WBNY-FM, broadcasting from Buffalo State College, is Buffalo's only large college radio survivor, now that WBFO-FM has sadly been merged out of existence. WBNY is 91.3 on your FM radio dial. Back in the early 1980s, while studying at Buffalo State, Tom Calderone became program director, and Tom and the WBNY management team changed the format to new and alternative music. That was cutting edge back then, but a format change that has continued on to this day. After graduation, Tom kept on changing the entertainment world, continually reinventing it and with great success at that.
Some backstory: In the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's the cable network VH1, a.k.a. Video Hits One, played popular music videos geared towards an audience that was just a bit older than MTV cable network viewers. Although today, music videos are no longer on the air 24/7, you can still see VH1 music videos on weekday mornings, as other programming has become more popular the rest of the day.
Back in the day, Tom was at MTV running the music and talent department as well as the music development group. He was working on shows like TRL, The VMAs(Video Music Awards), Discover and Download, Wondershowzen and Snoop Tele-vissel. Then he went to VH1 to run the entire channel. He is now president. Just as he did at Buffalo State, Tom continues to reinvent programming in the fast changing world of entertainment television. Tom was just inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame at WNED-TV studios here in downtown Buffalo. Here are some of the hightlights:
Flying green bagels during the St. Patrick's Day parade
Tom's first job was running marketing and promotions at WGR radio for $5 an hour. Tom, with his colleagues Tom Langmyer and Jerry Reo, came up with what I would call a brilliant promotion. Why not hand out green bagels at the St. Patrick's Day parade on Delaware Avenue to raise awareness about WGR radio? But in Buffalo, there is a chance that the crowd that showed up might have had a drink or four by parade time. And so, before you know it, the airwaves were filled with flying bagels... and we aren't talking radio airwaves!
Three OV splits for a buck
When Tom was still going to school at Buffalo State he met his future best friend Gabe DiMaeo at Jeff's Back Bar on Hertel Avenue. (Gabe is now program director at WNED-FM) Tom was quite the Buffalo ambassador, he turned Gabe on to Buffalo's Chicken Wings, Roast Beef on Weck, and three OV splits for a buck.
I caught up with Tom, and asked him a couple of questions:
How did it feel to be inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame?
Tom: It was a humbling experience. I have been blessed with other opportunities to celebrate my career, but this by far has been the most important one.
What made WBNY-FM so special?
Tom: The spirit of WBNY (it just turned 30 years old) had a creative evolve or die spirit that kept us reinventing the radio station every few months. (Love that concept. With the world always changing, just keep reinventing what you are doing.)
You mentioned that you have a poster in my office that says "Buffalo, the City of No Illusions".
Tom: When I come "home" no one cares what my business card says. I would try to be confident, keep my ego in check, have a sense of humor about things, and not worry about what is on my business card. Buffalo is filled with life long friends, and even new friends that I have met over the last few years. Buffalo truly is home. It doesn't matter what you are doing. You are defined by your friends and who you surround yourself with. (I absolutely love Tom's attitude and spirit. As incredibly successful as he has been, I marvel at what Tom finds truly important)
You said your parents bought you your first Heathkit. (To those too young to remember, among other things, the Heathkit company manufactured and sold build-your-own electronic kits, back when you had to build things yourself. And we are not talking about the Heath candy bar here)
Tom: Yes, it was a birthday gift from my parents, who always encouraged me to follow my dreams, take risks and never give up. (What great parents! They could not have given a better gift!) So I went on the air with my own radio station, on the AM dial, 1600 WTAC. (I wonder if the call letters were his initials!). So my "first" radio station was an AM station in my own house. Also, we used to record radio plays on cassette tapes with my brothers Gary, Craig and my sister Kathy. (Do what you love, and the rest follows. Lots of great success ideas here!)
That wraps up our three part series on the Induction Ceremony.