s shows.

For his part, he never let the fame get to his head. After seven years of playing Boss Hogg on TV, Booke once told a reporter, “I’m not a jet-set type. I’m just an ordinary guy from Buffalo.”

Bob Hope in Delaware Park

More than 175,000 people packed into the Delaware Park Meadow for a 1948 WBEN/Buffalo Evening News July 4th Celebration featuring Bob Hope, who presented a $6000 check to Moir Tanner of the Children’s Hospital Endowment fund from the News Charity Fund.

WBEN announcer Gordon Redding is joined by engineer Edward Czech at the Buffalo Water Intake pier, reporting on how Buffalo gets its drinking water.

WBEN announcers Ed Wegman, Gordon Redding, Les Barry, Budd Tesch, Fred Keller, Woody Magnuson

Harry Webb came to Buffalo from Schenectady as a classical music announcer on the new WBEN-FM, and wound up spending 24 years on TV. Webb was Ch.4’s first newscaster, when the broadcast days began at 12 noon, and involved reading the latest edition of the Buffalo Evening News to an audience of several hundred. By the time Webb retired from newscasting in 1972, he had seen and been a part of the change of television from an indulgence of a few wealthy families to a modern global apparatus and definitive of disseminator information. Here, with technician Ed Huber, he records a show at the Buffalo Zoo.

WBEN announcers Don Cunningham, Ralph Hubbell, Jim Gardner, Harry Webb, Bill Weatherly

UB Roundtable, first presented on WBEN Radio and then on Ch.4, ran for nearly 40 years. This edition from the early 40s featured UB’s Dr. Earl McGrath, Dr. Harry Rockwell of the State Teachers College, Dr. Samuel Capen of UB, and Msgr. Timothy Coughlin of Canisius College.

After hosting “Listen While You Lunch” on WEBR right after the war, Tap Taplin was the host of WEBR’s early morning “T-N-T Show” in the early 50s. “Let him remind you about the time and temperature. There are news reports at 6, 7, 8, and 9 for information about the day’s events… and last, but not least, Tap plays your favorite recorded music.” Later, he spent time at WBNY.

Jack Eno first appeared at WEBR’s “Ye Olde Town Crier” in 1935. After some time at WGR-WKBW in the 40s, Eno returned to WEBR for a more-than 20-year run starting through the 50s into the 70s. In this shot, John Clark is playing the records for Eno in the control room.

WEBR’s daily Queen City Cinderella show, with announcer Gomer Lesch and emcee Clare Allen, awarding prizes to housewives and making one… Queen City Cinderella for the day.

Bob Wells came to WEBR in 1946 to create a music and dance show to help keep kids out of trouble. Hi-Teen became one of the most popular radio shows in Buffalo history, and Bob Wells one of the most beloved stars of radio and later TV.

WEBR morning man Chuck Cook enlists the help of Queen-O Beverages and a model to find “Buffalo’s Hottest Corner,” during a summer heat wave in 1949.

John Boothby was an announcer at WGR-WKBW in early 40s, and became WEBR’s wartime chief announcer while also working at the Curtiss-Wright plant.

Ed Little’s 62-year radio career included a stop at WBEN immediately following service in the war, and then a lengthy stay as one of WEBR’s top announcers, emcees, and disc jockeys.


This page is an excerpt from  100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon

The full text of the book is now online.

The original 436-page book is available along with Steve’s other books online at The Buffalo Stories Bookstore and from fine booksellers around Western New York. 

©2020, 2021 Buffalo Stories LLC, staffannouncer.com, and Steve Cichon

The curious acquaintance of John Otto and Boss Hogg

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

Bennett class officers in 1946, featuring John Otto (leopard print tie), and Sorrell Booke (far right, standing).

Your first inclination might be to assume that that radio star in question was Class President John Otto — who would go on to a more than 50-year career in Buffalo radio as the erudite dean of Western New York talk show hosts.

Otto, however, didn’t become a familiar voice in the night (on the radio, on the telephone) until after serving in the Navy following graduation.

The class valedictorian, however, had already been appearing in locally produced radio dramas for more than a decade, won a contest on WGR with his impersonation of Hitler, and was considered a regular actor on WEBR by the time he was a sophomore at Bennett.

Sorrell Booke, the son of physician Dr. Sol Booke, spent much of the ’50s, ’60, and ’70s as a character actor on television. He was seen on “Guiding Light,” “Car 54, Where Are You?,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “MAS*H,” “Gunsmoke” and “All in the Family.”

Booke’s most famous starring role came in 1979, when he started playing Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

While the man who’d become Boss Hogg was tallying 132 television acting credits, mostly in guest starring roles, his Bennett classmate was also burning up the airwaves.

John Otto’s broadcasting career began as a disc jockey and newsman on WBNY Radio, before moving to WGR, where he spent most of the 1960s as a “jack-of-all-trades” on both WGR Radio and WGR-TV Channel 2.

John Otto, hosting on WGR-TV, Channel 2.

Otto hosted children’s shows, was a TV weatherman, and hosted a local TV talk show, as well as the radio work that he’d be best known for, starting with a program called Extension 55 on WGR.

Remembered for his brilliance, class, and unparalleled ability to put the English language to its best possible use on live radio, Otto died in 1999, still hosting his “nighttime conference call of all interested parties” as many as six nights a week.

After “The Dukes of Hazzard” ended its seven-year run in 1985, Booke continued to act in guest starring roles on shows like “Newhart” and “Full House,” while also becoming quite prolific as a voice actor on animated children’s shows.

Sorrell Booke as Boss Hogg.

Booke died in 1994 at the age of 64.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Delaware at Hertel in 1950

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

There’s not much that’s recognizable from this 69-year-old view of Delaware Avenue, looking south from Hertel Avenue.

Delaware Avenue, looking south from Hertel Avenue in 1950.

The Esso gas station and Deco restaurant have long been replaced by the buildings that are now home to KeyBank and M&T Bank. In fact, none of the commercial buildings visible remain.

The houses on the left and the train overpass off in the distance are the only landmarks which still stand.

In 1950, there were several car dealers on both sides of Delaware up to the train overpass, including Hunt for Chevrolet. The last car dealer in that stretch was Gary Pontiac, which was torn down to make way for Tim Hortons.

It’s worth adding that this photo came from the “Buffalo History” file of the dean of Buffalo radio talk show hosts, Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer John Otto.

John Otto, in the WWKB studios in the mid-1980s.

In the days before the internet, when Otto had to rely on his memory and his vast collection of files when leading his “conference call of all interested parties” overnight on WGR. Most nights, Otto would take calls from anyone willing to “pull up a piece of airtime, speaking frankly; generally, on any topic at all.”

These days, the answer to most questions are available with the proper search terms in Google. When a point of information came into contention on the Otto program, he would often turn to “your listenership” for an answer, if he didn’t have it at his fingertips.

Aside from the nightly talk show for which he’s remembered, Otto was also a television pioneer, having hosted children’s programs and serving at the Atlantic Weatherman in the early days of Channel 2.

Otto was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1998. He died in 1999.

Memorable Christmas broadcasts with John Otto and The Sylvania Choraliers

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We’re opening up the Buffalo Stories audio archive vault in search of Christmas memories today.

John Otto, “on the radio, on the telephone at long last.” Buffalo Stories archives

Up first are two selections from the John Otto collection. These recordings were found in Otto’s personal files. The first is a series of Christmas stories told by listeners during the Christmas season in 1986.

The stories are great, and of course, listening to John listen to the stories is great as well.

These all come from Otto’s short-lived Nightcall program on WWKB radio. He returned to WGR the following year.

The second Otto selection is a WGR Production from 1963. This radio play has John Otto as “Live in Bethlehem,” and covers the birth of Christ as if it were being covered by modern journalistic means. Featured are many voices of WGR in the early 60s.

Plenty more on John Otto from Buffalo Stories:

John Otto: Hold the Phone!

Niagara’s Talk Pioneer: John Michael, CKTB/St. Catharines & CJRN, Niagara Falls, Ontario

John Otto’s Love Rubs Off: The best ever never lost his fire and passion


Sylvania Choraliers, 1955, WBEN-TV

Another selection is a listener submission, audio as aired on WBEN-TV on December 24, 1955, featuring the Sylvania Choraliers.

Jonathan Kinney writes:

My grandfather, Edmund Koval, graduated Penn State as an Electrical Engineer, did a stint in the Navy at the end of WWII. My grandparents moved to The Town of Tonawanda from Franklinville in 1955 when they built their new house in the suburbs.

He got a job as an electrical engineer at Sylvania. The chorus rehearsed at the Wood & Brooks Building on Kenmore Ave near Ontario-had the big ivory tusks on it. (See that Riverside landmark here.) He was always very proud of this recording, and he’d play it for me as a child near the holiday season.

Here are a few selected highlights from the audio only recording from Channel 4:


Other sights and sounds of Buffalo Christmases past from Buffalo Stories:

Buffalo’s Christmases Past: Channel 4’s Santa Show

Stan Jasinski on WKBW, Christmas Day 1954

From the Archives: Sounds of St. John Kanty in 1967

More Buffalo Christmas memories from Buffalo Stories:

Christmas in Buffalo 1954: Department Stores

Buffalo in the ’80s: Holiday shopping at Hills

Buffalo in the ’80s: Smiling Ted’s Used Cars (and community service)

The soft-edged memories of AM&A’s Christmas Windows

Buffalo in the ’80s: Electronic games from Hengerer’s, Brand Names

What It Looked Like Wednesday: The yuletide beautification of Buffalo in the ’30s

Christmas Shopping in Buffalo 1910

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Christmastime at Sattler’s, 998 Broadway

Buffalo in the ’80s: (Ugly) Christmas sweaters at AM&A’s

Buffalo’s Christmases Past: A look back

Buffalo in the ’60s: Mom’s Christmas perfume at AM&A’s

Black Friday shopping in Buffalo…1968

Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

John Otto: Hold the Phone!

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

 This page first appeared on staffannouncer.com in 2004, and was last updated May 21, 2014.

Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com
Weekly vintage John Otto airchecks from buffalostories.com

In celebration of John Otto’s 85th birthday, and mindful that it was 15 years ago this year that your congenial co-communicator signed off, we introduce several hours of John Otto recordings unheard since the day they were first broadcast in 1998.

It’s truly one of Buffalo’s greatest broadcasters at his finest: John Otto, broadcasting live from the Tralfamadore Cafe on the night he was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

John talks with and interviews dozens of our city’s finest broadcasters, and they pay tribute to him– on the radio, on the telephone, at long last.

And the more to come sign is up– As we draw nearer the 15th anniversary of our-operator-on’s last show, we will present dozens more recordings from the 1950s through 1999 in this space. We’ll get to that in as soon as it takes to tell it– in the meantime, enjoy that Hall of Fame day broadcast below, and hold the phone.

John Otto played many of his own sound effects on the show… You could often hear him fumbling for the right cart as someone asked to guess the voice, or Joann the Just would call– of course, the trumpet was necessary to announce her presence. Here are a few of the sound effects “Your operator on” would play– taken directly from the broadcast carts which he himself used on the show.

otto-cart-label

John spent most of five decades on Buffalo radio, and his show was introduced by various jingles and production elements through the years. Several of these were given to me by the late Ben Bass, who aside from sending 30 years as a disc jockey himself, was also an engineer on the Otto show in the 1970’s.

Finally, here are some clips of the man himself– These were saved at the radio station by many of John’s producers through the years, including Mike Maniscalco, Brad Riter, Greg Bauch, Ben Bass, and others. They are mostly short, entertaining John Otto clips on pop culture and bad callers– others are just a taste of how John sounded on the air. The last clip is 46 minutes worth of a show– enjoy!

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

Niagara’s Talk Pioneer: John Michael, CKTB/St. Catharines & CJRN, Niagara Falls, Ontario

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Known for being both smart and a smart-aleck, his often raw evaluations of the truth often put him at odds with the management and even the Canadian Government, but never with his loyal listeners.

John Michael
John Michael

CKTB’s John Michael was one of of kind, with as big an audience in Buffalo as he had in the Niagara Region.

Western New Yorkers embrace and appreciate our proximity to Canada in a variety of different ways. We drink Tim Hortons, Molson, and Labatt, we love hockey, we remember our summers at Crystal Beach, we enjoy world class Toronto being an hour away.

Of course, Canadian broadcasting has long been a part of who we are in Buffalo, too. From Mr. Dressup and Uncle Bobby, to Hockey Night in Canada and spending weekend afternoons trying to figure out curling, we are, for all intents and purposes, part Canadian.

Aside from being able to pull $7 in Canadian change out of the seats of my car at any moment, I like to think my inner Canadian runs a little deeper with my long term appreciation of Canadian AM radio.

I remember Rick Jeanneret as a morning DJ on CJRN in Niagara Falls and loved listening to the CBC on 740AM (The CBC, now on 99.1FM, can be a little crunchy in “clean” stereo.)

One of my all-time favorites—regardless of nationality– bounced across the border at 610AM.

Listening to John Michael’s mid-morning talk show on CKTB in the early 2000s was one of my great joys as a fan of good radio.

He was smart, a smart ass, funny, opinionated, a great showman, and a great broadcaster. What a wonderful, rarely-found set of skills and characteristics. It was the timeless sort of show that, as a long time broadcaster and broadcasting manager, I’m sure dozens of producers and program directors and consultants “tried to make better.” But the show was him. That’s what made it great.

He could trip over himself being respectful to an elderly sounding woman, while making a dirty joke at her expense at the same time. And you bought both the respect and the humour–(well, it is Canadian humor, so I’ll add the U).

I loved hearing about his family, his garden, his life. He told a great story once about how, as a young DJ in Niagara Falls in the 1960s, he made a joke about the Mafia and the infamous Apalachian meeting, mentioning a few of the alleged Mafiosos who were collared by name.

He had no idea that one of the guys he mentioned lived only a few minutes from the studio, across the gorge in Lewiston, and was well-respected (and maybe feared?) among the many of the station’s sponsors. He was urged to apologize for the comments.

In the 1980s, he was fired by CJRN after the station was censured when Michael made “generalizations about native peoples,” and said, in part, “what these people forget; and this is what annoys me, is that these people believe that the world revolves around their own penises and it does not.”

From his obituary in the St. Catharines Standard:

“On a few occasions, he was reprimanded by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for comments made about groups such as native peoples and French-Canadians.

In a September 2003 interview with The Standard, Michael said “there’s just certain people and certain groups in the world today that if they don’t agree with you, they want you fired.”

Michael told the reporter he was actually shy and felt “hurt” when listeners personally attacked him.

He said his gruff radio personality is part of an on-air “schtick” developed over the years. His purpose was also to entertain, Michael said.”

Here in Buffalo, during a radio station clean out, I was given a box containing some contents of John Otto’s desk drawers from the time right before he died.

I was excited to find among the several cassettes, was one of the John Otto show with guest John Michael… talking about the bum steer of what amounted to the Canadian Government getting him fired. Listen to that late 80’s program, and two others from 2004 before from the links above.

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

WGR’s Biggest Loss Since Shane

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When you turn on your radio Monday afternoon, you’ll barely—if at all—notice the difference. That’s how they get away with it. An era, however, will have ended in Buffalo radio.

Greg Bauch behind the WGR controls.
Greg Bauch behind the WGR controls.

Greg Bauch’s last day at WGR is Friday.  Listeners to Schopp and The Bulldog might recognize Greg as the guy who plays funny sound effects or through his radio alter ego, Greg Buck.

While Greg is among the best at finding (and playing at the right moment) silly or interesting sound bites, and Greg Buck is the funniest bit ever on Buffalo radio, others will come along and play sound effects and be funny. That’s just what one does on the radio.

The real story is, after 15 years there, Bauch is, without question, the heart and soul of WGR.

He’s the type of guy who becomes the heart and soul wherever he goes, but in a business where heart and soul don’t often last much longer than the time the “ON AIR” light is lit, Greg has managed to strap that station to his back, allowing an institutional continuity and his goodness to permeate the product for a decade and a half.

I first heard Greg Bauch when he started the way everyone started at WGR a generation ago: as the man at the controls of the late night John Otto show.  The astute listener could hear that the brilliant Otto was often frustrated with the fact that his show was a training ground for “the new guy,” especially when that new guy “cared not a FIG!” about Otto or his show.

Broadcasting Hall of Famer Otto loved Greg. You could hear the smile through the radio as John,  John, your operator on referred to him as my humble man servant Gregor.

John Otto was the first in a very long line of wonderfully talented hosts who was able to find something special in Greg, which is someone who was happy with being, and supremely talented at being, a radio producer.

A good producer is someone who lives for the good of the show (not someone who lives for the opportunity to inject himself on the air.)

A good producer does whatever it takes to forge a relationship with the talent on the show he’s producing, and builds an unbreakable trust with that person, allowing the talent to freely host the show with the knowledge that whatever is happening “on the other side of the glass” is being dealt with the proper amount of care.

With all this, a good producer is an equal part of the success of the show which he produces, although any recognition of that fact is almost always an afterthought. He is also accepting of the fact that he might command a quarter of the pay of the talent, while often working at least twice as hard.

Speak to Chris Parker or Mike Schopp or Chuck Dickerson or Tom Bauerle or the late Clip Smith or the late John Otto.  They will tell you, invariably, that their shows were better because they had Bauch at the controls.

A thankless, lunch bucket kind of job in the midst of the glitz, glamour and fame of radio. Greg excels at it because that’s who he is.

But, as Van Miller used to say, that’s only the half of it.

To use a hokey hockey analogy, Greg has worn the “C” in the WGR dressing room for at least a decade as the quiet, stay at home defenseman, who not only moves easily among the superstar goal scorers, but always takes the new guys under his wing and shows them what they need to know.

Name anyone you’ve heard do a sports update on WGR in the last decade, and they were trained by Greg Bauch.  Or trained by someone who went to the Greg Bauch College of WGR Knowledge.

To use another stupid sports analogy, Greg is the quarterback who stands back and sees everything at the station, from all perspectives- the talk show hosts, the update guys, the producers, even promotions and engineering, and successfully has them all working together.

It’s ironic and rare in this day and age, that he has been able to force all that’s good out of that radio station, and the people working there, by his gentle touch, and the fact that you aren’t likely to meet a better human being.  Unless you know Howard Simon.  But Greg has hair, so Greg > Howard.

This isn’t just the end of an era because Greg won’t be there anymore. It’s the end of an era, because it’s almost certain there’ll never be another like Greg Bauch in radio in Buffalo ever again.

Like in many fields, the corporatization of radio has eliminated the middle ground where good producers once stood. Radio is ever increasingly becoming a place where there are a few reasonably well-paid on-air talents, and everyone else makes minimum wage without benefits.

Even if someone had the drive, personality, voice, comedic timing, leadership skills and hot wife that Greg Bauch has, it’s nearly impossible that the person could remain in a job that is no longer valued in the corporate structure of radio the way Greg has been able.

So, talk show callers… Your time to harass a legend is running out. Post game coming up.

This page originally appeared at TrendingBuffalo.com

John Otto’s Love Rubs Off: The best ever never lost his fire and passion

By Steve Cichon | steve@buffalostories.com | @stevebuffalo

johnottopicSometimes the way life lines a series of seemingly unrelated events like lights on an airport runway can make a guy pause and question his sanity, because the answer is almost too clear.

For the past three days, I’ve been filling in for John Zach on Buffalo’s Early News on WBEN. The four-hour news show starts at 5am, and John does most of the writing when he’s here. For me, that meant getting up at 2:45am, in order to give myself about 90 minutes to put the local news together. John gets here earlier than that, and has been doing it just about every day for most of the 50 years he’s worked in radio.

I question myself often, would I be able to do this; get up like this. I did early morning weekends for a few years, but in 19 years of broadcasting, never a regular Monday-Friday, in-to-get-the morning show ready gig. John, who has worked the morning shift in parts of 7 different decades has said, “You never get used to it.”

I’ve filled in on the shift before, even for just a week or two, and always walked around feeling like a two-hour old grilled cheese; still crusty and gooey, but crusty and gooey in the wrong places. I just didn’t feel right, and never felt like I sounded as good as I could or should. And it always bothers me that when I set my alarm for 2:45am, my wife is rattled awake, too.

But this week, in the midst of working this early morning shift, one of the guys at work was cleaning out some files and handed me an old envelope he thought I might be interested in labeled MASTER TAPES– JOHN OTTO HALL OF FAME. Aside from being a master of the English language, the father of talk radio in Buffalo, and one of the top 5 broadcasters to ever grace the airwaves in Buffalo, John is somewhat of a personal hero to me.

Needless to say, I snatched the envelope, and delved inside not only to find hours of reels, cassettes, and DATs (an early digital tape format), but I also found a paper-filled folder labelled “John Otto.”

On top were a couple dozen e-mails and cards sent to WGR in the days following John’s death. Touching memories from fans and friends far and wide. Beautiful and filled with raw emotion. Then came John’s handwritten professional biography, tracing his radio career from the early 50s to the late 90s, only a year or so before his passing.

johnottoautograph

But what I found most gratifying were the notes that had been sent back and forth over the years to a succession of 5 or 6 supervisors at WGR. And while even a John Otto note complaining about a co-worker’s tardiness or an equipment problem flows across the paper the way a ballerina glides across the stage, that’s still not the point.

It started to strike me when I saw the note he wrote in 1995 asking to work Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve, and New Years Day. He was begging to work those days. Days most of us would curse the boss who forced us to work, but here, 43 years into his broadcasting career, and John’s tone was nearly inconsolable, worried that some other program might pre-empt his conference call of all interested parties.

In case the point be lost, John writes it quite plainly in one note. “The very principle on which I’ve always conducted myself, to wit, if one is in radio, you want to be on radio at every opportunity.”

After an illness took him off the air for a spell, he wrote in another missive that he’s ready to come back “if you’ll have me,” adding, ” My appetite is restored, miracle of all, my taste buds are a-bloom once more. You’ve got no idea what life is like without the ability to taste… ’til you’ve not got it.”

John Otto, almost 50 years into his career had such a fire in his belly for it. Not a soul better, universally lauded; but still fearful that it could be taken away. Would that we all felt that way about anything in our lives, let alone our job.

It made me think of my friend Ed Little, who was that way, too. He worked a tremendous 62 years in radio, starting as a child actor. I was with him in 2000 when he delivered his last newscast on WBEN, also the last program to originate from the studios on Elmwood Avenue.

Septuagenarian Ed couldn’t get a handle on the new computers, despite going through extra training on his own. Within a few months, he passed away. His heart was bad, but I know it was a broken heart, too.

Twenty years ago, my fire was inexhaustible. I can remember going to work as an 18 year old within hours of my grandma’s cancer death.

Thinking back on it, it makes me sad that I went in to board op Buffalo’s Evening News that night, and didn’t spend the time with my family. But that’s what I was and what I did. I think I’ve learned a little about life and about work since then.

Family’s much more important. I write books. I have a website. I’m on Boards of Directors, and I give talks about Buffalo History. I also work a pretty much 9-5 job these days. It’s not often I’m challenged to see how hot that fire burns.

I know it there, because it has to be there to be working in radio, or in any number of jobs similar in that there really isn’t much money. And its not the fame or the notoriety,either. Its having the blessing of doing a job that thousands would line up behind you to do for free. And just having that job, and being blessed with the gift of it, and being able to live a dream. And not wanting to give it up for the world.

So I’ve been thinking about whether or not I could work the morning shift, and the answer is of course. And though I sometimes play the curmudgeon, and complain about getting up early on those days when the job calls for it, the fact of the matter is, I’d do just about whatever they told me to do to keep it going. And this week, I even loved the early mornings. Loved every minute of hosting that show with Susan Rose. Loved it with that John Otto fire.

Just today, I read a Forbes Magazine article, which talks about the only three questions employers need to ask perspective employees. I say, you only need to ask one of those three. Will you love this job?

If the answer is no, go find something else. When I say love, I mean LOVE. Not ‘like the hours,’ or the pay, or the doors it might open. Love the job. Put your heart into it. Life is just too short.

“You know me,” John Otto closes one note with, “I just want to be on the radio.” Me too.