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Norb’s Corner: The Evolution of Television in Buffalo

I’ve seen numerous changes in television. My father worked in the model shop at Sylvania, a prominent radio tube manufacturer and he brought home our first television set which was a converted 5 inch oscilloscope. To imagine the size of this television screen, visualize trying to watch a program on a screen a little larger than the top of a cottage cheese container.

We had a variety of different experimental television sets in our house. One of the first sets was a set with “Halo Vision” which had a softly lit border around the screen. This was supposed to make it easier on your eyes when you watched it. Another one I remember was in a cabinet. To watch this one, you propped open the hinged top of the cabinet and watched the image in a mirror. Everything on the CRT screen was reversed so it was the right way in the mirror when you watched it. The problem with this one was you had to sit directly in front of it to see the picture.

I remember watching television with my family and you didn’t dare say a word. We watched “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx, an American quiz show. Groucho would say, “Say the secret word and split a hundred dollars,” as each contest began, and a mangy stuffed duck named Julius (Groucho’s real name) would drop from the ceiling to disclose the secret word if they said it. There was I Love Lucy starring Lucille Ball, Have Gun Will Travel with “Paladin” as a hired gun, Dragnet with “Sgt. Joe Friday” and the tag line “only the names have been changed to protect the innocent”, The Cisco Kid, and The Howdy Doody Show (my favorite).

Television first made it to Buffalo in 1948 when WBEN-TV started broadcasting. The Buffalo Evening News owned this station. They played early local shows like “The Clue”. The Clue starred Buffalo Evening News Radio and TV writer Jim Tranter who played the Private Eye, Steve Malice. This was the first weekly dramatic program ever seen on U.S. television. They also televised “Meet the Millers” which offered a mix of cooking tips and interviews along with cornball humor, “The Santa Claus Show”,   and “Uncle Jerry’s Club”, a children’s talent show. Announcer John Corbett also offered local viewers one of television’s first talk shows, “Speaker of the House” which aired during weekday afternoons. My parents told me one of the first things I said was Bee Bee Bubba York. They finally figured out I wanted to watch WBEN, Buffalo, New York.

In 1954, WGR-TV (Channel 2) started broadcasting, with a stable of talent that included Bill Mazer, an American television and radio personality who earned the nickname “The A-Maz-In” for his deep knowledge of sports trivia. Billy Keaton from the Mr. and Mrs. Show an adapted Vaudeville routine, Helen Neville, hostess of “Two for Breakfast “, Roy Kerns, News Anchor, and Jack Mahl, “Your Atlantic weatherman”.

Buffalo’s TV stations increased to three in 1958 when WKBW-TV (Channel 7) signed on. Programming included daily doses of “Rocketship 7” with Dave Thomas as “Commander Tom”, “Dialing for Dollars”, a show where random phone calls were made trying to give away money and had syndicated features from “The Galloping Gourmet”, Graham Kerr. Starting in 1965, the Channel 7 anchor trio of newsman Irv Weinstein, sportscaster Rick Azar and weatherman Tom Jolls started, they became the longest-running news team in the history of television, broadcasting a sensational 24 years together on the early and late newscasts.

WBUF-TV (Channel 17) went on the air in 1953 and was a short-lived undertaking, then it returned in 1956 as an NBC-owned outlet before shutting down in 1958. In 1959, a revamped Channel 17, renamed WNED-TV, became New York State’s very first noncommercial, public TV station.

WUTV-TV (Channel 29), which started broadcasting in 1970. This was owned by Ultravision Broadcasting Company. Ultravision was owned by Stan Jasinski, radio’s polka king. During the 1980s, two additional Buffalo stations began transmitting, WNYB-TV (Channel 49, now WNYO-TV) and public, noncommercial WNEQ (Channel 23).

Many channels would sign off in the early hours and would broadcast a “test pattern” over the airwaves until regular morning programming would commence.

Although all-electronic color television was introduced in the U.S. during 1953, prohibitive prices and the shortage of programs being broadcast in color slowed its acceptance greatly in the marketplace. The very first national color broadcast was the Tournament of Roses Parade which was aired on January 1, 1954, but for the next ten years few network broadcasts were in color with nearly all local programming continuing to be aired in black and white.

We now have 85 inch televisions and the size keeps growing and growing and you can control them from your phone. We have hundreds of stations broadcasting 24/7. You can now watch television programs on demand from your computer, laptop, tablet and smart phone. I can only imagine where television will take us in the future.

Written by Norbert Rug

Norbert Rug

Norb is an independent journalist and blogger from Lockport. His work has been published in over 50 periodicals and websites including the Buffalo News, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, Niagara Falls Gazette, the East Niagara Post, The Lockport Star, The North Tonawanda Extra, the Niagara Reporter, and Artvoice. His work has been published on Press Reader, Good Cookery, the National association for Home Care and Hospice, and Konitono. , in over 7 countries and has been translated in at least 5 languages.

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