by Gary DEEB
The richly textured history of Buffalo broadcasting will once again come into sharp focus on the evening of Tuesday, May 16, when the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers stage their Hall of Fame Night at the Tralfamadore Café in downtown Buffalo. The eagerly anticipated annual gala, now in its fourth year, quickly has gained acknowledgement as Western New York's premier TV-radio event.
Moreover, Hall of Fame Night has been the scene of many of the most unforgettable
moments in the spectacular chronicle of Buffalo broadcasting.
In 1998 Buffalo Bob Smith captivated an SRO crowd of more than 400 with the final
performance of his astounding career, an anecdote-studded musical journey that left the
audience of grizzled professionals wiping the moisture from their eyes. "It was the
greatest night of broadcasting I've ever attended," declared Irv Weinstein, the
anchor icon who himself ranks as the most popular TV personality ever to ply his trade in
Western New York.
Prior Hall of Fame Nights have featured radio superstars Joey Reynolds and Dan Neaverth
reuniting on stage for a bravura rendition of "Rats in My Room," their hit
record of the early 1960s; the tear-filled reunion of Weinstein, Rick Azar and Tom Jolls,
who at WKBW-TV (Channel 7) became the longest-running anchor team in the annals of
American television, a designation they still own; a standup-monologue by broadcast sports
idol Van Miller that rivaled the best of Leno and Letterman; and memorable
"re-emergences" by TV-radio legends Jack Sharpe, Doris Jones and Ralph Hubbell,
Hall of Fame Night always is a sensational event, and the underlying goal of the
extravaganza is to shine the spotlight on the past and present greatness of Buffalo
broadcasting. Under the sponsorship of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers, Hall of Fame Night
also helps to fund the Western New York Broadcasting Hall of Fame, which this year expects
to gain a physical location in downtown Buffalo.
Getting into the Hall of Fame is no easy task. Only the absolute cream of the
cropa total of just 24 so farhave crossed that threshold. This year's ceremony
will boost that hallowed number by six.
Here are the splendidly gifted broadcasters who have been selected for induction into the Western New York Broadcasting Hall of Famethe class of 2000to be honored at the Tralf on Tuesday evening, May 16:
AL ANSCOMBE is a groundbreaking triple-pioneer in radio, television and cable. Starting his career as a junior sports announcer in the late 1930s at the old Buffalo Broadcasting Corp., he became a major player in that company, eventually rising to vice president and station manager of WKBW Radio. In that post, he presided over such widely diverse talent as Bill Mazer, Foster Brooks, Stan Jasinski, Jack Mahl and George "Hound Dog" Lorenz. He later was prominent in the management team that transformed KB into one of America's great rock radio stations. Anscombe's commercial and political efforts were paramount in securing the FCC license for WKBW-TV (Channel 7) in 1958. He was a prime factor in UHF-TV in the 1960s, then shifted into cable in the '70s as owner of Amherst Cablevision. He continues to own and consult broadcast operations throughout the country and in 1996 became the founding chairman of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers.
PHIL BEUTH is one of the original executives who helped establish the fabled Capital Cities broadcast empire in the mid-1950s in Upstate New York. One of the most savvy broadcast managers of his generation, he became enormously taken with Buffalo during his 11-year stint as general manager of Channel 7 starting in 1975. His "watch" at that station was keynoted by Channel 7's cakewalk-dominance in the audience ratings and by the stunning supremacy of the Weinstein-Azar-Jolls anchor troika. Beuth was especially noted in those years for his deftness in fine-tuning and freshening up the station, while never relinquishing that Nielsen death-grip. When Cap Cities swallowed up ABC in the mid-1980s, Beuth immediately was ushered to New York to take over "Good Morning America," where he pulled off a near-impossible feat: Forcing out David Hartman (an ugly presence behind the scenes at "GMA") and replacing him with Charlie Gibson, while never missing a beat in that program's No. 1 ranking. Since retiring from Cap Cities-ABC in 1995, Beuth has established Broadcast Consultants International, a firm that provides advice and guidance to television, radio and cable operations.
ED LITTLE spent an astonishing 62 years on radio, nearly all of it in Buffalo and Rochester. His awe-inspiring career took root in 1938 when he stepped in front of the microphone at WEBR as a child actor with a grown-up voice. Later he played many parts on stage and on the air with the UCLA Campus Theater troupe. During World War II, Little carried a wire recorder aboard B-29 bombing missions over Japan and delivered the play-by-play description for later playback on NBC. Joining WEBR as a music personality post-war, he soon became host of the late-night Town Casino broadcast, interviewing every megastar of the 1950sfrom Danny Thomas and Tony Bennett to Johnnie Ray and Rosemary Clooneyat that storied nightclub. During 1958-64 he lit up the night airwaves at KFMB San Diego, then returned to Buffalo for an eye-opening career shiftbecoming the newsman during Joey Reynolds' nighttime romp on WKBW. Following 14 years as the afternoon news anchor at WBBF Rochester, Little in 1981 joined the news team at WBEN, where his trademark delivery continued to add a sense of distinction to that stations aura until his retirement just 2 months ago.
JACK MAHL's booming voice, warm smile, friendly manner and snappy salute became the stuff of legend during more than a decade as "Your Atlantic Weatherman" each weeknight on WGR-TV (Channel 2) starting in the mid-1950s. But his career goes far deeper than that indelible impression. A prime member of the original Channel 2 air staff, Mahl earlier had gained the attention of listeners with his radio newscasting and DJ stints at WKBW, WGR and WHLD, becoming a late-night favorite of GIs stationed in Greenland during his KB tenure as host of "Spotlight Serenade." Not long after Atlantic stopped sponsoring TV weathercasts, Mahl returned to radio and helped pioneer the introduction of all-news radio to Buffalo at WEBR. After serving a 10-year stint as news director at WBUF-FM, he returned to WEBR (which later became WNED-AM), where he's still heard as that singular voice in the night. For 13 years Mahl also was the live announcer for the Mark Russell comedy specials on PBS. He still gets asked by longtime fans to deliver his signature TV sign-off phrase: "That's all for Mahlgood night!"
DAN NEAVERTH has racked up 43 years as one of Buffalo's most listened-to radio personalities, constructing an almost-unmatched legacy of creativity and popularity. After on-air gigs as a teen in Coudersport, Pa., and Dunkirk, "Daffy Dan" was among the original jocks who established WBNY as Buffalo's first fulltime radio rocker in 1957, etching his comedic identity alongside the likes of Lucky Pierre and Fred Klestine. Neaverth's instant success triggered his hiring by WKBW, where he became a full-fledged star in afternoon-drive. His nightly 7 o'clock "changeover" crosstalk with Joey Reynolds soon became must-listening, and he recorded two local single hits"Rats in My Room" (with Reynolds) and "Good Night, Irene." Becoming KB's morning man in the early 1970s, he quickly created a forerunner of the now-familiar morning radio team approach, highlighted by his "adventure" vignettes with newsman Jim McLaughlin. Neaverth was the first person to mount a serious audience-rating challenge to Clint Buehlman and eventually dominated morning-drive among most age groups. In the late 1980s he made a smooth transition from KB to WHTT-FM, where his morning popularity continues to drive that station's success.
JOE RICO probably has done more for jazz than any other broadcast personality in the nationand he's done it for a half-century. So great was this man's influence on the jazz world in the 1950s and '60s that three hit records were produced in his honor"Jump for Joe" by Stan Kenton, "Port of Rico" by Count Basie and "Buffalo Joe" by Louis Bellson. His creative programming of jazz started at WWOL in 1950, then expanded to WHLD, WEBR, WGR and WUFO. His smooth style, deep bass voice and dedication to jazz earmarked him as the epitome of cool, and he brought the greatest names in jazz to Western New York, from Bird to Billie to Basie to Brubeck. It was Joe Rico who broke the color barrier at music venues as early as 1949, with blacks and whites sitting side by side for the first time, and it was Rico who brought the Newport Jazz Festival to Buffalo for 3 years in the 1960s. From 1965 till 1980, he ruled the jazz roost in Miami, both on the air and in the GM's chair, most notably at WBUS-FM, where he was tabbed "The Jazz Godfather." Back in Buffalo for the last 20 years, Rico restored jazz to the commercial airwaves at numerous stations, including WADV-FM and WBUF-FM, and booked the biggest jazz names at many nightspots including the former Milestones, which he owned. Joe Rico's on-air intelligence and musical sensitivity have inspired several generations of radio fans to embrace jazz as an everyday part of their lives.
Tickets for Hall of Fame Night are available to the general public at $40 per
personand to broadcasters and those in associated fields at $30 per person. Send
orders and payment to: Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers; 3380 Sheridan Drive; Suite 350;
Amherst, N.Y. 14226. Or phone the Tralfamadore Café at 851-8725.
Gary Deeb is a longtime media critic and commentator in Buffalo and Chicago. He also operates Deeb Enterprises, a commercial talent agency.
Back to cover stories