The history of one of Buffalo’s earliest radio stations, believe it or not, has its roots at sea. It was April 1, 1921 when the sailing vessel The Governor sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The ship’s assigned radio call letter’s were WGR. Due to maritime superstition, the call sign was never reissued and reverted back to a pool of call signs being used for new radio stations.
That same year, In 1921, the Federal Telephone & Telegraph Company, head-quartered in a sprawling manufacturing complex in North Buffalo, began marketing its first completely assembled radio sets. To fill a radio void in the city and to also stimulate sales of their new “high tech” products, Federal applied for a commercial radio license from the Department of Commerce. On May 22, 1922, WGR commenced programming beginning over 75 continuous years of service to Buffalo. Published reports say a clergyman’s lecture, a concert from the Victor’s Furniture Store showroom and a presentation by Dr. Julian Park of the University at Buffalo on the advantages of a college education were among the first programs on WGR.
The WGR radio transmitter as seen in the early 1920s.
In 1923, WGR would begin the “Golden Age” of radio at a new, state of the art studio at the Statler Hotel. These were times when radio was the glittering queen of the entertainment world. Announcers wore tuxedos as they stood, hand cupped professionally over one ear, enunciating their pearl-shaped tones into huge circular microphones. Popular programs included “The WGR Orchestra with conductor Dave Cheskin” and “The Cheer-Up Gang” with a very young “Buffalo” Bob Smith.
The WGR staff orchestra conducted by David Cheskin at the far right.
In the 50’s Western New Yorkers tuned in to hear “The Musical Clock” with John Lascelles, “Meetin’ with Keaton” with Billy Keaton and the deep voiced midnight man Bob Glacy. The 1960’s brought rock and roll to WGR with record spinners including Fred Gage, Chuck Benson, Frank Dill, Cy Buckley and a teenage heart throb named Tommy Shannon. In the 70’s and 80’s it was Sabres Hockey that was heard along with the likes of George Hamberger, Stan Roberts and the infamous “Cosmic Cowboy”, Shane “Brother” Shane. And who could forget the one voice that has remained a “beacon in the night time” over the years, John Otto.
Today WGR is a member of the Entercomm Communications family of stations in Buffalo which includes WBEN, WTSS, WKSE, WWWS, WLKK, and WWKB.