Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - This past Sunday marked a milestone day for WGR, as the station officially turned 100-years-old!
First considered little more than a novelty, radio grew into one of the greatest technological marvels of the 20th century. The inaugural broadcast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s KDKA in 1920 set off a wave of interest in the commercial value of radio.
In 1922, radio broadcasting was almost as chaotic as the internet was in the late 1990s. It seemed like everyone, including religions leaders, newspapers, schools, manufactures, and retailers all wanted to get into the business of broadcasting. That year, the Department of Commerce and Labor granted the first broadcasting license in Buffalo to prominent electrical equipment dealer McCarthy Bros. & Ford. The firm hoped to use the station as a way to encourage the sale of home radio sets which they featured in their downtown Buffalo showroom.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, 1922, WWT went on the air from a third-floor room inside their building located at 75 West Mohawk Street. With an aerial atop the nearby Niagara Life Building, the first program consisted of an address by Buffalo Mayor Francis X. Schwab, an Easter greeting from the Rev.
George Frederic Williams, Rector of St. Mary’s-On-The-Hill Episcopal Church and an address by Albert L. Kinsey, President of the Chamber of Commerce. Edward D. O’Dea had the privilege of being Buffalo’s first announcer and operator.
WWT only broadcast for a few hours at a time and on an irregular basis. After only two months of intermittent broadcasts, WWT’s programing became sporadic due to transmitting issues. By October 2, 1922, WWT officially cased operations permanently.
While WWT struggled to provide a dedicated schedule of broadcasts, experimental station 8XAD, owned by the Federal Telephone & Telegraph Company, began limited broadcasting on a wavelength of 485 meters.
The company received its broadcast license on March 14, 1922 and was randomly assigned the call letters WGR. Studios and transmitting equipment was located inside the company’s sprawling complex in North Buffalo long the Belt Line Railway at 1738 Elmwood Avenue. The plant manufactured radio sets and other pieces of communications equipment.
On May 22, 1922, 8XAD officially sign-on the air as WGR to become Buffalo first radio station to offer uninterrupted commercial service to Western New York.
WGR’s inaugural broadcast included an address and prayer by the Rev. Michael Ahern, President of Canisius College, a concert by the Yankee Six Orchestra and a presentation on the advantages of a college education by Dr. Julian Park, from the University at Buffalo.
A Buffalo Evening News story on that day reported:
“WGR is the highest-powered broadcasting station between Schenectady and Detroit and is said by radio experts to have by far the highest percentage of efficiency in the country. The new station is located on the top floor of the Federal Telephone & Telegraph building on Elmwood Avenue and has been attractively arranged and furnished. The broadcasting room is hung with heavy gray drapes. These are not only pleasing to the eye but necessary to kill off any ring or echo that might interfere with the broadcasting. They improve the acoustics. There is an adjoining lounge and waiting room comfortable arranged with wicker furniture.”
In 1923, WGR would move its operations to the newly constructed Statler Hotel located on Niagara Square, and then to the Rand Building in 1929.
*** - Buffalo Radio 1922 - Marty Biniasz
Here now is a look back in time at the history of WGR (all images from the soon-to-be released book “Buffalo Radio” by Marty Biniasz and www.Biniasz.com):
On May 22, 1922, the Federal Telephone and Telegraph Company located at 1738 Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo signed on its radio station WGR. Founded in 1908, Buffalo was the location of Federal’s home office and primary factory with support branches in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and across the Niagara River in Bridgeburg, Ontario, Canada. Known initially for its telephone communication products, entered the wireless business in 1921 when it introduced its first complete receiver, the Federal Junior. At its peak the Federal factory in Buffalo operated 24-hours a day employing over 1,000 workers. In 1926 the company’s name changed to the Federal Radio Corporation but faced increasing competition in the household consumer market from such companies as RCA, Westinghouse, Zenith, Crosley and Emerson. Following the stock market crash in October 1929, Federal Radio ceased production.
WGR’s first day of programing included an address and prayer by the Rev. Michael Ahern, President of Canisius College, a concert by the Yankee Six Orchestra, a discussion on the growth of Buffalo business by Albert Kinsey, President of the Chamber of Commerce and a presentation on the advantages of a college education by Dr. Julian Park, from the University of Buffalo. During the first year of operation, the broadcasting day only consisted of a few hours of programming each evening.
From a published report in the Buffalo Evening News on May 22, 1922: "WGR is the highest-powered broadcasting station between Schenectady and Detroit and is said by radio experts to have by far the highest percentage of efficiently in the country. The station has been attractively arranged and furnished. The broadcasting room is hung with heavy gray drapes. These are not only pleasing to the eye but necessary to kill off any ring or echo that might interfere with the broadcasting as they improve the acoustics. There is an adjoining lounge and waiting room comfortably arranged with wicker furniture.
In 1923, WGR moved its studios and transmitter from its original location on the top floor of the Federal Telephone and Telegraph Company in North Buffalo to the newly opened Statler Hotel in Downtown Buffalo located on Delaware Avenue at Niagara Square. In promotional materials, WGR billed itself as “the most powerful radio sending station in America.”
WGR programming schedule from 1923. With its studios and transmitter located inside Buffalo’s most modern hotel, the station took advantage of the Statler’s daily musical entertainment such as organ recitals from the ballroom or violin music played at the hotel’s Palm Room.
Federal first operated experimental station 8XAD before receiving its commercial license in 1922. The station’s initial 250-watt transmitter fit on two wooden kitchen tables which had been bolted together. By 1924, with the transmitter now located at the Statler Hotel, WGR was operating on a frequency of 940 khz and 500 watts. Technical advances quickly saw the transmitter’s power increased to 1,000 watts in 1926.
Early live programming from Buffalo including the Bing Family Show sponsored by Bison Oil Products. In the publicity photograph, a mock “parlor” was created at the fictitious setting for the Bing family.
Pioneer broadcaster Herb Rice began his radio career in 1928. He spent 14 years at various stations, including WGR, WKBW, WBEN and WMAK. As WGR’s program director, Rice sought out top notch local talent that including Robert Schmidt who would eventual be known as “Buffalo” Bob Smith of Howdy Doody fame.
Following his career in Buffalo, Rice worked for the National Broadcasting Company.
As a young boy, longtime Buffalo broadcaster Ed Tucholka started his radio career as a boy chorister on WGR. Even at an early age, Ed possessed a deep rich baritone voice that helped him landed his first announcer job in the late 1930s at WEBR radio. Tucholka would work in Buffalo broadcasting until his retirement in 1995. He passed away a year later in 1996.
For almost 30 years, David Cheskin conducted the WGR staff orchestra and acted as the station’s music director. A stable of talented Western New York musicians appeared daily on the station and the Cheskin Orchestra was one of the most popular acts both on air and in area dance halls. In 1944, the Dave Cheskin Orchestra was featured on a national broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). This 1940s era image features announcer John Lascelles left, Cheskin on the far right and feature singer Elvera Ruppel at center.
One of the original superstars of Buffalo Radio in the '20s and '30s for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation on WGR and WKBW, Roger Baker was the Queen City’s first definitive sportscaster. Those who remember him in the sports booth remember the ultimate professional – no focus on personality, so much as the product on the air is good. Calling Bisons games in the 30s from Offermann Stadium, he 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 landed a job in Cincinnati calling the National League Reds on WLW. After the war, Baker returned to Buffalo and read the news on WKBW Radio, but eventually moved into the general manager’s office at the short-lived Buffalo UHF pioneer WBES-TV, where he also read the news.
Along with Bill Mazer, Baker was also an original member of the WGR-TV sports team when the station signed-on in 1954. Baker moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico for health reasons, continuing his broadcast at KOB for several more years.
WGR’s Billy Keaton gained fame in Vaudeville before entering radio. He honed his witty and comedic timing on thousands of stages across the country before transforming his routine into the popular “Stuff and Nonsense” show on WGR.
First starting as a temporary assignment, Billy was joined by his wife Reggie and the couple hosted the “Mr. and Mrs. Show” until the mid-1950s. The Keatons’ transitioned into Buffalo television in 1954 as pioneer personalities on WGR-TV. Billy Keaton passed away in 1976, Reggie in 1995. Both were inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2005.
Between 1934 and 1936, “Rubinoff and his Violin” was a popular network program airing on WGR and sister station WKBW. This ad from the summer of 1935 also promotes Buffalo’s “natural air-conditioning” due to its strategic geographic location on the shores of Lake Erie.
As an ever-increasing slate of network shows took over timeslots once filled by Buffalo talent, local news became an important part of WGR’s programing day.
Without a dedicated news staff of its own, WGR partnered with the large, local staff of the Buffalo Times newspaper to deliver headlines.
The outbreak of World War II catapulted radio’s importance as a primary new source as wire and network services such as the Mutual Broadcasting System supplied “break news” from both the European and Pacific fronts. With a large map of the world behind them, two WGR broadcasters provide updated from the front window of a downtown Buffalo department store.
In 1936, WGR published a 24-page, commemorative booklet celebrating Clint Buehlman’s fifth anniversary at the station and the success of his “Musical Clock” morning show. Proceeds from the public sale of the publication benefitted the American Red Cross of Buffalo. This cartoon summarized Buehlman’s first years at the Buffalo Broadcasting Company that included causing traffic jams in Lafayette Square and receiving a record 5,000 letters in just one week.
In this staged photograph, sharply dressed men and women wait for their time to perform in the WGR reception area located on the 18th floor of the Rand Building in downtown Buffalo. WGR would officially move into this art deco skyscraper on May 1, 1929.
Officially opened in July 1941, the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation constructed a new, $350,000 transmitter and tower facility on Big Tree Road just south of the downtown core on Big Tree Road. Housed inside the art deco structure were the technical elements that put WGR and sister station WKBW on the air.
A technological marvel at the time of its construction, WGR would frequently provide public tours of the facility. Guest would have entered the transmitter building through the main door, walk up a stairwell lined with glass brick and arrive at visitor gallery. The second floor housed two, glass enclosed control rooms, one for WGR, the other for WKBW. A stainless-steel railing separated visitors from a wall of transmitters covering three sides of the room. Tours only lasted a short time as World War II security concerns ended the public’s access to the transmitter site. As of 2021, both WGR and WKBW are still using the transmitter site with modern equipment.
The “Dean of Buffalo Sports Radio.” Sports broadcaster and journalist Ralph Hubbell joined WGR in 1939 where he provided play-by-play of all Bisons Baseball home games and recreated away games using Western Union messages. Hubble began his radio career at WEBR in 1935 by reading poetry over the air but soon found that his fortune was found in sports. Over the years, “Hub” as he was known to friends and fans, was a man for all seasons as he did play-by-play for every major college and professional team in Buffalo.
WGR’s Ralph Hubbell throw a few punches with rival WBEN sports report Jim Wells at a banquet at the Statler Hotel. Hubbell would leave WGR in 1948 to join WBEN. He was inducted in the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1997 and died in 2000.
Bill Mazer came to Buffalo in 1947 where he signed on as a sportscaster. One year later, he became sports director for WGR radio. Mazer dominated Buffalo sports radio serving as play-by-play man for all of the city’s major sports including the both the Buffalo Bisons hockey and baseball teams, the All-American Football Conference Buffalo Bills and Little 3 (Niagara University, St. Bonaventure University and Canisius College) Basketball. As a seasoned broadcaster fluent with years of play-by-play and commentary under his belt, Mazer left Buffalo for New York City in 1964.
Following the 1946 dissolving of the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation, WGR separated from WKBW to become a standalone station. At the top of new station ownership and management were two pioneers of the radio industry who submitted a $750,000 bid to purchase the station. Leo Fitzpatrick was formally one of the principal owners of WJR, Detroit. I.R. Lounsberry was once the personal assistant to Dr. Lee DeForest and was partner and manager of WMAK in 1922. The duo would sell their interests in WGR in 1954.
Crowds gather around WGR’s Bernie Sandler during a live, remote broadcast. Sandler would begin his career at WBTA, Batavia and become a Buffalo broadcasting staple for over 60 years at various Western New York stations including WEBR, WGR, WBEN, etc.
Listeners tuning into WGR in 1954 would be welcomed by a personality lineup that included mornings with John “Old Bones” Lascelles, Billy Keaton in the afternoons and Bob Glacy keeping the overnight shift entertained with his “Glacy’s Basement” program.
There are many myths and legends surrounding the WGR call letters and if they have a meaning. Many believe the call letters were chosen to honor an early investor into the station George Rand. Over the decades, the station also positioned itself as the “World’s Greatest Radio,” and in this print ad from the December 1953 issue of Broadcasting Magazine, “Where you Go There’s Radio!” The truth is that the Federal Telephone & Telegraph Company was randomly assigned the call letters WGR by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1922.
“Hold The Phone!” John Otto is considered the “Dean of Buffalo Talk Radio,” having been a pioneering host of the format for over 40 years. Otto held host of the evening chat sessions on WGR over two periods after spending five years in the 1980s at WWKB. His five-decade tenure in Buffalo radio, the majority of if at “55 on your dial,” included the city’s best known talk shows "Extension 55" and "Night Call." His last show took place on Dec. 3, 1999, and he died a few days later on Dec. 6, 1999 at the age of 70. Otto was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 1989.
John Otto’s began his career in radio broadcasting on WBNY where he was a disc jockey and covered news. Always willing to fill any shift or try something new, he even read children’s stories over the air as “Brother John Otto.”
With the top of Buffalo Central Terminal seen just peaking behind, WGR’s John Lascelles take the throttle of a New York Central E8 diesel locomotive as a publicity stunt for a station promotion.
Danny Neaverth briefly joined WGR before heading across the dial to WKBW where he would become one of the Buffalo’s most beloved and popular radio personalities for 26 years. In this image, Neaverth, holding the WGR sign, is joined by John Zach. A few years after this picture was taken, Zach would join Neaverth as his “Pulsebeat News” man at “KB.”
Two of WGR’s mobile news cruisers await fast-breaking action behind WGR’s studios located at 2077 Elmwood Avenue. The station would call a small building behind WBEN-TV’s studios home for much of the 1960s.
Frank Benny joined WGR Radio in 1965 had undoubtedly was one of the station’s most popular personalities for much of his 19 years. In 1977, as afternoon host, the station won Billboard magazine’s radio station of the year award. In addition to radio, Benny’s talents would be utilized by sister television station WGR-TV as a sports and weather anchor as well has host of telethons, movie matinee programs and as the station’s primary voice talent. Benny died in 2005 and inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010.
On March 30, 1969, WGR held one of the most memorable promotions in Buffalo broadcasting history. The Great WGR Easter Egg Drop had 10,000 plastic eggs filled with price coupons dropped from the WGR helicopter. The event took place over 10 Western New York parks and attracted tens of thousands of listeners.
WGR's in copter host for the stunt was Frank "Bunny" Benny. In total, 9,876 eggs were redeemed at Erie County Savings Bank in Downtown Buffalo.
A 2004 inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, longtime morning host Stan Roberts was known for his corny jokes and puns that would make Buffalo laugh and groan. Roberts was the morning personality on WKBW from 1963 to 1971 before leaving to take in Boston. He would join WGR in 1972 where he held down morning drive until 1982.
When Buffalo received a National Hockey League expansion franchise in 1970, a young Ted Darling was given the honors of becoming the team’s first radio play-by-play announcer. As the original “Voice of the Buffalo Sabres,” Darling spent twenty-two seasons and almost 800 games being fans. His amazing career was cut short by Pick’s Disease. He was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2002.
February 1970, WGR Radio’s Bell “Jet Ranger” helicopter cruises over downtown Buffalo providing morning and afternoon traffic reports. Just below the WGR logo on the aircraft is one of the station’s legendary studio locations, the art deco Rand Building.
WGR studios at 464 Franklin Street in Buffalo’s Allentown District. The station would broadcast out of this building until consolidating facility with sister station WWKB on Elmwood Avenue.
WGR’s “Silver Bullet” mobile studio was a frequent attraction at the Erie County Fair where listeners could see live broadcasts as well as meet personalities like George Hamburger, Joe Galuski, Chuck Lakefield and Tom Langmyer.
Shane Gibson first came to Buffalo in 1973 as part of WKBW’s “Great America Talent Hunt” to replace the fast talking Jack Armstrong. Although he came in second place, his on air persona “The Cosmic Cowboy” captivated Buffalo radio listeners and would allow him to join the station a few months later as the station’s night personality. But it would be at WGR that “Shane Brother Shane” legend in Buffalo would flourish until 1985 and again for a brief stint in 1989. Gibson was inducted in the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2011 and passed away in 2021.
Shane Evenings promotions on a bus in Buffalo.
The WGR Sports Department 1989 to 1993 consisted of (left to right) Greg Brown, Jeff Morrison and Pete Weber. Brown was the Buffalo Bills radio color analysts from 1991 to 1993. He provided play-by-play for the Buffalo Bisons until 1993 when he joined Pittsburgh’s KDKA radio to take over similar duties with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Having provided play-by-play for the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Bisons and Buffalo Sabres, Weber joined the Nashville Predators during their inaugural year in 1998 to be their play-by-play voice.
When asked by Buffalo News reporter Alan Pergament what kind of talk show host he was, Paul Lyle responded in one word, "controversial." Lyle joined WGR in 1990 for a one-year talk stint which included routinely used coarse language and shocking topics to boost ratings. Lyle would depart WGR in July 1991.
Conservative talker Jay R. Gash joined WGR in 1991 to replace outgoing talk host Paul Lyle.
In later years, Gash would team up with his wife Suzie to provide brash, edgy political and social commentary. Originally from Philadelphia, Gash came to Buffalo via Anchorage, Alaska. In 1993, Gash would leave Buffalo to accept a job in New Orleans.
At the height of the Buffalo Bills’ AFC Championship years, Chuck "The Coach" Dickerson was king of sports talk on WGR hosting a three-hour afternoon, drive-time show. Dickerson, a Bills assistant from 1986 to 1991, was blunt, provocative, and loud. He would often end his show, after arguing with callers, with the catchphrase “Who love ya, baby?" Dickerson joined WGR in 1993 and departed 10 years later in 2003.
Tom Langmyer is one of the most respected industry consultants and managers in modern America radio. After receiving his FCC Third-Class license at the early age of 14, Langmyer would eventually work at Buffalo stations WGR, WBEN, WJJL learning all aspects of the broadcasting business including on air, promotions, engineering, and programming. After managing top market stations such as KMOX, St. Louis; WGN, Chicago and WTMJ, Milwaukee he founded a media acquisition and consulting company, Great Lakes Media Group, in 2018.
On the evening of his 1998 induction into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame, WGR’s John Otto broadcasted his program live from the site of the ceremony, Buffalo’s Tralfamadore Music Hall. It was a truly a memorable night as countless Buffalo broadcasting legends paid homage to Otto behind a pair of vintage RCA microphones. WGR’s Operations Director Jim Pastrick facilitated the historic broadcast with help of station engineers Dan Gurzynski and Matt Monin.
Otto would pass away a year later in 1999.
In September of 1929, WGR operations moved into the 18th floor of the recently constructed Rand Building. The 24-story structure at Broadway and Washington faced Lafayette square.
Tom Shannon broadcasting from the WGR remove studio. Shannon began his broadcasting career at WXRA, now WUFO, at the age of 15 doing everything at the station from staff announcing to landscaping. With movie star good looks and an ultra-cool demeanor, Shannon was bound to be one of the first teen-idols of Buffalo broadcasting. In 1958, he was hired at WKBW as a newsman and eventually given the opportunity to be a weekend and fill-in jock. Little did he know that later that year the station would flip format, become “Future Sonic Radio” and a create a legend. He wasn’t the wise guy or the funny guy on radio, but the epitome of youthful coolness. So popular was Shannon’s theme song “Wild Weekend, that is would be recorded by the Rockin’ Rebels and become a No. 8 hit on the Billboard charts. In 1963, Shannon moved down the dial to WGR-AM but soon departed for CKLW in Detroit.
Stan Roberts and Buffalo Bills player Reggie McKenzie.
Bill Mazer. Ad, 1954.
An ad for WGR’s coverage of V-E Day, May 7, 1945.
WGR Daytime Coverage Map, 1944.
WGR Evening Coverage Map, 1944.
For a self-proclaimed “non-broadcaster” Tom Bauerle has had an incredible five-decade run on Buffalo radio. Lauded for his “leadership and character” at graduation from Kenmore East High School, Bauerle was still a student when he was recruited to work at WJJL, Niagara Falls. In 1982, WGR News Director Don Dussias heard Tom and hired him for part-time news work and Sabres' coverage at WGR 550. At the early age of 19, he was given the opportunity to take over John Otto’s Extension 55 evening program following Otto’s move to WKBW. In 1991, Bauerle took over mornings on WGR where his “Breakfast With Bauerle” consistently provided the station with strong rating.
Citing ABC’s Peter Jennings, WKBW’s Irv Weinstein and comedian George Carlin as career influences, Tom’s calm and insightful coverage of 9-11 shined the spotlight on his journalistic background. Shortly after the tragedy, he moved over to WBEN where he has been station’s marquee personality ever since.