When considering the history of Buffalo radio in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there is one set of call letters that stands far above the rest. Promising to play… “More of your favorites, from yesterday and today!” WBUF’s jingle proved true to its word for radio listeners of Western New York. After a successful 20+year stint of beautiful music prior to 1975, WBUF stepped out of the limelight for a short while, only to make a resurgence in the WNY area less than a decade later. Beginning in the early 80’s, listeners most often chose WBUF, as the station dominated the airwaves and earned unheard of ratings numbers in the Buffalo market for several years. Operating at 92.9 FM, the station provided an Adult Contemporary/Oldies format that listeners couldn’t get enough of, while delivering a quality sound with which their competitors simply could not compete.
The “golden years” of WBUF can be largely credited to then owner, and well-respected founder of the Lincoln Group Ltd., Al “Bud” Wertheimer. After creating the Lincoln Group in 1978, Wertheimer purchased WVOR-FM in Rochester from his father, “Big Al” Wertheimer, who at the time had recently retired from the radio business. After leading WVOR to four straight years of solid success with the adult contemporary format, “Bud” saw opportunity and desire in Buffalo for a similar format, and decided to purchase WBUF (then WFXZ/”Foxy 93”). The decision would prove to be fruitful, and in 1982 the call letters were changed back to WBUF and the station was reformatted to Adult Contemporary/Oldies, providing current hits as well as hits from the 1960’s and 1970’s. The station had not received immediate success, and after a less than exemplary two years Wertheimer made the decision to bring in some familiar faces from WVOR in Rochester, with the hope of “kick-starting” the station in Buffalo.
Wertheimer’s decision paid off, and by 1984 WBUF had begun its climb back to the top. One of his most beneficial appointments came in the form of then WVOR employee Larry White, who was hired as general manager. That same year, the station moved from a small venue on Virginia Place to new ‘custom-built’ studios equipped with state-of-the-art radio equipment and technology, on the first floor of the Fairfax Hotel on Delaware Avenue.
Under White’s management, things began to improve, and by spring of 1985 WBUF was #1 in Buffalo, a spot in which they would remain into the early 90’s. To White, the progress and improvement was simple. “We simply gave the listeners what they wanted to hear.”, said White. His method clearly worked, as the station went from 5% of the advertising market in 1983, to 12% in 1984, and reached numbers as high as 16% between 1985 and 1989. Long time WBUF Production Director, Keith Luke, shared a similar opinion, stating, “WBUF not only provided the music programming the audience wanted, but we delivered it with an air staff of well-known Buffalo personalities.” Several of the on-air personalities are in the Buffalo Broadcasters Association ‘Hall of Fame,’ including Stan Roberts and Fred Klestine, news anchors Carl Spevento and Jack Mahl, as well as many other on-air people who were experienced in the market and well known to WBUF’s listeners. Luke reiterated, “… the audience knew our on-air staff and trusted them!”
Larry White, looks back on these years as some of the greatest in his professional career, and when asked about the atmosphere of the station at the time, he said, “There was nothing else like it. Very few times in your career will you be able to say everything is gelling and everyone is happy.” He went on, “we were pulling such unheard of numbers and morale was so high, no one had anything to complain about… everyone involved was pulling for the station and it was clearly demonstrated through our ratings.” He also explained how at the time, their target demographic aim was the 25 – 54 year old listener, but they appealed to such a diverse audience, that not only were #1 in that demo, but age groups across the board. Including Adults 18 -34, 18-49, 25-49, and 25-54; a feat generally considered nearly impossible.
Chris Whittingham, the “mid-morning” deejay for many of WBUF’s glory days, had a similar account of the station. “We were like a family, or a brotherhood, and it was clear to see we all had the interest of the station in mind.” He attributed much of the family-like atmosphere to the efforts of White and Wertheimer, stating it was their down-to-earth attitudes and personalities that made it such a good time to work for the station.
Whittingham also shared a personal account from his early years at the station, in which he remembers an instance where he had accidentally misspoken the WBUF call-letters as “WBUTF” on-air. New to the station and a bit nervous for the state of his job, he recalls “boss” Larry White walking past the on-air booth and delivering an undesired glare. White continued on and entered the booth, throwing Whittingham a black jacket with “WBUF” embroidered on the chest. Chuckling as he left, White exploded, “Now you can’t forget the call letters!” A reaction not only unexpected but appreciated. So much so, that Whittingham still owns the jacket to this day.
Whittingham also spoke of some of the memorable promotions WBUF offered it’s listeners in Buffalo and Western New York including WBUF’s Spring “Winner’s Choice” contest, in which the station delivered such prizes as Corvettes, cash, boats, and trips to Paris among a wide range of prizes. Also, in 1991, not to be outdone by it’s competitors of the time, WBUF became the first to provide the crystal-clear sound quality of Compact Disc to Buffalo radio, starting by broadcasting a song from Whitney Houston’s debut album.
In keeping with the time, relating to it’s listeners and playing relevant music the audience wanted to hear, WBUF delivered a radio station that many in WNY found easy to relate to. It was in this way that WBUF dominated the market for almost a decade… keeping it simple, and always staying true to their jingle by playing “More of your favorites, from yesterday and today! WBUF”
Article written by Michael Paasch Click the edit button to edit the content