Wrestling from Memorial Auditorium

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


Starting in 1949, Friday night meant Ralph Hubbell, Chuck Healy, and TVs tuned to live wrestling from Memorial Auditorium—with the action and antics of folks like Gorgeous George, Ilio DiPaolo, Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, Coco Brazil, and the Gallagher Brothers and dozens of others.

During pre- and post-match interviews, the athletic Healy would often find himself somehow entangled with the wrestlers he was trying to interview— handling the headlocks from “bad guys” with the grace of a professional broadcaster.

There’s little question—especially in Buffalo, wrestling helped make TV and vice-versa in those early years.

In 1951, Ed Don George was promoting wresting in 30 cities, including Buffalo. “Let them try to besmirch the wrestling profession as much as they’d like,” said Ed Don, “But what other form of sporting entertainment gives as much to the fans as wrestling?”

He was proud of wrestling’s showmanship, which had blossomed since he had been the world’s heavyweight champ 20 years earlier. “Sure, there is showmanship in wrestling. We try to dress up our business just like the downtown merchant decorates his shop windows to attract customers.”

Wrestling with Ralph Hubbell & Chuck Healy

Wrestling, of course, goes way back in Buffalo. Crowds sold out Friday night matches through the 30s, 40s, and 50s; first at the old Broadway Auditorium (now “The Broadway Barns” and the home of Buffalo’s snowplows) and then Memorial Auditorium when it opened in 1940.

“This was a shirt and tie crowd,” said the late Buffalo News Sports Editor Larry Felser, who remembered when Wrestling at the Aud was one of the biggest events in Buffalo.

“Not that many people had TV sets back then,” remembered Felser in 2001. “People were crowding into Sears and appliance stores to try to see this thing on TV, because the place was sold out.”

And with all those big crowds, there was no wrestler who could draw them in like Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George

“When Gorgeous George would wrestle, they’d pack the Auditorium for this guy,” said Felser.

“The Human Orchid,” as George was known, was the first modern wrestler, said retired Channel 7 sports director Rick Azar, saying he “changed the face of professional wrestling forever.”

As someone who called himself “Hollywood’s perfumed and marcelled wrestling orchid,” it’s clear that George knew how to make sure he set himself apart.

“He had an atomizer, and he’d walk around the ring with perfume, supposedly fumigating his opponent’s corners,” said Felser, who also remembered George’s flair for marketing outside the ring.

“His valet drove him around in an open convertible around Lafayette Square, and he’s got a wad of one-dollar bills, and he was throwing money to people. It was a show stopper. He landed on page one. TV was just in its infancy then, but they were all over it. It was like World War III. That’s how big a story it was.”

Gorgeous George is credited with ushering in the Bad Boy era of sports– and even inspired Muhammad Ali, who told a British interviewer, “he was telling people, ‘I am the prettiest wrestler, I am great. Look at my beautiful blond hair.’ I said, this is a good idea, and right away, I started saying, ‘I am the greatest!’”

Wrestling was cheap, flashy and easy to televise — and Gorgeous George was the performer that people loved to hate. It was said that in TV’s earliest years, Gorgeous George’s appearance on TV sold as many televisions as Milton Berle’s.

Another of TV’s favorite early sports was bowling. Chuck Healy was the host of “Beat the Champ” through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Nin Angelo and Allie Brandt would become among Buffalo’s most popular athletes because of their feats of bowling prowess on the show. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of the show.

Chuck Healy also hosted “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” Buffalo’s show for lady bowlers. Phyllis Notaro was just as popular as any of her male counterparts as one of the program’s great champions. Her family ran Angola’s Main Bowling Academy, and from there, she became one of the country’s top amateur bowlers and a US Open champ in 1961.

The WBEN sports team included Chuck Healy, Dick Rifenburg, Ralph Hubbell, and Don Cunningham.


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

Radio & TV in 1950

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


From the 1949 Buffalo Area Radio-Television Guide, here are some of the names and faces from radio stations just outside of Buffalo. Stations included are Lockport’s WUSJ, Olean’s WHDL, Niagara Falls’ WHLD, and WJTN & WJOC, both from Jamestown.

In 1950, television bore little resemblance to what beams into our homes so many decades later.

The test pattern was a regularly scheduled part of the broadcast day, which on most days didn’t start much before noon.

Still, the growing number of television sets and the wonder of it all was putting dents in the entertainment powerhouse of the previous three decades.

“Radio, facing stiff TV competition, continues to seek means of holding its position in program ratings during the evening hours,” wrote the Courier- Express in 1952.

Among the general similarities between then and today is the popularity of sports on TV. But Buffalo’s favorite television sports in 1950 were live and local.

 A look at two days’ worth of programming on Ch.4 in 1950.


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

WBEN-TV signs-on, 1948

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo


Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting 


For the few thousand with TV sets that could pull in the new station, the wait was excruciating.

On February 27, 1948, WBEN-TV started telecasting daily—but only a test pattern for several hours a day.

Eleven weeks later, on May 14, 1948, Buffalo entered the television era with the sign-on of Ch.4, WBEN-TV. The station was among the first 25 to sign on in the country.

“Edward H. Butler, editor and publisher of The Buffalo Evening News, stepped before a WBEN-TV camera at Memorial Auditorium on May 14, 1948—and a new era in mass communications and home entertainment began on the Niagara Frontier,” read an announcement from the station.

The station’s first-day, four-hour lineup offered a taste of what television would be like over the next couple of years in Buffalo—a little bit of everything.

After the somber address by Mayor Dowd and Mr. Butler, there was a Town Casino Variety Show, including the Town Casino chorus, acrobatic dancer Dorothy Deering, and network singing star and emcee Mary Jane Dobb.

The Town Casino chorus—“The Adorables,” entertained on Ch.4’s first night of broadcasting. The high-kicking ladies were Barbara Stafford, Alice Noonan, Jerry MacPhee, Gini Ruth, Melhi Jestrab, and Lee Borger.

And the show that would be the station’s most popular for the next decade was also on Ch.4 that first night —There was wrestling live from Memorial Auditorium.

WBEN-TV cameras in Memorial Auditorium.

“The marceled master of mayhem, Gorgeous George, will take over the spotlight when the tele-cameras shift to the auditorium’s wrestling ring at 9:30,” read Buffalo’s first TV program guide.

Just as radio had been a truly pioneering experience 25 years earlier– with no one exactly sure what to do because no one had ever done it before, the first few years of programming at Ch.4 were an exciting and sometimes weird hodge-podge of adapting things that worked on radio for television mixed with completely new ideas for the completely new medium.

South Buffalo’s Fred Keller, who first joined WBEN as an announcer in 1942, was the creative spirit behind many of the shows on Ch.4.

Mary Jane Dobb was the emcee and Dorothy Deering performed acrobatic dancing on a Town Casino Variety Show on Ch.4’s first night on the air. Behind the camera is Program Director Fred Keller, who was also a writer and announcer that evening. “Radio Mirror” called him “one of the top television idea-men in the East.” Among his credits was the creation of Ch.4’s beloved Santa Claus show.
Because sponsors meant more than format, Chuck Healy’s “Iroquois Sports Spotlight” show hosted Buffalo Zoo Director Joseph Abgott and his monkey friend “Mike” visited when the zoo opened the Iroquois Monkey Island.

Remembered as a sportscaster from the day WBEN-TV signed on in 1948 through 1977, Chuck Healy was also Buffalo’s most watched TV news anchor on Ch.4 through the ’60s.

The versatile announcer was also a versatile athlete as a boxing and football star at Syracuse University.

“Clowns and tigers” sounds more like a bad dream than a TV show. There was no caption attached to this photo, but based on the cameras without WBEN-TV stenciling, it was probably taken in early 1948, well-before the station signed on with a regular schedule.
At 9:30 on Wednesday mornings, the Czurles family hosted “Woodland Crafts, as a part of the “Live and Learn” summer series on Ch.4. Dr. Stanley Czurles was the Director of Art education at Buffalo State Teachers College.
Another of Ch.4’s most popular early shows The TV Barn Dance, sponsored by Hal Casey’s South Park Chevrolet. At various times, the show featured country musicians who were also known as around Buffalo as disc jockeys– Art Young, who was heard on WXRA and WKBW, performed with his group the Borderliners. Lee Forster, who hosted shows on WEBR, WKBW and WWOL, performed on the program—and also met his wife on the Ch.4 sound stage.
Ailing veterans gather around a brand-new television set in the recreation lounge of the VA Hospital in Batavia in 1949.
Ed Reimers interviews singer and bandleader Vaughn Monroe on Ch.4, early in 1948, while the station was still experimenting and not yet broadcasting a full schedule.
Ch.4 live truck downtown.
“Studio D,” on the Statler’s 18th floor as Ch.4 presents “The Clue,” perhaps the best remembered of Ch.4’s live, locally produced dramas.

Television’s first ever cop drama, “The Clue” was written and directed by Buffalo theater icon Fred A. Keller, and starred Evening News Radio-TV columnist Jim Trantor as Private Eye Steve Malice. It was as an actor on “The Clue” that Canadian radio announcer Lorne Greene—later famous as Ben Cartwright on Bonanza—made his first television appearance.

Stuart Roth and Jim Mohr recreate a scene in Ch.4’s “The Law & You.”
Brothers Jim (above) and Don Trantor lit up 1920s Buffalo radio with their piano act “the 20 Fingers of Melody.” Don was later the TV and Radio critic for the Courier-Express, while Jim was the promotions director for the WBEN stations. As shown above, he also played “Steve Malice, Private Eye,” starring in Ch.4’s “The Clue.”
It took a cast and crew of 22 to put on a 15-minute episode of “The Clue,” including Director Keller, Writer Wander, Ass’t Director Baldwin and announcer Bob Nelson. Actress Nadine Fitzpatrick is flanked by Trantor, Conrad Schuck, Charles Dempsey and Keith Hopkins. The technicians include Neil O’Donnell, Frank Holliday, Arthur Graff, John Knoerl, Gordon Pels, Gee Klumpp, Chet Pardee, Doug McLarty, James Kane, John Hagmman, Donald Stilwell, and William Noble.
Jim Trantor was also one of Ch.4’s early news men. He was the host of the weekly Iroquois Illustrated Press, which took a longer look at the week’s top news stories.
Harry Webb (above) and Ed Dinsmore (below) were Ch.4’s most seen news anchors during the station’s first decade on the air.
Celebrating Ch.4’s fourth anniversary in 1952 were Harry Webb, Bill Peters (who played Santa Claus from 1954-72 as well as “Norman Oklahoma”), and “Uncle” Jerry Brick, who was a Ch.4 floor director when he wasn’t hosting a kid’s variety show.
Chuck Healy’s easy and professional manner was a Ch.4 mainstay from the day the station signed on until 1977. Strictly a sportsman in the early days, Healy would be Buffalo’s most watched news anchor in the 1960s.
Director Gertrude Noble and Floor Manager William Noble look on as Victor’s Amateur Hour emcee James Trantor rehearses a commercial with producer James Christensen.
Woody Magnuson was another of the hosts on WBEN-TV’s Amateur Hour, this time sponsored by North Park Furniture. He was also the host of a longtime WEBR kids show as “Uncle Bill.”


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 Buffalo Evening News building, 200 Main Street

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

1880 map

The year that the map we’ve been plotting out was published was also the year The Buffalo Evening News was founded by Edward H. Butler with headquarters at 200 Main St.

A few successful years later, a much-lauded News headquarters building was built a few doors down at 216-218 Main St. The spot is at the northern tip of the One Seneca Tower footprint, just south of Seneca Street.

The News headquarters, 1940s.

The building was The News’ headquarters for 77 years.

The passerby might not have noticed anything extraordinary outside the building, save perhaps the founder’s daughter-in-law’s Rolls-Royce parked on the sidewalk in front of the building. Mrs. Kate Robinson Butler served as president of The News and later publisher after her husband’s death in 1956.

Her car pulled right up to the front door was a sign to the staff that the publisher was in the building. In her 90s, she was still a force at The News until her death in 1974.

Longtime News reporter, editor and columnist Jeff Simon remembers first setting foot in the building as a copyboy in 1964.

“That marble counter on the first floor and all of the brass atop of it was impressive,” said Simon. “You knew you’d walked into a serious place. I loved the old building as a copyboy. My favorite place in it was the ugliest and most unsavory – the sports department on the mezzanine floor between one and two.”

If you were impressed by the Rolls-Royce and the marble, the inverse was true on that sports mezzanine. Simon’s memories of the place make it sound like a film noir version of a newsroom, starting with the fact that it was the only place in the whole building where men could smoke at their desks.

“With the low ceilings the place was dense with cigarette and cigar smoke. You’re lucky if you could see two feet in front of you. On the floor – even in the early ’60s –there were spittoons. And they were used.”

When downtown progress pushed The News out of its longtime home, Mrs. Butler said cost wasn’t an option as she wanted a showpiece building designed and crafted in honor of her late husband’s memory. She wasn’t well enough to step inside the building that still serves as News headquarters at One News Plaza, but was able to take a car ride around the grounds as the structure neared completion, giving her seal of approval.

One News Plaza opened in 1973. Mrs. Butler died the following year.

Mrs. Kate Butler, with other News executives in the control room at WBEN-TV, Channel 4. Mrs. Butler was president of the Buffalo Evening News as well as The News’ radio and TV stations, WBEN-AM/FM/TV.

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)

Buffalo in the ’60s: Bowling was a big business in Buffalo

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

We Buffalonians don’t bowl anywhere near as much as we used to, but just like we still consider ourselves a blue-collar town (even though most of the blue-collar jobs have been gone for decades) we still sentimentally feel a link to the game our parents and grandparents enjoyed over pitchers of beer in leagues all across the city.

Sattler’s and bowling– two entities that made Buffalo great in the 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo Stories archives

While for many bowling was a game that was as much about smoking and drinking and socializing as it was about rolling a ball down the lane, it was also serious business in Buffalo.

There was a time when Channels 2, 4, and 7 all aired local bowling shows– and Channel 4 had two shows– “Beat The Champ” with men bowlers and “Strikes, Spares, and Misses” with lady bowlers. WBEN-TV’s Chuck Healy was in homes six days a week for two decades as Buffalo’s bowling emcee as host of those programs. This 1971 ad describes “Strikes, Spares, and Misses,” which aired daily at 7:30pm, as “Buffalo’s most popular show.”

When local TV bowling was at its zenith in the 1950s, even radio stations promoted their coverage of the sport. Ed Little, who spent 62 years working in radio, most of them in his hometown of Buffalo, read the bowling scores on WEBR Radio before he took the drive down Main Street to host live broadcasts with the stars performing at the Town Casino.

WEBR’s Ed Little with bowling highlights weeknights at 6:30. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Buffalo’s best bowlers became celebrities– well known from their exploits as televised. Nin Angelo, Allie Brandt, Phyllis Notaro, and scores of others became some of Buffalo’s best known athletes.

Sixty years later, families still beam with pride when relating the stories of their family’s greatest athletes, even when an elder has to explain most of the fuzzy details. All-American Bowler Vic Hermann’s family still proudly talks about the day Vic rolled the first 300 game in the history of “Beat the Champ.”

A Courier-Express photo illustration bringing together many of Buffalo’s great bowlers of the late 1950s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

We live in an era where we’re watching the numbers of Western New York bowlers and bowling alleys dwindle rapidly. But five or six decades ago, it wasn’t just bowling alleys that were plentiful: The sports pages of The Buffalo Evening News and Courier-Express were regularly filled with ads for the all the accouterments of  bowling.

Bowling was big, and judging by the pages of the city’s newspapers, there was big money to be made as well. The run up to league time in 1960 saw no fewer than five decent-sized ads for custom bowling shirts…. because it wasn’t just about your score, it was about looking good at the social event of the week at your neighborhood bowling alley.

Bowling shirts from Al Dekdebrun, who became famous in Buffalo as a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills of the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Laux Sporting Goods sold bowling shirts from their original location at 441 Broadway on Buffalo’s East Side. (Buffalo Stories archives)

One of Buffalo’s biggest sellers of custom bowling balls was on the city’s West Side at Buffalo Rubber & Supply, Niagara Street at Pennsylvania. (Buffalo Stories archives)

What It Looked Like Wednesday: Locally produced dramatic television

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Television wasn’t even 3 years old in Buffalo when this photo was snapped inside WBEN-TV’s “Studio D” on the 18th floor of the Hotel Statler in 1951.

Buffalo News archives

Buffalo News archives

Channel 4 was still Buffalo’s only television station, and its offerings of live, locally produced dramas were among the most popular shows that The News-owned station broadcast.

This one in particular, “The Clue,” is perhaps the best remembered. It was written and directed by Buffalo theater icon Fred A. Keller, and it starred Evening News Radio-TV columnist Jim Trantor as Private Eye Steve Malice. He can be seen in the scene wearing a hat.

wben04April101

It wasn’t long before local dramas were pushed off local stations around the country as networks began creating more high quality content for those stations to use.

What it looked like Wednesday: The changing look in front of Channel 4, 1960 -2016

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When Don Paul retired as Buffalo’s pre-eminent weather authority last month, the folks at Channel 4 wished him luck on the message board in front of the station’s Elmwood Avenue studios. The high-definition display replaces a scrolling light sign which had been in place for at least 40 years.

Steve Cichon/Buffalo Stories photo

The station now known as WIVB-TV has called 2077 Elmwood Ave. home since 1960, and until 2000, the building also was home to WBEN Radio. The yellow buildings across Elmwood Avenue in this 1983 photo have long since been torn down, and replaced by Popeye’s and Napa Auto.

Buffalo Stories archives

In 1977, it wasn’t Don Paul, but another fabled Buffalo weatherman — Channel 2’s Kevin O’Connell — who was then Channel 4’s main weatherman, broadcasting live from underneath the sign as a blizzard descended upon the region.

Buffalo Stories archives

It was a simpler sign — almost bizarrely similar to next-door neighbor and competitor WGR’s sign in 1961. The tiny building that housed WGR’s radio studios for several years has been owned by Channel 4 for decades. It still stands directly across Elmwood from McDonald’s.

Buffalo News archives

Looking further down Elmwood, none of the buildings in view past the former WGR building are still standing. A paint store stood where the former Don Pablo’s/Advance Auto now stands. Off in the distance closer to Hertel, the water tower of the Kittinger Furniture factory is visible.

 

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

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

From 1948 to 1973, the children of Buffalo knew who the one, true Santa was — and it was the guy who read their letters on Channel 4.

During most of the 25 years the show aired, Hengerer’s sponsored the show to run from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve for 15 minutes on weekdays, a little longer on Saturdays. In 1956, the show that delivered approximately 50,000 letters to Santa through its run became Buffalo’s first locally-produced show regularly presented in color.

Two men played Santa on Channel 4. Announcer Ed Dinsmore was the first St. Nick from the show’s inception until his death in 1954. Station program director Bill Peters — who was also known on the Van Miller Show as Norman Oklahoma — played Santa from 1954 until the end of the show’s run 19 years later.

Santa, however, was barely the star of the show. Forgetful the Elf, played memorably by WBEN copy writer John Eisenberger, was there for the entire run of the show from 1948 to ’73. Not only was the elf he played forgetful, but he was silly. Most shows revolved around Forgetful trying to paint Santa’s sleigh with polka dots, or trying to convince Santa to get rid of his “old fashioned” red suit for something as bit more modern. Hundreds of times through the show’s quarter century, Forgetful was seen greasing up the reindeer’s antlers, with the hopes of making them go faster.

This clip is the only known remaining video from the long run of the Santa show. It’s not from the broadcast of the show– but from 8mm home movies shot by a Channel 4 crew member.  This brief video shows Peters as Santa, Eisenberger as Forgetful, and Brook as Grumbles.

The soundtrack for the film is Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” which was used as the show’s theme song. It was also frequently used during the Christmas season by WBEN’s legendary morning man Clint Buehlman.

No full episodes or even short clips of this show — which ran for 25 years — are known to exist. The show was usually presented live, and recording was a more costly and difficult endeavor than it is today.

Santa and Forgetful had plenty of helpers through the years, all of whom — just like Peters and Eisenberger — had other jobs around the station. Grumbles the Elf was played by executive director Gene Brook and then floor manager Bud Hagman. Another director, Warren Jacober, played Freezy the Polar Bear. There were countless other puppets and guest stars, but none rising even close to the popularity of Eisneberger’s Forgetful.

The show ended along with Bill Peters’ death in 1973. Eisenberger died in 1984 at the age of 72.

Eisenberger as Forgetful and Peters as Santa. (Buffalo Stories archives/Steve Cichon collection)

 

Even Old Buffalo Looking New: Ch.4’s 1960’s Buffalove

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

BUFFALO, NY – My friend Libby wrote something the other day which made me think. She was talking about the cold and the gray and the snow, and how we don’t even realize how the darkness of it all creeps into our personality.

“Honestly do not even realize I am depressed, until the sun comes out and everything is sunshiny and I feel the depression lift!”

skyway


I read this amidst my going through my collection of old radio and TV trade magazines. In the late 50s and early 60s, these magazines were filled with ads from local radio and TV stations looking to appeal to national advertisers. They talk about how great the station is, but also how wonderful the city and it’s people are– a great place to sell your stuff.

There are plenty of great ads from Buffalo stations. It’s like a Buffalo version of the wacky creative efforts you might see from the guys on Mad Men.

WBENTVbuildings

I’ve used these old magazines as a resource for years. Decades even. This time, however, the feeling was different, and Libby’s exaltation helped me put my finger on what made some of these ads better than they were the last time I looked.

These ads look better and more interesting, because there is hope and brightness in Buffalo like we haven’t seen here since the late 50s.

These ads, from 1958 and 1964, show WBEN-TV’s excitement for Buffalo and what is to come, and are meant to showcase the “just-over-the-horizon New Buffalo” that was on it’s way.

These ads feel fresh and great, because while there was a 60 year lag, that New Buffalo really is just around the corner this time.

WBENTVgrainelevators

When we were filled with gloom and darkness about our city, we would look and read these, and point to the empty, rotting grain elevators as a vestige of a vanished industry.

We’d look closely on the Skyway image, and see the beams marked with the logo of Bethlehem Steel. It was a bridge built to get 15,000 men from the city to their jobs in a plant that’s been cold for 30 years.

 

We imagine what Buffalo would have looked like if we didn’t build highways and downtown office buildings for 2 million expected Western New Yorkers, and we lament the buildings that were lost because too much of downtown was torn down too quickly for the wrong reasons.

But now, with the sun out here for the first time in generations, we look at these images and see progress and what’s to come. We now recreate under the Skyway, with promise of more to come. Grain elevators and malt houses are becoming the avant-garde, up-and-coming spaces that the next generation of Buffalonians realize are incredibly unique to us alone, as moves are made to re-imagine and re-purpose what makes us unique.

WBENTVskyway

And with cranes and scaffolds up in dozens of places around the city, the thought of “new building” isn’t necessarily followed by “oh no.”

As the sun shines, and us Buffalonians feel the depression about our city lift, we’re beginning to figure out how to make our dynamic past, part of our dynamic future.

And we’re getting excited about seeing how the same ol’stuff starts to look different with some sunshine on it, warming the face and the soul.