Broadcasters Memorial Award
The Buffalo Broadcasters Memorial Award is awarded to broadcasting trailblazer Mary Lounsbury. As a woman General Manager at a time when radio management was almost exclusively male, she was a pioneer in Buffalo broadcasting.
Lounsbury began her broadcasting career in 1956 at the age of 29 at WNIA in Cheektowaga. She was one of the first hired, and because it was unheard of to have a female General Manager in radio, her official title was “Office Manager.”
As the general manager of a popular and distinctive suburban radio station, Lounsbury faced extremely difficult odds. While WKBW dominated the airwaves with 50,000 watts, and most of the other stations in Buffalo were operating with 5,000 watts, WNIA attracted a competitive and loyal audience with a daytime signal of just 500 watts and a nighttime output of a mere 250 watts. Despite having a fraction of the power and reach of the other stations in the market, WNIA was a successful presence in the Buffalo market. Thanks to her guidance and programming skill, the little suburban station attracted a significant audience and maintained a competitive ranking in the market.
Lounsbury was committed to placing new music into the playlist on WNIA, and tried to program just-released records on the air, often before they were played by her competition. She gained a national reputation as a manager who was willing to take a chance on a new artist and/or record.
Long before there was social media, Lounsbury perfected various techniques to engage the audience with the station. Gordon Brown, the owner of WNIA, refused to allow a live on-the-air telephone call-in system, so she developed programing that encouraged listeners to mail in dedications and requests on postcards! As archaic as that sounds in 2018, it was a highly successful way to build loyalty for the station in the ‘50s and 60s. “Melody Corner” was a Monday through Friday block, scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., in which the requests received via U.S. Mail were played on the air. It was enormously popular, back in the day, and kids would tune in and wait for “their dedication” to be played. The show began shortly after the station’s sign-on in 1956, and continued until 1974.
Lounsbury carefully supervised the programming of the station. She developed a reputation as a tough businesswoman who guarded the license and format with resolve. Despite her strong exterior, she possessed a genuine warmth that immediately put people at ease.
Perhaps her greatest legacy lies in the fact that she provided that all-important “first job in radio” for countless aspiring disk jockeys in the area. She took the time to nurture talent she hired, providing a combination of constructive criticism and personal encouragement. Almost every person she hired has found success and fulfillment in broadcasting or a related career area, and most have treasured “Mary stories” about how her influence and support helped them grow and advance in their profession.
Mary was just 66 when she passed in 1994, but she was a true pioneer — the first female GM of a popular and successful Buffalo radio station, from 1956 until 1980.
The Buffalo Broadcasters Memorial Award is given to a deceased broadcaster who made a lasting impression in the broadcasting industry.