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March 1999

Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers 1999 Hall of Fame Inductees


by Gary DEEB

Since establishing itself 3 years ago as Western New York’s premier TV-radio organization, the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers have dedicated themselves to shining the spotlight on the past and present greatness of the local broadcast industry. The group also has founded the Western New York Broadcasting Hall of Fame which honors the spectacular accomplishments of the men and women who made Buffalo a TV-radio hot spot for many years.

Last year’s Hall of Fame Night at the Tralfamadore Café was a watershed event for the Pioneers. The extravaganza attracted a sold-out house of more than 400 and featured the final performing appearance by Buffalo Bob Smith. The icon of early television was inducted into the Hall of Fame, then dazzled the SRO crowd with a string of songs, sing-alongs and anecdotes about the glory days of “Howdy Doody.”

“It was an unforgettable evening for everybody lucky enough to be there,” said Don Angelo, president of the Pioneers and local sales manager for WGRZ-TV (Channel 2). “To see Bob Smith on stage at the age of 80 and performing with the enthusiasm of a kid—it was an awesome thing to witness.”

Bob Smith passed away 2 months later in a hospital near his home in Flat Rock, N.C.

Last year’s Hall of Fame Night also was highlighted by the inductions of a group of living legends, including Irv Weinstein, Van Miller, Tom Jolls, Rick Azar, John Otto and Ernie Warlick. In addition, the late Channel 4 news-and-sports personality Chuck Healy and the late “Lone Ranger” creator Fran Striker were inducted posthumously.

The Broadcast Pioneers steadfastly have adhered to very stringent criteria regarding Hall of Fame honorees. Only the absolute cream of the crop gets chosen—and only after a series of lengthy deliberations by the organization’s officers and board, with input from the group’s 160 members.

The following are the broadcasters who have been selected for induction into the Western New York Broadcasting Hall of Fame this year—the class of 1999—to be honored at the annual gala on Tuesday evening May 18, again at the Tralf:

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Nearly 4 decades at the helm of WNED-TV (Channel 17), most of them as president and CEO, until his retirement last year; made Channel 17 a household word; presided over the purchase of WEBR AM-FM and the launching of WNEQ-TV (Channel 23).

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He epitomized the classiness and community spirit of WEBR throughout a prodigious career at that traditionally outstanding radio station; a crackerjack personality, newsman and program director.

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More than a half-century on the air as Buffalo’s “Voice of Polonia”; his daily radio show probably was the finest ethnic program in the U.S.; put WMMJ Radio on the air in 1965 and got WUTV (Channel 29) airborne in 1970; still broadcasting each weekend on WHTT-AM.

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Buffalo’s first female TV newscaster; Buffalo’s first TV weatherwoman; hosted Buffalo TV’s first daily audience-participation show, “For the Ladies,” on WKBW-TV (Channel 7); performed more than 10,000 commercials, many of them live, between 1950 and 1972; emceed game shows, talk shows and even “Romper Room.”

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Huge radio talent became program director and creative guiding light behind the early success of WBEN-TV (Channel 4); produced, directed, wrote and acted in countless local productions during 14 years in command of Channel 4 programming; spearheaded a roster of shows noteworthy for artistic merit and community service.

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Became one of America’s all-time rock-radio superstars at WKBW in the early 1960s; later scored major success in New York and Los Angeles; sang “Rats in My Room” with Dan Neaverth; still going coast-to-coast with his all-night, New York-based radio talkfest on 100 stations (including WGR here).

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The “Eye in the Sky” who transformed traffic reporting into a broadcast news staple; his illustrious career at WEBR Radio was keynoted by his launching of the area’s first Trafficopter in 1959; triggered many other U.S. TV and radio stations to use choppers to cover the news.

This year’s Hall of Fame Night arrives as the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers enter the final stages of earmarking a physical location for their Hall of Fame & Museum. Led by Don Angelo and chairman Al Anscombe, the group is scouting sites, mostly in downtown Buffalo, aimed at obtaining a property before the end of this year.

The Pioneers and their Hall of Fame began life in November 1995 in a conference room at the headquarters of Tops Markets on Main Street in Williamsville. Angelo and Anscombe brought together a group of broadcasters intent on preserving Buffalo’s illustrious TV-radio heritage. At that initial session were Herb Flemming, then an executive with Tops, and broadcasters John Zach, Jim Fagan, Jack Sharpe, Al Wallack, Steve Mitchell and Dan McBride.

“Bob Wells, one of our greatest Buffalo broadcasters, had died just recently,” Angelo recalled, “and Danny McBride told us that Bob’s widow had offered to let him have a lot of Bob’s material before she moved to Florida. So Danny had gone over there and, to his surprise and shock, there was this fabulous wealth of memorabilia—photos of Bob with Elvis and Sinatra and Tony Bennett and other big names—just a wonderful collection of broadcast artifacts from the long career of Bob Wells. So Danny crammed as much as possible into his car and then he brought a lot of it to our meeting.

“Then Al Anscombe brought out a scrapbook loaded with great old pictures from his days as a manager and owner at WKBW Radio and Channel 7. We took one look at this treasure trove and said, ‘Gee—let’s form some kind of club to celebrate this stuff and put it into the public domain.’ Al mentioned a national group called the Broadcasters’ Foundation, of which he’s a member, and before long the whole thing snowballed into the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers, which formally became a local chapter of that national foundation.”

Besides the annual Hall of Fame festivities each May the Pioneers publish three newsletters annually; organization treasurer Martin Biniasz creates a collectible calendar each year which is sold at local bookshops; and the group is developing a mentor program to support and encourage the next generation of Buffalo broadcasters.

“And so now we focus on a site for our Hall of Fame & Museum,” Angelo said. “The most viable probability is working with the City of Buffalo on locating a piece of downtown property that we can acquire, perhaps in exchange for the payment of back taxes, and then raise enough donations to renovate and secure the building and create a genuine museum facility.

“We’d like to take a dead building and transform it into a live one.”

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THE ORIGINATORS: Gathered near the Ellicott Square Building in the summer of 1996.
Top: Herb Flemming, Jack Sharpe, Al Anscombe, Don Angelo, Tom Atkins, Steve Mitchell,
Al Wallack, Bottom: Jim Fagan, Martin Biniasz, John Zach


Gary Deeb is a longtime media critic and commentator in Buffalo and Chicago. He is a board member of the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers.


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