WGR-TV, Buffalo’s Ch.2

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


From a full-page ad on Ch.2’s first day of broadcasting in 1954, showing the hosts of some of the new station’s featured live audience programs:

1. Breakfast for Two with Helen Neville, Monday-Friday at 9am.

2. Cookin’ Cues with Charlotte McWhorter, weekdays, 1pm.

3. For M’Lady with Mari and Gilbert Bass from The Park Lane, Tue & Thur at 2:30pm

4. Mary Lawton as Mother Goose, Saturdays at 11am

5. Outdoors Inn with Ollie Howard, Tuesdays at 7pm

6. Dollar Derby with Bill Keaton, Wednesdays at 2:30pm

Even with UHF stations coming and going, there were no fewer than four competing interests who had applied to the FCC for the license to operate Ch.2.  Several of those interests combined to form a new WGR Corporation, which was awarded the license in 1954.

 “A bright new channel of television service and entertainment opens up for Buffalo and Western New York today as WGR-TV takes to the air on Channel 2,” reported the Evening News on August 14, 1954, with the sign-on of Buffalo’s second UHF station.

“Televiewing,” reported The Buffalo Evening News,” was now a “staple fare” in most homes along the Niagara Frontier. The cost of television sets had dropped precipitously since Ch.4’s 1948 sign-on, and having a second reliable station to watch was enough to make many holdouts into television owners.

Longtime Buffalo radio personality Billy Keaton welcomed viewers to the new station—which unlike the other two stations that had signed on the year before, every single one of the 430,000 TV sets in the Buffalo area could watch Ch.2 without a UHF converter box.

Longtime WGR Radio veteran Billy Keaton emceed the opening broadcast ceremonies on WGR-TV, Ch.2.

From a full-page ad that ran in the Courier-Express and The Evening News on the day Ch.2 signed on. Newsmen Roy Kerns and Pat Fagan as well as sportscasters Roger Baker and Bill Mazer were in the spotlight on nightly news and sports programs, and Ollie Howard brought his outdoors show from radio to TV as well.

Authoritative. Respected. Those were the types of adjectives thrown around when describing Roy Kerns, the anchor of Ch.2’s early newscasts for most of the station’s first decade on the air. “Mr. Kern’s polished presentation… is the enjoyable habit of many thousand Niagara Frontier viewers,” said a 1956 ad. Kerns left Buffalo for his native Oklahoma City in 1967.

 NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were a heavily marketed part of WGR-TV’s news team, so much so that Brinkley visited Ch.2’s Barton Street studios to help dedicate a new set in 1964. Here, he’s joined by Chuck Poth.

Pat Fagan was a Ch.2 news anchor, as seen here in the early 60s, but he was also the host of the station’s Teen Dance Party. Fagan left Buffalo in the mid-60s for an ABC-TV staff announcer position. He began his career at WBNY in 1948. He also worked at WEBR and made appearances as an actor in Ch.4’s dramatic series “The Clue.”

Checkers & Can-Can was a kid’s show produced by Ch.2, airing mornings at 9:30. The actors behind the clown and the “tin-can man” were Philadelphia TV veterans Ed McDonnell, who had been Philly’s “Flying Sorcerer,” and Joe Earley who had played “Mr. Rivets” on WPTZ-TV Ch.3.

Fantasy Island General Manager Clyde Farnan played Buckskin Joe on a TV version of the park’s Wild West Show. He was joined by Marshall Rick, Annie Oakley, Little Bo Peep, and bad guys like Cactus Pete and Black Bart– played by Fantasy Island’s business manager Harvey Benatovich.

Bob Lawrence was one of the original cast of announcers when Ch.2 first signed on—his primary job until he left the station 13 years later was as a weatherman.

From the very beginning, however, he was one of the station’s kiddie show hosts, first as Captain Atom during the local breaks on the Colonel Bleep cartoon show, and then as Captain Bob during Popeye cartoons and The Mickey Mouse Club.

When the station first signed on, Ch.2’s signal was weak into the Southern Tier—so the station’s programming was also broadcast on Ch.6 in Jamestown. The problem was later fixed when Ch.2 moved its transmitter facility from Buffalo to the Town of Wales in southern Erie County.

Aside from entertaining the kids and hosting cartoons, Bob Lawrence was Ch.2’s lead weather personality through most of the station’s first decade.

From 1954 to 1968, Jack Mahl—with his pleasantly deep voice—was another of Ch.2’s weathermen. He would go on to anchor radio newscasts on WYSL, WEBR, and WBUF through the 70s and 80s. His rhyming TV sign-off became famous, as he said, “That’s all from Mahl” with a salute.

WGR-TV Atlantic Weatherman John Lascalles.

Helen Neville stands in the background as Polish dancers get ready to perform outside the Ch.2 studios on Barton Street.

“Bill Mazer is as good as there is in his chosen profession of reporting interestingly and enthusiastically, sports of all sorts.”

After a hitch in the army at the end of World War II, Mazer came to Buffalo in 1947, working first at WKBW and then WGR. During his 16 years in Buffalo, Mazer is best remembered in Buffalo for his long association with the baseball Bisons at Offermann Stadium, but he also called the action for the hockey Bisons and Canisius College basketball from the Aud, as well as Buffalo Bills football from the Rockpile during the All-America Football Conference days in the late 40s.

Along with Roger Baker, he was one of the WGR-TV’s original stable of sportscasters when the station signed on in 1954.  In 1955, he also hosted the “Watch the Birdie” program, sponsored by Kaufman’s Rye Bread on Ch.2. As “Uncle Bill,” he made phone calls to kids, giving way prizes between Woody the Woodpecker cartoons.

Born in Ukraine, Mazer grew up in Brooklyn—and returned home to become a beloved New York City sports broadcasting fixture starting in 1964. He was also seen on network broadcasts for CBS and Fox, and played a role as a reporter in the epic 1980 film ‘Raging Bull.’

After leaving WEBR, Bob Wells joined the staff at WGR-TV to emcee a handful of popular shows. While Frank Dill was the orginal host of Pic A Polka, Wells hosted with bandleader Frank Wojnorowski for most of the show’s run.

 Bob Wells also was the original host of Yankee Doodle Time when the show premiered on WGR-TV in 1961. It was the only television show hosted live five days a week in a Buffalo department store. 

Jack Tapson was an editor and photographer, who knew– as it was unfolding– that he was watching something important unfolding in front of him daily.

He started at Ch.4  as a lover of photography and teen technician in the 1940s and moved onto Ch.2 where he started the news film department in the mid-1950s.

For decades, these jobs put him on the front lines of some of the really amazing things that were happening in what was then America’s 15th largest city, as well as behind the scenes at Buffalo’s big TV stations.

Over the period of several years, he shared his memories and photos with next-generation storytellers Marty Biniasz and Steve Cichon.

While The Buffalo Evening News did a tremendous job capturing the story of the WBEN stations in photos, Jack’s behind the scenes candid shots from the first 15 years of WGR-TV offer a look at the station which would have otherwise been lost to history. You’re enjoying many of these photos in this book because he cared enough to take pictures… and then cared enough to share them.

The WGR-TV mascots were a pair of mischievous elves named Iris and Earis, according to research done by Marty Biniasz for Forgotten Buffalo’s website. He reports they were first drawn by Ch.2  art director Frank Wahl as the station signed on.


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 Calm Before the Storm”– WKBW

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


WKBW’s ultra-modern Radio Center was actually a refaced barn which stood next door to the Churchill Tabernacle building. It was built out in 1951 in the parking lot of Tabernacle—which by the end of the decade was destined to become the home of WKBW-TV Ch.7.

As songs like “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets hit number one on the charts, Elvis Presley was still receiving second billing to Slim Whitman and Andy Griffith in stage shows around the south.

“Rhythm and blues” was still working its way into “rock ‘n’ roll,” and it was still a little time before Elvis started to become recognized first as “the hottest hillbilly attraction” and “the king of western bop.”

Young people were paying attention, but society— not yet.

Even though The Hound was on KB in 1955, his sound was not reflective of the station by any means.

In fact, The Hound’s lead-in show six nights a week was Stan Jasinski’s Polka Beehive.

The programs and talent that WKBW Radio was promoting in 1956– only a matter of months before rock ‘n’ roll Top 40 would change radio forever– looks much more like KB did in 1930 than it would in 1960.

WKBW, Buffalo’s Most Powerful Radio Station, mid-50s letterhead.

Dorothy Ireland was on the air daily as Kay B. Cooke with interviews and homemaking tips. Wally Wagoner was WKBW’s Farm Director.

Carroll Hardy, who would go on to become one of WEBR’s legendary jazz deejays, was one of the many men who served as WKBW’s Clock Watcher, broadcasting live from the front lawn of the radio station on Main Street near Utica every morning.

Among the others on KB’s deejay staff in the mid-50s were Herb Knight, George “Hound Dog” Lorenz, and Larry Brownell.

Remembered as one of Buffalo’s most beloved sports broadcasters, Stan Barron was also a disc jockey through most of his time in Buffalo radio, including his turn as WKBW’s Clock Watcher. Here he’s on KB’s lawn with Clint Churchill Jr., WKBW General Manager Al Anscombe, KB Polka Beehive host Stan Jasinski, salesman Jim McGrath and Roger Baker—who, after returning to KB from WBES-TV, dabbled in sports but focused on sales.

Stan Barron calling play-by-play action at Memorial Auditorium on WKBW. Through the years, he called Canisius and Niagara basketball, Buffalo Bisons baseball and Buffalo Bisons hockey. He was also the color man on Buffalo Bills broadcasts alongside Van Miller.

Frank Frederics, who also anchored newscasts on WBUF-TV, reads the news on WKBW as engineer William Routh looks on.

Lee Forster brought the sounds of Western music and folk music to KB, as he had also done on Ch.4’s Barn Dance show.

 From 1958 to 1988, Al Lafler had his hand on the rudder of the production sound that allowed KB to stand head and shoulders above the rest. His more famous co-workers will tell you, his credo “Good enough isn’t good enough,” helped give KB such a great sound over the years.

Gospel musician and evangelist Elder Charles Beck ran his network of 30 stations from WKBW. Nicknamed The Singing Evangelist, The Encyclopedia of America Gospel Music calls Beck “a seminal figure in the formative years of modern African-American gospel music.” His shows aired Sunday nights on KB.

Verne Stevenson played the best in rhythm and blues on Saturday nights on WKBW.

    Michael Brocia hosted music and news in Italian on Saturdays on WKBW.

Chief Engineer Leroy Fiedler, left, was at WKBW from the very beginning in 1926, and was still with the station through the 60s. Dan Lesniak, right, with Cassie Lanzalaco, was a KB salesman who founded one of the stations that helped usher in the FM era of Buffalo radio as the owner of WADV-FM.

Al Anscombe was a sports announcer under Roger Baker at KB before serving in the Air Corps in World War II. In 1950, he replaced Baker as KB’s general manager.

It was under the direction of Al Anscombe that the mostly staid, conservative, WKBW would up-end radio not just in Buffalo but around the country when, as their ad campaign said, “KB Goes KA-BOOM!” introducing a Top-40 style rock ‘n’ roll format which debuted 19 months after the 30th anniversary of Doc Churchill’s WKBW was celebrated in 1956.

Father Justyn’s Rosary Hour & around the dial in the 30s

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


“If St. Paul were alive today, radio is the medium he would use,” said Fr. Justyn Figas, who began his own Polish Language broadcast of the rosary in 1927 over WKEN, before creating a six-station rosary network in 1931 from Buffalo’s WEBR.

Fr. Justin Figas, WEBR

His broadcasts were heard in other cities with large Polish populations like Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Scranton and Pittsburgh.

“I greet you dear friends, with the words ‘Praise be to Jesus Christ.’”

The Franciscan priest’s manner made him the perfect man to reach out across the airwaves; everyone at his Broadway-Fillmore parish of Corpus Christi loved him. One parishioner remembered him as “stern but kind, always with a warm sense of humor.”

Almost immediately, Fr. Justyn (also spelled Justin) was leading millions in Polish-Americans in prayer. And, almost immediately following his success, he was criticized in some circles for speaking in a foreign language on American radio and “promoting hyphenated Americanism.”

Fr Justin Figas

With eyes keenly focused on his mission, he would often wear a coat or a hat that had seen better days. When kind people offered him a few dollars for a new hat, he’d gladly accept—but instead of a new hat, he’d put the money towards one of his many projects– like building St. Joseph Hospital in Cheektowaga and St. Francis High School in Hamburg.

He became a world-renown broadcaster, but first and foremost, he was a Franciscan—caring deeply about every person he encountered. Despite growing fame and responsibility, he always exuded joy while taking on the mundane physical tasks of running a parish community. 

Fr. Justyn hosted The Rosary Hour for 31 years until his death in 1959.


Sacred organ music was broadcast over WKBW and Rev. Clinton Churchill preached on “One Thing Every Sinner Should Know,” on the day when four new electric signs—including a 30-foot red-and-white porcelain cross—were dedicated in 1937 at the Churchill Tabernacle at 1420 Main Street.

The new cross was the gift of Pastor Churchill in memory of his mother and in honor of his father. Hanging beneath the cross, a large sign and two illuminated electric clocks.

The building became WKBW-TV’s Television Center in 1958, and remained Ch.7’s home until moving to the current location at 7 Broadcast Plaza in 1978.

The wall on the right side of the photo was the first home of Tom Jolls’ “Weather Outside.”


Airing weeknights at 11 on WGR from 1938-46, Mr. QED was one of Buffalo’s most listened to radio news programs. QED was actually Hamburg High School history teacher Edward T. Schweikardt. The program came to an end when Schweikardt was offered a professorship at Toledo University. When this ad ran in 1940, Manru’s Schreiber Brewing was one of at least nine local breweries operating in Buffalo.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Austin Roche was an early proponent of radio, first as a means of outreach—he wrote and starred in a weekly “crimelogue” program on WKBW.

A strong believer in what radio could do for crime fighting, Roche pushed for the creation of Buffalo Police station WMJ, which signed on in 1931.

WWMB, Border Patrol radio in Buffalo

In 1936, the Border Patrol put radio to use to “tighten the gates of the Niagara Frontier.”

WMMB was located at the foot of Arthur Street at the Niagara River. The 200-wtt transmitter broadcast every half hour. Thomas McDermott, shown above, was the station’s chief operator.

Among the hardworking staff in this BBC election night photo are Roger Baker (with cigarette at the typewriter) and Clint Buehlman (far right).

In the middle at the mic above, and in the photo below is “effervescent emcee” Cliff Jones, “your aireporter.” The Nichols grad joined WGR in 1935 and later was heard on WBEN, WHAM in Rochester, and WBTA in Batavia.

Cliff Jones, BBC


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

Roger Baker

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


One of the original superstars of Buffalo Radio in the 20s and 30s for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation’s WGR and WKBW, Roger Baker was the Queen City’s first definitive sportscaster. His 40-year announcing career started when he was a musician sitting in the orchestra waiting to go on the air, but no announcer showed up. He stepped up to the microphone and never stepped back.

A pioneer in the art of baseball play-by-play– before him, calling the action of a baseball game was assigned to which ever announcer was next on the schedule. He was Buffalo’s first regular baseball announcer, and gained recognition for his descriptions of Bisons games.

Roger Baker’s play-by-play abilities transcended language. In 1935, his endorsement of Old Gold Cigarettes was translated into Polish and appeared in Dziennik Dza Wszystkich, Buffalo’s Polish language daily newspaper.

Those who remember him in the sports booth remember the ultimate professional– no focus on personality, so much as the product on the air. His work from Offermann Stadium was straight and by the book.

After being tapped by Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to call the 1933 World Series to a nationwide audience on CBS, Baker was called up to the big leagues in 1939, replacing Red Barber as the voice of the Cincinnati Reds when “the Ol’Red Head” moved onto critical acclaim as the voice of the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Yankees.

Deco Restaurants were an early sponsor of sportscasts in Buffalo, including Roger Baker’s play-by-play broadcast of the Buffalo Hockey Bisons from the Peace Bridge Arena in Fort Erie in 1933.

In 1948, Baker returned to Buffalo as the news-reading General Manager on WKBW Radio. He eventually moved into the same news-reading General Manager spot at the short-lived Buffalo UHF pioneer WBES-TV Channel 59.

Along with Bill Mazer, Baker was also an original member of the WGR-TV sports team when the station signed-on in 1954.

“Years of experience covering sports events plus constant study of the sports picture account for the mature nature of Rog’s evening sports telecast. Master of play-by-play, his reporting of sports as they happen has set the pattern for imitators all over the country,” read a promo piece from the sign-on of Ch.2 in 1954.


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