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May 1998

Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers

Hall of Fame Inductees

 

by Gary DEEB

 

The history of Buffalo broadcasting is both illustrious and inspiring.

After all, this is the city that gave America "The Lone Ranger."  It's the town where George "Hound Dog" Lorenz really rocked the boat, where Buffalo Bob Smith first had the motion for a little creature named Howdy and where Foster Brooks perfected his "Lovable Lush" routine.

It was in Buffalo that an ambitious deejay named Guy King climbed on a billboard atop the Palace Burlesque and triggered the mother of all traffic jams.  This is the town where Clint Buchlman played the piano, ignored Elvis and never lost a listener.  It's the place where Bill Mazer had as many fans as Lake Easter.

Buffalo is the city where Irv, Rick and Tom became posterboys for "the family that stays together," where Van Miller made the bills sound big time way before they actually were and where the estimable Chuck Healy made himself (and us) comfortable for more than 40 years.

This is the close-knit community where Bob Wells, a chunky guy who could have been the next-door neighbor on "Ozzie & Harriet," stayed up late to do live commercials during the 11 o'clock news for Your Host restaurants and the Erie County Savings Bank.  It's also the town where John Otto has epitomized class and decency while burning the midnight oil through four decades of talk radio.

Last year the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers initiated its Hall of Fame.  It honors the people who achieved greatness here, both on the air and behind the scenes.  It's a stirring tribute to the folks who did so much to entertain us and to enlighten us.   These are the people who understood that TV and radio are so much more than just a bunch of wires inside a box.

Here are the 1998 inductees into the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame:

Rick AZAR

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Rick AZAR is famous for his quarter-century run as the twice-a-night sports anchor at WKBW-TV (Channel 7).  To hundreds of thousands of viewers, his face and voice were the definitive representation of sports on the Niagara Frontier.   Despite spending more than 40 years in a rough-and-tumble arena, Azar has always managed to preserve and justify his gleaming reputation as a broadcast gentleman.   In the mid 1950's, he became one of the youngest-ever staff announcers at NBC-TV in New York, eventually returning to buffalo to work at NBC-owned WBUF-TV (the original Channel 17).  In 1958, when Channel 7 signed on, it was Azar's voice that welcomed viewers to what would become Buffalo's No. 1 TV station.  Since retiring from full-time broadcasting in 1989, Azar has been chairman of Azar & More, a public relations and multimedia production company.

Chuck HEALY

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Chuck HEALY was one of the most versatile craftsmen ever to ply his trade in Buffalo broadcasting.  In an astonishingly eclectic career at Channel 4, he anchored sports, was Buffalo's most popular news anchor, hosted the "Beat the Champ" and "Strikes, Spares & Misses" bowling shows, and was the announcer for the flamboyant wrestling telecasts from Memorial Auditorium.  After retiring from Channel 4, Healy hosted "Over 50" for 13 years on WNED-TV (Channel 17).  He died in 1994.

Tom JOLLS

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Tom JOLLS will go down in the books as Buffalo's all-time favorite weatherman, but his virtuoso performance in the other broadcast sectors establishes him as a genuine Renaissance man of the airwaves.  As if 33 years of "The Weather Outside" isn't enough, Jolls did double-duty at Channel 7 as host of the long-running "Commander Tom Show" for youngsters.  Before that, he anchored news at WBEN-TV (Channel 4) and wrote and produced radio dramas for WBEN-AM.  He continues his weather gig each night on Channel 7 and he still sells quite a few copies of his book about the peculiarities of Buffalo weather.

Van MILLER

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Van MILLER has been the "Voice of the Buffalo Bills" for nearly 40 years.  He's nationally acknowledged as one of the great pro football announcers.  Miller still anchors nightly sportcasts on WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and boasts a breath-taking run of 43 years at Channel 4 and WBEN-AM.  He was the emcee of the TV quiz show "It's Academic" and hosted and acclaimed afternoon radio show at WBEN in the 1960's.

John OTTO

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John OTTO is the dean of talk radio in Buffalo.  His calm manner, rich voice and warm style have set a remarkable standard for high-quality conversation since he first positioned himself at a WGR microphone nearly four decades ago.  He is the stark antithesis of "shock radio" - treating his listeners as family and steadfastly refusing to cheap-shot his way to notoriety.  Otto also has anchored news, hosted documentaries and been a quirky music personality ("Eydie Gorme entertaining-- and isn't she, though!").  His WGR late night talk show keeps percolating six nights a week.

Fran STRIKER

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Fran STRIKER created "The Lone Ranger" while working at WEBR Radio in 1930.  He originally called it "Covered Wagon Days" and took the program WXYZ in Detroit where in 1933 "The Lone Ranger" was launched from coast to coast.  By the time the show wound up its fabled run in the early 1960's, Striker had written more than 2,000 "Lone Ranger" scripts.  The program was the first piece of mass pop culture to treat American Indian (sidekick Tonto) in a heroically favorable light.  Striker also created and wrote "The Green Hornet" and "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon."  He died in a 1962 car crash in Elma.

Ernie WARLICK

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Ernie WARLICK was the first black personality to anchor a Buffalo television newscast, breaking the racial barrier in the 1960's when he handled sports on WGR-TV (Channel 2).  Earlier, Warlick was one of the most popular athletes ever to play for the Bills.  He was a tight end who came through at crunch-time in Buffalo and before that, in Canada.  He recently retired after 14 years at Chromatic Industrial Corp. Warlick is president of the Buffalo Bills Alumni, a chapter of the NFL Retired Players Association.

Irv WEINSTEIN

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Irv WEINSTEIN'S twin successes on TV and radio are the stuff of legend.  In 1958 he became news director of WKBW Radio and developed the concept of "rock 'n' roll radio news"-- clipped, pithy writing style; fast-paced, sometimes bombastic delivery; tabloid emphasis on the police blotter.  If you totaled your car on Sheridan Drive you were certain to be featured on "WKBW Pulse Beat News." In 1963 Weinstein took 15 steps across the parking lot to sister station Channel 7, took over as news director and lead anchor, and dressed up his bag of radio tricks for TV's "Eyewitness News." Thirty five years later he's belting out the same hit tune five nights a week.  Without question, he is the most popular TV personality in the history of Western New York.

Buffalo Bob SMITH

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Buffalo Bob SMITH created "howdy Doody" at WNBC-TV in New York and launched that ground-breaking children's show on the full NBC networking 1947.   A winner of multiple Emmys for his Doodyville characters, he also earned the coveted Peabody Award for his combination of wholesome entertainment and good citizenship during "Howdy's" 13-year run at the top of the dinnertime audience ratings.   Before becoming one of the icons of early television, Smith was a singer, actor and personality at WBEN Radio in his hometown.

 

Gary Deeb has been a longtime media critic, columnist and commentator in Buffalo ad Chicago.

He's a board member of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneer.

 

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