A generation of adults who enjoy reading today likely developed that interest thanks, in part, to a groundbreaking public television program that was created here in Buffalo. It was called Reading
Rainbow. The WNED-TV programmer who oversaw its development was Tony Buttino, who is this year’s Behind the Scenes inductee in the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Bishop Timon High School, Buttino pursued a career in broadcasting. He attended Ithaca College and graduated from its School of Radio and TV in 1959.
Buttino volunteered as a cameraman at the newly organized WNED- TV. He described it as a dream come true. It eventually led to a full time position and several promotions from studio supervisor to director, producer and production manager.
In 1965, Buttino became the temporary coordinator of Instructional TV (ITV). With no teaching background, Buttino’s challenge was to create programming on WNED that would become a learning tool in the classrooms of Western New York. That challenge became a lifelong journey.
Buttino wanted to combat what was called the summer loss phenomenon, a time when young students took a vacation from reading and lost valuable skills. In 1978, with the help of local reading teachers, librarians, media consultants and college professors, Buttino began broadcasting five summers of reading related programs.
It was during this time that Buttino created a dream series with the working title Reading Rainbow. The format included TV field trips, book animation, children’s book reviews and original music. The goal was to use TV to motivate youngsters to enjoy the gift of reading.
In 1981, WNED formed a partnership with Great Plains International in Lincoln, Nebraska. Together, they received a Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant to produce Reading Rainbow and soon formed a team of professional writers, producers and directors in New York City to produce a successful pilot. A subsequent grant led to the production of Reading Rainbow as a summer series of 15 programs that premiered in 1983 on PBS stations throughout the United States. Reading Rainbow ran for 26 years and became the most frequently used program in classrooms reaching 6.5 million students.
During his time overseeing the series, Buttino received many awards including five Emmys as co-executive producer. In 1985, Buttino was promoted to vice president for Television at WNED. In addition to Reading Rainbow, he was executive producer of the Mark Russell shows for PBS and a popular golden era of Buffalo program, Things That Aren’t ThereAnymore.
Now retired, Buttino continues to freelance with his wife of 50 years, Sue, as Buttino Bunch Media, specializing in production and adult education materials. They are active members of their church and it’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, and continue to volunteer their time in projects dealing with homelessness, prisons, poverty issues and emergency responses.
Their five children, 21 great grandchildren and one great grandchild all live in Western New York.