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
Among the Election Day 1960 races being covered closely by Carl Erickson on Ch.4 were between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy for President as well as Edward Rath and Chester Gorski for Erie County Executive.
Erickson came to WBEN in 1948, and was the newsman on Clint Buehlman’s show.
He spent most of the 50s and 60s as Chief Announcer for WBEN Radio.
A new era in broadcasting was ushered in 1960 when WBEN opened its new studios on Elmwood Avenue. WBEN AM-FM-TV had outgrown the studios it had called home on the 18th floor of the Statler Hotel since 1930.
The Buffalo Evening News stations bought the former WBUF-TV studios, which had been built by NBC only a few years earlier, and added more studio space and an office building to the complex.
Bill & Mildred Miller show off the stove in their new studio, 1960
Clint Buehlman, operator Tom Whalen, and engineer Earnest Roy— who started with the station before it even went on the air in 1930– are shown in the new, far more spacious radio studios.
WBEN announcers Carl Erickson and Jack Ogilvie are seated as Mike Mearian leans on the piano of Norm Wullen, 1960.
WBEN executives George Torge, Alfred Kirchhofer, station owner Kate Butler, James Righter, and C. Robert Thompson inspect the new WBEN-TV control room. The $1.5 million building was heralded as the “most modern broadcasting center in the nation.” The final broadcast from the Statler was Jan. 10, 1960.
After WNED-TV left for the Lafayette Hotel, the studios for WGR Radio were in the building behind WBEN’s studios in the late 50s and early 60s.
It’s incredible to think that when Van Miller started calling the play-by-play for the brand-new Buffalo Bills of the American Football League in 1960, he was better known as Ch.4’s 11pm news and weather announcer than a sports broadcaster. Through two AFL straight championships, four straight Super Bowls, and two stadiums, Van’s sense of the game and amplified level of excitement became the filter through which football-loving Buffalo took their love to the next level. He’d call every game during the NBA Buffalo Braves’ stay in the city and work as Ch.4’s primary sportscaster for more than 30 years. “Do you believe it?” he’d ask, as fandemonium went into overdrive, imploring “fasten your seatbelts!” until retiring as the Voice of the Bills after 37 years in 2003.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
It was vestige of the Vaudeville days—wives and husbands as co-emcees on radio and television, usually hosting otherwise normal shows, only with a special kind of schtick to fall back on.
The successful and beloved team of George Burns and Gracie Allen, the married stars of one of radio’s most successful network programs from 1936-50, was all the blueprint local radio programmers needed.
Billy and Reggie Keaton were among the earliest married teams on Buffalo radio starting in the mid-40s, but soon they weren’t alone.
When Budd Hulick– half of the sensational Stoopnagle & Budd comedy team of the 1930s—returned to Western New York radio in the late 40s, he was joined by his wife, Helen. They first appeared on WHLD in her native Niagara Falls, before moving to WKBW for a few years on the “Mr. & Mrs.” show. They moved south in the mid-50s, hosting a show on WPTV Ch.5 in Palm Beach starting in 1956.
The Hulicks chat with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz on a press trip to Buffalo.
Mary Jane and Seymour Abeles hosted “The Shopper’s Guide” on Ch.4.
Both Buffalo natives, Mary Jane was billed as Buffalo’s “first and only” female disc jockey during the war years on WGR, and Seymour was a longtime radio actor on all the stations in Buffalo—and received a Bronze star and Purple Heart in the Pacific during World War II.
Bernie and Norma Jean Sandler were well-known for hosting programs showcasing the talents of young people. Future radio stars Danny Neaverth, Tommy Shannon, and Joey Reynolds were all guest teen deejays on Sandler’s “The Young Crowd” on WEBR.
Bernie Sandler was a teenaged bandleader while still at Bennett High School, playing gigs at The Colvin Gables and the Glen Casino. After serving in North Africa and Italy during World War II, Sandler moved to radio—first at WBTA in Batavia and then Buffalo’s WEBR–where he’d replace Ed Little as the emcee of the Town Casino show in 1953—before moving onto WBEN AM-FM-TV in 1959.
After Bernie had gone to work full-time in marketing for the Iroqouis Brewery and Norma Jane was the director of the Studio Arena School of Theater, the couple hosted “The Sandler Style” on WADV-FM starting in 1969. They were also trusted spokespeople thought the years, often seen together in TV commercials for everything from applesauce to carpets. At the time he died in 1992, Bernie was still on the air weekly at WECK, playing big band music over the radio for the same folks who danced to his live band performances 50 years earlier.
Buffalo’s best remembered husband and wife started a 21-year run on Ch.4 on Jan. 17, 1950, with a little cooking, a couple interviews, and a lot of bickering.
“Meet the Millers” with Bill and Mildred Miller was a Buffalo television staple, weekday afternoons for more than two decades.
The program was a melding of the couple’s skills. They’d spent more than 20 years entertaining together on the Vaudeville circuit. He was a dancer — even once on Broadway – and she was his piano playing accompanist.
They retired from stage work to Buffalo for health reasons, opening a turkey farm in the Town of Colden—only to answer the call to TV after a handful of very successful cooking segments around Thanksgiving time in 1949.
From the onset, “Meet the Millers” was nominally about “using economy in preparing food,” but housewives tuning in around Western New York were just as likely to be entertained by the sometimes-hostile relationship between Bill and Mildred and Mildred’s tendency to put Bill in his place regularly. For better or worse, they were Western New York’s quintessential quibbling couple.
The show grew to include interview segments which aired Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with cooking segments on Tuesday and Thursday.
The big-name stars who came through Buffalo stayed at the Statler, and that’s where Bill and Mildred did their show through the 1950s.
Stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Bennett were guests through the years.
Starting with their first summer on the air, the Millers made bringing Western New York’s agricultural fairs to TV viewers a priority.
As the owners of a 350-acre farm, and Bill’s role as past president of the state turkey growers’ association, the Millers became closely associated especially with the Erie County Fair, from which their show was broadcast live every year.
The Millers were in the inaugural class of the Erie County Fair Hall of Fame in 1989.
After the couple retired from television, Bill was elected Colden supervisor and served through the early 1980s.
The couple moved to Florida, where they passed away in the early 1990s.
Bill and Mildred didn’t necessarily cook all the food they showed on TV, and they certainly didn’t do the dishes—most of the real kitchen work was done by women like Margaret Teasley, seen here offering some of the shows leftovers to the “Meet the Millers” crew, including Producer Bernie Ross, cameraman Art Lester, floorman Bud Hagmann and studio supervisor Gene Klumpp.
“Rising enthusiasm in FM listening throughout Western New York is expected to continue in 1952,” started a story in The Buffalo Evening News. Although WBEN first started experimenting with FM on W8XH in 1934, WBEN-FM was Buffalo’s first frequency modulation station when it signed on in 1946. Other FM stations signed on the air quickly, and by 1950, there were plenty of choices on the FM dial—although programming was slow to develop for the much clearer sounding band.
It wouldn’t be until the late 60s and beyond when many of these still-familiar frequencies would come into their own with programming beyond “whatever was left over” from AM sister stations.
WBEN-FM changed frequencies from 106.5FM to 102.5FM in 1958 so that the station could increase its power.
The Four Quarters were regular entertainers on WBEN-TV. Bass player Bassie Atkinson was the only Buffalonian—a Central High grad. Kenneth Strother was on piano; Reggie Willis, guitar; and Eddie Inge, clarinet.
Akron’s Miller Bros. Band, shown with Ted Mack as contestants on the Original Amateur Hour, a network program which aired on Ch.4.
Marion Roberts was the hostess of Ch. 4’s Plain & Fancy Cooking weekday mornings through much of the 1950s. Her “timely tips make homemaking easier and cooking more exciting,” according to a 1955 ad. Ch.4’s mid-50s weekday local lineup included Roberts, John Corbett, and Mildred & Bill Miller, all with shows aimed at the housewife.
He came to Buffalo as Ch.4 first signed on— and over the next 30 years, there weren’t many radio & TV personalities who saw more airtime than WBEN’s John Corbett.
Through the 1950s, he was hosting 11 weekly radio shows and was Ch.4’s “Speaker of the House” host weekdays at 12:15pm. Through the 60s and 70s, his duties turned more to news, and in the early 70s, was one of the most seen faces of TV news in Buffalo.
His contract was left to expire in 1977. He was approached about running for mayor, and even considered it— but ultimately did not, and instead, that election saw James D. Griffin begin his four-term stretch in Buffalo’s City Hall.
Celebrating the fifth anniversary of WBEN’s Breakfast at the Sheraton with engineer Peter Koelemeyer, organist Nelson Shelby, producer Gene Brook (who also played “Grumbles the Elf” on the Santa show), baritone Harry Schad, and emcees John Corbett and Ed Dinsmore in 1954.
Four years later, John Corbett and Dick Rifenburg celebrate the show’s anniversary.
In 1959, the Sheraton Gang included organist Norm Wullen, Dick Rifenburg, and John Corbett.
By the following year, the Sheraton breakfast show had given way to The Statler Luncheon Club, in the hotel’s Grover Cleveland Room. Virgil Booth and Mike Mearian were the hosts.
Ed Dinsmore was everywhere on Ch.4 in the station’s earliest days, as one of the station’s primary newscasters, playing Santa on the Santa show, and host of Breakfast at Sheraton on the radio. Dinsmore might have been Buffalo’s most familiar local TV face when he died suddenly in 1954.
Ed Dinsmore (left) and crew get ready for a newscast from the Statler studios of Ch.4, 1954.
Van Miller joined the staff at WBEN-TV as a summer relief announcer in 1955, and didn’t leave for 43 years. In this mid-50s shot, Van is anchoring the news while Chuck Healy anchors sports. The pair would play the opposite roles on the same newscast together through much of the following decade.
The first Buffalo scientist to talk meteorology regularly on Buffalo TV was Buffalo Weather Bureau Chief Barney Wiggin.
“Weather with Wiggin” ran Monday evenings in the early 1950s on Ch.4.
This page is an excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting by Steve Cichon
It seems like just about every Buffalonian has a story about being nearly frostbitten at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and Bill and Mildred Miller – the longtime hosts of Channel 4’s “Meet the Millers” – are no different.
As they shared a recipe for Irish Soda Bread, they talked about lining up for the parade behind Memorial Auditorium getting ready to march up Main Street.
After two hours of waiting as the wind whipped right off the lake and into their faces, it was the coldest they’d ever been for a St. Paddy’s parade.
“Our eyes were so full of tears from the wind that we saw people along the parade route as if they were under water; our smiles were literally frozen to our faces.”
The Millers standing next to the Aud getting ready to join the parade in the late ’50s marks the halfway point in the parade’s long migration from its original route along what is now South Park Avenue up to Main Street, then over to Delaware Avenue in 1981.
Buffalo’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade happened in 1913. Two years later, more than 3,000 Irishmen lined the route.
“Not in 25 years have Buffalo Irishmen exhibited the same degree of enthusiasm for a parade, but this year, the spirit of the green seems to have gotten into their blood and all have put their hands to the plough with the intention of making the celebration one to be remembered,” reported the Buffalo Times in 1915.
The Times also made several mentions about the fact that the 1915 parade was bringing together “all sorts and classes of Irishmen.” It was particularly alarming that “the boys from County Cork” and “the boys from County Clare” would be able to hold an event together peacefully.
“It is now possible for the Clare boys to go any place in ‘The Ward,’ ” reported the Buffalo Times, “including the district of the Corkonians. They’re all working together this year with St. Patrick as the toast, and no one is denying them the joy and pleasure they’ll obtain from the celebration.”
As for Bill and Mildred Miller, their idea of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day had more to do with the food, and revolved around corned beef, cabbage and Irish soda bread – all of which they would make on their daily show on Channel 4 during the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.
They started in show business as a Vaudeville dancing act. After settling down on a turkey farm in Colden, they began their daily cooking and interview show on Channel 4 in 1950.
Watching the Millers, especially in the kitchen, reminded most of a favorite aunt and uncle – loving, dedicated to one another, and forever bickering. Mildred was clearly in charge.
“That’s the way with those Millers,” wrote Sturgis Hedrick in the TV Topics in 1959. “Subtle. Blissfully naive, you might better say. Honest, sometimes we wonder if Bill and Mildred Miller actually realize there are people watching.
“They interrupt one another in their anecdotes and often work at cross purposes in their commercials.
“And yet they sail serenely along afternoon after afternoon, happy as any husband and wife, looked in on by an unseen audience. That audience is not only huge, but fiercely loyal. The curiosity lure of ‘what’s going to happen next’ makes ‘Meet the Millers’ a viewing must with the average housewife on the Niagara Frontier.”
They were seen every day at 1 o’clock through the early 1970s. After their retirement from television, Bill served as supervisor of the Town of Colden.
This week we’re looking at the women who were the first to make their presence felt in what has traditionally been the male-dominated broadcasting industry.
Today– the women who were the first to grace Buffalo television screens.
Television came to Buffalo with Channel 4 in 1948, and the only women prominently featured in the ceremonial sign on of the station were the chorus girls from the Town Casino.
Some of the pioneering women in Buffalo TV were the same women who pioneered in Buffalo radio.
Sally Work was called “the dean of women commentators” by the Buffalo Evening News. She’d already been on the radio for 15 years by the time she took her act to the new medium of TV. When Channel 2 signed on, Helen Neville took her radio act to TV as well.
Of course, there were those who made their first mark in TV as well.
Starting in 1952, a beloved and strong woman made her debut on Channel 4.
Viewers watched Mildred Miller and her husband Bill cook and interview celebrities for 20 years on “Meet the Millers.
Doris Jones was first seen as a commercial model on Channel 4 when she was still in high school. She’d eventually host a women’s show on Channel 7, and become Buffalo’s first female staff announcer and weathercaster on Channel 2.
Paula Drew was the spokesperson for Niagara Frontier’s dairy farmers, and as Buffalo’s milk maid, she did weather forecasts wrapped around milk commercials. She was later the voice of Tops Friendly Markets.
While Paula Drew was at Tops, it was Joey at Super Duper in the 70s and 80s.