BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame will be inducting what may be the most professionally diverse class in its history.
Heading the class of 2016 is reality show talent/producer/director Susan Hunt. She’ll be joined by former 97 Rock morning man Larry Norton, former WIVB-TV Meteorologist Don Paul, former Buffalo State Communications Professor and morning DJ Tom (Donahue) McCray, former WKBW-TV producer/director Steve Zappia and former WKBW-TV news anchor and Dialing for Dollars host the late Nolan Johannes.
In addition to the induction ceremony, the BBA will honor WBTA Radio in Batavia for their 75th Anniversary. They’ll also present the Tim Russert Medal of Merit to Stephanie Aponte, a journalism student at Canisius College.
The Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Dinner is Thursday, September 29th with cocktails at 5:30 p.m. and the program starting at 7:00 p.m. in the studios of WNED-TV. WBBZ-TV Promotion/Production Director John DiSciuillo will be the Master of Ceremonies with local, music legend Ken Kaufman as his musical sidekick. Jack Horohoe will serve as the live, in-studio announcer. Tracy LeBlanc is this year’s event chair.
“The Class of 2016 inductees represent so many different aspects of broadcasting,” said Heidi Raphael, president of the Buffalo Broadcasters Association. “We are honored to recognize and welcome them into the Hall of Fame.”
The following are brief biographies of this year’s inductees.
Susan Hunt has spent much of her career traversing the globe as a host, producer and director.
She has worked for the major networks, including Fox, HGTV, PBS, Discovery, Travel, ABC, ESPN, HBO and Golf Channel, giving life to a body of lifestyle, sports, travel, science and medical programming.
Susan has been a true trailblazer for women in broadcasting. She was the first female reporter in an NFL and NHL locker room, the first woman to do play-by-play for women’s tennis, and the first female voice of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. She created and hosted the first women’s sports program, LPGA Magazine, on ESPN, and years later launched and co-hosted the GolfChix program on Sirius/XM.
But her media career began in her hometown of Buffalo in sales at WGR Radio and as traffic coordinator at WYSL. She landed her first on-air job as morning news anchor at WFXZ-FM before returning to WGR-AM as morning news co-anchor/sports reporter. WGRZ-TV took notice and hired her as feature reporter and anchor during Sabres telecasts.
Perhaps best remembered by Western New York audiences as co-host of PM Magazine, she was also Sandy Beach’s morning news anchor on WHTT-FM.
After a year and a half on the Fox network series Beyond Tomorrow, Susan’s national career took off. This series led to her association with the Discovery Channel as host of many travel shows. Susan also fronted the international Travel Channel series Tennis World.
Susan has enjoyed a 20-year relationship with the Los Angeles-based reality television production company Pie Town Productions. Her roles included Director of the HGTV hit series House Hunters, House Hunters Renovation and currently Tiny House Hunters.
In front of the camera or behind it, whether lifestyle or sports programming, Susan continues to deliver a strong sense of “what’s next” with authenticity and passion.
Many in Western New York might remember where they were when they heard that Buffalo legend Larry Norton would retire from local radio, where he reigned for more than four decades.
The legendary WGRF-FM personality stepped away from the mic on Dec. 4 last year, leaving 97 Rock after 31 event-filled years where stamina was a hallmark.
The late, great Casey Kasem even recognized Norton’s efforts on his nationally syndicated radio show.
Norton’s first stunt was setting the Guinness World Record for the longest radio broadcast, 20 days and 4 hours in 1981. After that, the Marathon Man rode on the Ferris wheel while broadcasting at Darien Lake for 40 days; he also sat on billboards, filled trucks with food for the needy, and even immersed himself in ice, all to support local charities. He notably stayed on the air for 10 days in 1983 to convince international recording artists The Police to play a concert in Buffalo. The strategy worked, and he got to emcee the show.
Perhaps Norton’s most significant display of endurance was his annual radiothon in support of the local Make-A-Wish chapter, the organization that grants wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Norton’s final radiothon brought his 22-year total to more than $3 million.
His work for Make-A-Wish, the Food Bank of WNY and others won him many awards and accolades, including the belief that he has raised more money for local charities than any other DJ in Buffalo history.
Norton’s interest in radio began when he was a student at Amherst High School and continued at Buffalo State College in 1975, when he got his first paid job working weekends and overnights at the former WYSL-AM and WPHD-FM; he later moved to 7 to midnight on WPHD before crossing over to 97 Rock and doing mornings with the Bearman in 1981. 97 Rock went off the air in 1985 but returned three years later with many of the original crew like Carl Russo. Norton could be heard on the morning show from 1988 until his recent retirement.
Norton retired to spend more time and perform charity work with Barbara, his wife of 37 years; however, he can still be heard on some promos and commercials on 97 Rock as well as on Buffalo’s Catholic radio station, 101.7 WLOF-FM.
After an award-winning, 40-year career studying and forecasting the weather, Broadcast meteorologist Don Paul retired from the airwaves in March.
Meteorology took Paul to Maine, Kansas, Florida and Michigan before he landed in Buffalo in 1984. Here he had stints at WJYE-FM, WBEN-AM and WGRZ-TV but was a mainstay for a total of 28 years at WIVB-TV. His professional life included time as science writer, radio features reporter and producer for the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Public Affairs, concentrating on environmental science, public health, and regulatory changes.
He remains the only Buffalo meteorologist to receive the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Western New York Science Congress, which previously awarded Nobel Laureate Dr. Herbert Hauptman, Buffalo Zoo President/CEO Dr. Donna Fernandez, and pacemaker inventor Wilson Greatbatch.
A professional member of the American Meteorological Society, Paul served on the organization’s committee to formulate a policy statement on the appropriate use of “live” nomenclature in broadcast display of weather radar. He also was a member of the society’s Board of Broadcast Meteorology and received the society’s Seal of Approval for Broadcast Weathercasting.
Paul’s interest in continuing education included taking National Weather Service courses in Doppler radar interpretation, satellite meteorology, severe weather forecasting, flooding events, heavy precipitation, and winter weather forecasting techniques.
Popular with viewers in Buffalo, Paul won Artvoice’s Best Local Television Personality poll multiple years.
He holds a bachelor’s in meteorology with a minor in political science from Rutgers University, where he also completed the Army ROTC program. He served as first lieutenant at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., and retired from the U.S. Army Reserve with the rank of captain.
Though he’s known as Tom Donahue in the industry and to thousands of listeners, it is Tom McCray being inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters 2016 Hall of Fame in the Behind The Scenes. He is being honored, not only for his lengthy, award-winning career in broadcasting, but especially his unique role working with several generations of students hoping to gain a foothold in the industry.
McCray entered the field in 1972 upon graduating from Utica College and since then has worked just about every shift possible at several Buffalo radio stations, including WKBW, WYSL, WUSJ, WGR, WNUC and WHTT Oldies 104. He has been morning host on Timeless WECK Radio since March 2008.
McCray’s radio work has earned him several awards from the New York State Broadcasters Association and in 1996 a first-place award in audio production from the Broadcast Education Association. He earned a master’s degree in Communication from SUNY at Buffalo in 1986.
He also has had an extensive career as a writer, producer and performer of local, regional and national radio and television ads. McCray’s distinctive voice has been used by such diverse industries as grocery store chains, lottery programs, banks, medical organizations, and the travel and tourism industry. Locally, he was the voice of Tops Markets for 16 years and has been the voice for Mavis Discount Tire since March 2009.
McCray has had a parallel career in academia, influencing the next generation of broadcasters as an Associate Professor of Broadcast Communication at SUNY Buffalo State. His former students from his 35-year career include former VH-1 President Tom Calderone; WGRZ-TV reporters Claudine Ewing and Dave McKinley; WBEN 930 morning anchor Susan Rose; and show hosts Howard Simon and Chris “Bulldog” Parker of WGR 550. Tom retired in 2015.
Steve Zappia is being inducted in the Al Anscombe Broadcast Management Category. Steve began his broadcast career as a disc jockey and station manager for Armed Forces Radio when he was based in Casablanca, Morocco, during the Korean War. After the war, Steve returned to the States and eventually settled in his hometown of Buffalo. Zappia had a radio show in Buffalo on WHLD radio. In 1958, he helped to get the old Churchill Tabernacle building ready for air, which became home to WKBW-TV.
Steve began as a cameraman in 1958. He rose to producer, director and eventually to Executive Producer and Head of Operations during his 33-year career at WKBW. He worked with all the WKBW luminaries like hall of famers Irv Weinstein, Rick Azar, Tom Jolls, Nolan Johannes…and the list goes on.
Perhaps the most notable is Steve’s lifelong friendship with Dave Thomas (Roberts). In 1962, Steve and Dave were part of the team that created Rocketship 7. Thomas hosted and Zappia was the Producer and Director for more than 17 years. Of all the hundreds of projects Zappia was involved in, his biggest contribution was to the Variety Club and the production of the telethon from 1961 until he retired in 1996. Children’s Hospital of Western New York and the Variety Club honored Zappia’s devotion and contributions by naming the children’s playroom at the hospital in his honor.
To this day, when people in and out of the media see Steve Zappia, they comment on his role as a pioneer in Buffalo broadcasting. They fondly remember the heyday of media in Buffalo. WKBW-TV was a juggernaut, and Steve was a major contributor to its dominance and success. He is honored to be associated with such contributions that have added to the cultural significance on the Buffalo broadcasting landscape.
Nolan Johannes was the king of morning television in Buffalo in the 1960s and 1970s as host of WKBW-TV’s popular Dialing for Dollars.
The program was a hit with viewers when it premiered in 1964, with Liz Dribben as co-host and Jimmy and Johnny keeping the beat on drums and accordion. Dave Thomas joined the team when Dribben left for New York and CBS.
“Dialing for Dollars” provided viewers with 14 years of talk, appearances by big-name stars performing in the city, cooking segments, fashion shows and call-in contests, back when people actually dialed phones. It was an effective mix that led to the creation of “AM Buffalo” in 1978, which continues today.
Johannes left Buffalo in 1982 to anchor at WNEP-TV Newswatch 16 in Scranton, Pennsylvania where he was described as “enduring and implacable.” A former co-worker said Johannes’ 14 years of broadcasts there were “like having a friend come into your house every night to bring you the news.” Another said he was “calm, reassuring and made the impression to viewers that they mattered.”
Johannes passed away at the age of 81 in September 2015.
The Buffalo Broadcasters Association is also celebrating WBTA-AM’s 75th Anniversary in broadcasting.
In another award, the Tim Russert Medal of Merit will be given Stephanie Aponte of Canisius College. She will receive a $1,000 scholarship from Greater Media, Inc. and the Buffalo Broadcasters Association.
The BBA created the Medal of Merit in 2008 in memory of Buffalo’s own Tim Russert who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. The award — open to juniors, seniors, and recent graduates of Western New York’s colleges and universities — was created to inspire young people who might follow in Russert’s footsteps, pursuing his passions of broadcasting and journalism.
The Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is presented by Shelly’s Florist and 3G Grafix.
It will be held on Thursday, September 29th at the studios of WNED-TV in Buffalo. Cocktails and dinner will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the ceremony starts at 7:00 p.m.
Ticket are $50 for Buffalo Broadcasters Association Members and $70 for non-members. They are available at www.buffalobroadcasters.com.