By Steve Cichon
Excerpt from 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting
Almost forty years into broadcasting in Buffalo, not much had changed in where one might expect to hear a woman’s voice. Speaking to women about women’s issues was about the extent of women’s roles. There were growing numbers of exceptions, but they were clearly exceptions.
World War II changed things briefly, but not a lot.
As many of WBEN’s announcers went to war, the station took the unprecedented step of (temporarily) hiring a woman as an announcer.
Vera Holly, shortly after leaving WBEN signing on ABC, 1947.
But a 1943 memo from the station’s top brass told all emcees, telephone receptionists, and the publicity staff that she was not to be referred to while announcing, that she wouldn’t use her name while announcing, and that program hosts should refrain from mentioning her name or identity on the air.
Vera Holly was a very popular entertainer on the station for a decade. She was a singer and emcee on WBEN in the 1930s and 1940s, and had top billing on “International House Party,” but wasn’t allowed to identify herself for the nearly six months she was reading station breaks and newscasts on WBEN.
A CBS gig on “The Jerry Lester Show” landed her in front of the same microphone as the biggest star of 1943– Frank Sinatra.
“I had a great kick working on the same show as Frank,” Holly told The Buffalo Evening News. “Confidentially, he really is cute. And much nicer than I expected.”
When she was picked up for a network show in 1946, she was called “one of the most promising young stars of radio.” Holly went on to announce her own network programs on Mutual, CBS, and ABC.
A decade later, the advent of TV doubled the number of announcing jobs, but not for women— except for a very particular announcing job at the weather map.
As a genre, the “Weather Girl” made its debut on WBUF-TV in 1956 “in what is billed as an amusing and novel presentation of the temperature readings and weather conditions.”
The Courier-Express reported that “an attractive young brunette” would be joining Roger Lund at the weather map on WBUF-TV.
“Beauty and the barometer will meet Monday evening on Ch. 17 when Joy Wilson of Kenmore becomes Buffalo’s first TV weather girl on a new five-minute program telecast weekdays at 6:45.” Wilson worked in the station’s office.
Around the same time, Janice Okun was the Milk for Health spokeswoman during WBUF-TV’s newscasts, bringing television experience from her time as the second host of Ch.4’s “Plain and Fancy Cooking.”
She later appeared for the Dairy Council on Ch.7’s “Farm & Home” before moving to The Buffalo Evening News as Food Editor.
It was another woman, however, who combined being the Milk for Health “milkmaid” along with delivering the weather forecast.
Without the benefit of doppler radars or advanced computer imagery, Paula Drew would read the same information provided by the Weather Bureau like any other (male) announcer, and follow the forecast with a live commercial for Western New York’s dairy farmers.
At various times through the 1950s, her reports as “The Milk for Heath Milkmaid” were seen on Chs. 2 and 4.
In 1959, dressed in a fur stole and a pill box hat, Drew was received at the White House, bearing a gift for President Eisenhower from the Niagara Frontier’s milk producers. The 8-day-old Holstein came from the Genesee County dairy farm of Clarence Johncox.
The elegant Paula Drew also made regular appearances at the Fort Erie Race Track through the 1950s, always wearing pearls and mink, even in the barns.
Drew was also part of a New York State dairy contingent that toured European dairy farming and production facilities. In reporting back to Chautauqua County’s dairymen, she told the group that she “drinks at least three glasses of milk per day … although she likes coffee, tea and an occasional highball when on a date.”
Paula Drew on an AM&A’s remote, Ch.2
An accomplished opera singer, Drew attended Juilliard School of Music, training as a coloratura soprano. While attending Juilliard, she was signed to a Universal Pictures contract.
In post-war 1940s Hollywood, she made movies with Red Skelton and Hugh Beaumont — better known later for his role as Ward Cleaver.
After working in Buffalo for most of the 1950s, Drew moved onto other corporate public relations work in Toronto. Her last regular gig in Buffalo was as the voice of Tops Friendly Markets through the 1970s until 1983.
Doris Jones modelling Buffalo’s own Birge Wallpaper.
Though she broke into TV as model and women’s host, Doris Jones was eventually Buffalo’s first woman staff announcer.
Jones was still in high school when she started modelling on Ch.4 and later was short-lived WBES-TV’s “All Weather Gal” sponsored by Phoenix Beer.
As Ch.7 signed on the air, she was “femcee” of the station’s daily audience participation show For the Ladies, “a pleasant half-hour planned for the housewife,” reported the Courier-Express as the show debuted in 1959. “It includes interesting fashion news, a fair sample of live music and assorted singing and dancing. Blonde Doris Jones is the charming hostess.”
In 1965, she was hired as a “weathergal” at Ch.2, but union rules dictated she become a full-time staff announcer—making her Buffalo’s first woman in that role. She wound up doing weather during the 6pm news, anchoring local newscasts during the Today Show, emceeing a Fantasy Island kids show, giving skiing and boating reports, and hosting “TV’s first card game,” Pay Cards.
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.
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