By Steve Cichon
This story was published in Living Prime Time magazine
The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to collect and maintain the articles and stories of the great history of radio and television on the Niagara Frontier, as well celebrate those who embody the great spirit broadcasting today and into the future.
Once a year, we like to take the opportunity to celebrate the lives and careers of those men and women of broadcasting who, through their superlative efforts, have left an indelible mark not only on the history of Buffalo Broadcasting; but on the lives of those who watched and listened as well. For the seventh of our eight years, we will convene at the newly remodeled Tralfamadore Café for The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame Night, Tuesday, September 28, 2004 at 6:00pm.
Enshrined in our Hall of Fame are the broadcasters who make us proud to work in the wake of their legacy. They’ve all contributed something special to Western New York. Just like periods of history are noted by Kings and Popes, you might be able to trace your memory by who was on your radio as you woke up and went to school or work… Or who hosted the cartoons when you got home from school or read the news on TV as you went to bed. Hopefully the mere mention of some of the names below will help conjure some of those memories.
The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers was founded in 1995, and we still have a lot of catching up to do. The Golden Age Award is reserved for the pioneers in the truest sense of the word: Those who did it first, the people who had no pattern to follow, no lead blocker. These folks blazed the trail, and set an example for future generations to follow.
If you ever heard Stan Barron, you’re standards are likely a bit higher in sports broadcasting. Stan came to Buffalo in 1952, and spent a decade at WKBW Radio and television, as a play-by-play man on radio, and serving as WKBW-TV’s first sports director. Stan is perhaps most remembered, though, for his time at WBEN Radio, where he was half of the Stan and Van team calling Bills Football for 14 years. It was also at WBEN that he, with out the aid of a producer for most of the shows run, ran Free Form Sports, a show that might have the Bills quarterback on one minute, then switch to an 11 year old Little League pitcher who threw a perfect game.
Upon Stan’s death in 1984, then WBEN disc jockey Tom Kelly commented that the first thing he heard on Buffalo radio as he drove into town was a gravely voice reading youth soccer scores on WBEN. He didn’t understand that night but he soon did. Stan Barron wasn’t a sports announcer; he was a beloved institution who enjoyed, understood, and celebrated sports and athletes at every level.
AHK(as he referred to himself) or Mr. Kirchhofer (as everyone else referred to him) was the man in charge of WBEN Radio before there was a WBEN Radio. His influence was key in the News’ purchase of the station in 1930. From 1927 until his retirement in 1967, Mr. Kirchhofer ran and expanded a News Empire that included the Buffalo Evening News, and added WBEN Radio in 1930, in 1936 added WEBR Radio (then a News property), WBEN-FM in 1946, and WBEN-TV in 1948.
Despite his founding of four broadcast outlets, Kirchhofer was first and foremost a newspaper man. After joining the Buffalo Evening News in 1915, he opened the News’ Washington Bureau, and became a familiar figure to Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, all the while being Buffalo’s eyes and ears in the nation’s capital. Realizing the potential for radio beyond selling newspapers, Kirchhofer developed a staff of radio writers and newsmen for WBEN and put the station on top to stay for decades. The Evening News Stations were always ahead of the curve for not only Buffalo, but helped put Buffalo in the media avant-garde for the nation. The FM and television stations developed under Kirchhofer were not only Buffalo’s first, but among the first in the nation.
The staunch conservative content and dry delivery at the News Stations that survived well into the 1970s was a direct result of Kirchhofer’s editorial style. His approach made the News Stations “The Stations of Record” for generations.
Despite a decades long career in radio, television, and on the stage, Mike Mearian might best be known to the thousands of children who grew up watching him on Channel 4 in the 50s and 60s as the guy with Buttons. Mearian filled the imaginations of kids with thoughts of far off places as the host of Children’s Theatre on WBEN-TV, as well as the voice of Buttons the puppet.
After winning three purple hearts in World War II combat, Mearian started in radio in a small Texas town in 1947. He eventually made his way to Buffalo, and after stints as the morning man at KB Radio and Kenmore’s WXRA, Merian spent the next 14 years at WBEN Radio and TV. Perhaps best remembered for those of a certain age for his work with children’s programming, older folks will remember his live Statler Hilton Lunch Club shows and his evening comedy show on WBEN Radio.
Mearian values his time in Buffalo as a time where talented people were given free reign to make good radio and television without interference from above. You may have recognized Mike over the years in commercials, on soap operas, even on Law & Order as a judge… and wondered, “what ever happened to Buttons?” Not to worry, since leaving Buffalo in 1966, Mearian has lived in the Big Apple with his wife and the puppet friend brought alive here in Buffalo.
Ba-Dum-Bum! That vocalized rimshot crashes quite easily (and often!) from the lips of Buffalo’s beloved self-fashioned Corny DJ… For parts of seven decades, Stan Roberts has been on the radio making us laugh… and groan. From the time of his arrival at WKBW Radio in the early 60s, through his days at WGR, WBUF and WBEN, Stan has made a career of not taking himself too seriously. And so long as you were laughing, or at least smiling (no matter with him or at him) he figures his job well done.
For all of the lampshades Stan has worn on his head in TV commercials, he’s also been a part of many of Buffalo’s most exciting times. Thousands of Sabres fans still cherish the Memorable Sabres Highlights record Stan voiced in commemoration of the 1975 Stanley Cup year. Thousands of Bills fans ignored his warnings to “Stay off the Field” as they tore down Rich Stadium goalposts at the beginning of the Bills Superbowl run. Stan also helped organize Light Up Buffalo… inspiring some of the most stunning night time photos ever taken of Downtown Buffalo. He’s also made his mark in radio sales, as one of Buffalo Radio’s top billing salesmen of the past quarter century.
But most importantly, from his time as a teen DJ in Asbury Park, NJ in the late 40’s; to his role as one of Buffalo’s senior radio salesmen, Stan Roberts has always had the gift to make us smile whether we want to or not.
Buffalo Bob Smith began his broadcasting career in his hometown of Buffalo, but of course gained worldwide fame as the human friend of America’s favorite puppet, Howdy Doody. Despite his international celebrity, Bob never forgot his hometown, and even adopted it as a part of his name. Each year The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers honor a broadcaster who has made his or her mark away from the Niagara Frontier, but is a Buffalonian at heart.
After growing up on Buffalo’s East Side and attending Canisius High School, Mark Russell became interested in comedy during a hitch in the Marine Corps. It was while in the Marines he began performing in clubs around the Virginia base at which he was stationed. Influenced by the likes of Mort Sahl and Tom Lehrer, Russell’s act had become increasing political by the time he landed at the Shoreham Hotel. There, Russell spent 20 years entertaining and skewering the men leading the nation.
He also met a few fellow Buffalonians — WNED executives – who offered to produce a PBS special starring Russell.
Nearly 30 years later, Russell still returns to Western New York to spend part of the summer and to star in those specials, on a street named Mark Russell Way by the City of Buffalo in his honor.
The quarter century Don Yearke spent as an award-Winning videographer and Chief Photographer at Channel 4 is the basis for which he has been awarded the Behind The Scenes Award. But his work as a camera man is only the second half the story.
After signing on Buffalo’s WNIA Radio as the first Tommy Thomas in 1956 and spending time at Radio Tokyo as a soldier stationed in Japan, Don made his way to KB Radio in 1958. There he started as Dick Biondi’s newsman, and, eventually, became KB’s overnight Rock Jock, where his show could be heard in Maryland, Michigan, and Sweden. As Don Keller, the Farm Feller, he delivered agricultural news to the Niagara Frontier on WKBW Radio every morning, and on WKBW-TV on Saturday mornings. As his role at Channel 7 grew, Don became Buffalo’s first modern street reporter, both gathering news and interviews, and then presenting them himself on camera.
It was in the Channel 7 newsroom that News Director Hal Youngblood sent reporter Don Keller to a fire, and told him to point the camera at the flame. Since that first assignment as a camera man with a black and white Bell Howell wind up, Yearke’s pictures have brought the world to our living rooms. From Popes and Presidents, to the Blizzard of ’77, to Superbowls, Don’s eyes have provided our vision of the news of the day. Since his retirement as WIVB-TV’s Chief Photographer in 1999, Yearke has continued to work as a free lance videographer.
We always welcome new members to the BBP, broadcasters and fans of broadcasting alike. It’s our mission to preserve and promote Western New York’s rich TV and radio history, and to salute and bring attention to quality broadcasting of today. Membership is $25, and anyone with a passion for broadcasting can join as a member. It’s just as easy to join us in celebrating this year’s honorees. Tickets to our Hall of Fame event are available for to general public at $50 per person. Send your ticket order or membership request with payment to: The Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers; 5672 Main Street; Williamsville, New York 14221.
Steve Cichon is President of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers.