|City of license||Buffalo, New York|
|Branding||"News Radio 930 AM, WBEN"|
|Slogan||The Voice of Buffalo|
|First air date||September 8, 1930|
|Callsign meaning||We're the Buffalo Evening News (was owned by the Buffalo Evening News, later rebranded as The Buffalo News)|
|Former callsigns||WMAK (1922-1930)|
|Sister stations||WGR, WKSE, WWKB, WTSS, WWWS, WLKK|
WBEN is an AM radio station serving the Niagara, Buffalo and Western New York area, broadcasting on 930 kHz. It broadcasts a news and talk format. The station's website carries the signal 24/7 in real time and makes much of the programming available on podcast the same day. WBEN's transmitter is located in Grand Island, New York. Its signal covers much of Western New York and Southern Ontario.
While WBEN signed on September 8, 1930, its history dates to the 1920s. WBEN initially used the facility built by the Norton Laboratories organization from Boston, as part of an experiment to send amplitude modulated voice transmissions between Niagara Falls, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, as WMAK. When WMAK was launched in 1922 it operated initially from Lockport, New York at 833 kHz. The station later moved its transmitter to North Tonawanda, New York (broadcasting at 1130 kHz there) and then landing on 900 kHz, with 1000 watts of power, as a result of General Order 40, which realigned American AM radio allocations in 1927–28. In the late 1920s WMAK was acquired by the Buffalo Broadcasting Company, based at Buffalo's Rand Building, which also controlled WGR and WKBW in Buffalo. WMAK was a charter member of the CBS Radio Network, being one of the 16 stations that aired the first CBS network program on September 18, 1927. The comedy duo of Stoopnagle and Budd began their careers at WMAK in 1930.
WMAK was closed in the spring of 1930 as federal regulators began probing concentration of media ownership in the nation's largest radio markets. Buffalo Broadcasting Company chose to retain WGR and WKBW while shutting down WMAK and another daytime-only station, WKEN in suburban Kenmore, New York. At the same time, the Buffalo Evening News was granted a broadcast license of its own, purchased the decommissioned transmitting facility of WMAK on Shawnee Road in Martinsville (North Tonawanda, New York) and re-licensed it as WBEN. A new studio complex was built at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in downtown Buffalo (chosen primarily for access to the live orchestra there), and served WBEN, its sister FM station and sister television station (which opened in the spring of 1948) for more than 25 years. In 1941, the station moved to its current position on the dial, at 930 kHz, as a result of the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA). The station also relocated its transmitter to Grand Island at during this time, increasing full-time power to its current 5,000 watts. The Grand Island transmitter and two towers are still in use today.
WBEN, like its predecessor WMAK, was among the most active experimenters in Buffalo radio. In 1928, then-WMAK joined with General Electric-owned station WGY in Schenectady to demonstrate television technology. It was, by today's standards crude, being a mechanical scan system, with only 30 line vertical resolution in comparison to the 525 line electronic analog system and today's 1080 line high definition digital television. But the result made history because GE's experimental facility was the first American television station with a regular broadcast schedule, as well as the forerunner of current Capital District CBS-TV affiliate WRGB. In 1934, WBEN launched W8XH, the first ultra-shortwave radio station of its kind, and claimed to be a predecessor of current FM station WTSS.
Buffalo in general, and WBEN in particular, was an incubator of national radio and television talent. In the early 1940s, WBEN's morning host was comedian and future national late-night television star Jack Paar (he left the station when drafted into the military in 1943 during World War II, and opted not to return to Buffalo after the war). Paar's place was taken by Clint Buehlman, who was recruited from competing station WGR. Buehlman remained for 34 years until retiring in 1977.
WBEN was also the station where longtime national commercial spokesman Ed Reimers launched his career, In 1946, WBEN was one of the first radio stations in the United States to launch an FM radio station, which originally was located at 106.5 MHz on the dial. In May 1948, it launched what would become WIVB, the first television station in Buffalo and the second in Upstate New York, following WRGB in Schenectady/Albany. The original WBEN-FM would later move to 102.5, increase its signal strength to 110 kilowatts to become the most powerful FM station in New York State, and eventually become WTSS.
As many national network radio programs moved to television, WBEN shifted to a middle-of-the-road format and developed a stable of talent to lead the market in ratings. The station's affiliation with CBS brought Arthur Godfrey, "The World Tonight" and other network programming, but the station was primarily live and local. In addition to morning host Clint Buehlman, other on-air voices included Al Fox, John Corbett, Ken Phillips, Bill Masters and John Luther. Sports personalities Van Miller, Stan Barron and Dick Rifenburg shared various duties, including hosting and interview programs; while familiar news voices Jack Ogilvie, Gene Kelley, Lou Douglas, Virgil Booth and others were heard during this period. Most of this personnel also handled TV duties, anchoring, announcing news, weather & sports and hosting game shows and other programming at WBEN-TV.
When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disallowed same market co-ownership of newspapers and broadcast licenses in the early 1970s, the combination of the Buffalo Evening News and WBEN-AM/FM/TV was grandfathered under the new rule. However, the 1974 death of Katherine Butler (longtime owner and publisher of the Evening News) led to the placement of the Evening News's properties in a blind trust (since Katherine Butler left no heirs). This trust company then sold the newspaper. This sale brought an end to the Butler family ownership of the Evening News. With the loss of the WBEN stations' grandfathered protection, WBEN-TV was sold to newspaper publisher Robert Howard. WBEN-TV's new owner changed channel 4's callsign to WIVB, which stands for "We're IV (4) Buffalo."
By the time of this transition period, WBEN radio's demographics had grown older with its folksy personalities and middle-of-the-road music. With the Butler family no longer owning the newspaper or broadcast properties, WBEN attempted to contemporize the sound during the mid-late 1970s by firing some of its longtime on-air institutions, hiring DJs and playing Top-40 music. The station went from being known as "WBEN Radio 9-3-0" to "93/WBEN." DJs Jay Fredericks (Fritz Coleman), Chris Tyler and Charlie Warren joined the station from other markets. Within months the ratings dropped as longtime listeners were angered, yet Top-40 listeners were already entrenched at WKBW and WYSL. Jefferson Kaye, however, had remained successful as the afternoon personality during this period (he succeeding the retiring Clint Buehlman as morning show host in 1977; Buehlman's retirement was in part prompted by poor reviews for his handling of coverage of the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977). Kaye, who had been program director of crosstown rival WKBW, originally came to Buffalo via WBZ (AM) in Boston.
As the newspaper and TV station became part of other companies, WBEN-AM and FM were sold to Alqonquin Broadcasting, a company led by longtime Buffalo radio executive, Laurence "Larry" Levite. Levite assembled a group of managers and talent that returned WBEN to prominence. The line-up was changed and the format shifted from Full-Service, playing Top-40 to Full-Service with Adult Contemporary music. Jefferson Kaye hosted mornings, while Larry Hunter, Bill Lacey and Kevin O'Connell and Tom Kelly were heard on middays and Jack Mindy hosted afternoons. Stan Barron returned to the station, bringing back his "Free-Form Sports" program, and overnights eventually shifted from Dick Rifenburg's music show to Mutual's syndicated Larry King talk show. Bob Wood served as the station's program director. Helicopter traffic reports were added, featuring reporters Dave May and Debbie Stamp, the news department staff was increased - and Levite brought Buffalo Bills broadcasts back to WBEN after a three-year hiatus on WKBW. Van Miller also returned to the Bills' broadcast booth, replacing WKBW announcer, Al Meltzer. WBEN, WJYE (with a beautiful music format) and Top-40 outlet WKBW all fought for the top spot during this era, but WBEN had consistently solidfied the number one position by 1980. Stan Barron died in 1984 and was succeeded by John Murphy. By the mid-1980s, Kaye departed WBEN's morning show, moving to Philadelphia to became the voice of NFL Films and WPVI-TV. Midday host Bill Lacey, later joined by Kevin Keenan, assumed morning hosting duties.
The station won numerous regional and statewide awards for its news and public-service efforts. Levite presided over the gradual transition of WBEN from an adult contemporary station to its current format of news and talk. Local talk continued, along with the addition of Rush Limbaugh. In the early 1990s, Levite sold the WBEN stations to Kerby Confer's Keymarket Communications organization and retired from the broadcasting business. Keymarket later sold the properties to River City Broadcasting, which then merged with Sinclair Broadcast Group. In 1999, Entercom Communications bought WBEN, as well as its competitor WGR and most of Sinclair's other radio stations as Sinclair exited the radio business.
Both WBEN and WGR had competing been news/talk/sports stations during the 1990s. In 2000, under common ownership, the stations rearranged personnel. WGR became the market's all-sports station, while WBEN became the market's principal commercial news/talk station.
With sister station WGR's move to sports talk, WBEN solidified its position as the dominant news/talk station. Market veterans John Zach and Susan Rose replaced Bill Lacey (who currently hosts mornings at WHTT) to host "Buffalo's Morning News." Tom Bauerle moved from WGR to host a mid-morning talk show, Limbaugh's program continued and market veteran Sandy Beach moved from sister station WMJQ to host afternoon talk on the station, while several hosts have been heard during the evening hours.
On April 5, 2011, Entercom switched its Classic Rock/Triple-A hybrid sister station WLKK to simulcast of WBEN. Entercom's WLKK was not be able to assume the WBEN-FM call letters, since the company had previously released the WBEN-FM call-letters for use on a Greater Media station in the Philadelphia area. The "Lake" format continued on WLKK's HD2 digital subchannel. WBEN's simulcast on WLKK ended as of September 26, 2013.
In July 2013, WBEN made its first major change to its daytime lineup in over a decade. The lineup change moved afternoon drive host Sandy Beach to midday, while midday host Tom Bauerle moved to afternoon drive and expanded his show to four hours. The station's evening news magazine, Buffalo's Evening News (which incorporated a simulcast of the first part of the CBS Evening News), was canceled as part of the expansion, a move made to better coordinate with Arbitron's dayparting practices. After a very brief stint in which David Bellavia filled the overnight shift, the station added The Savage Nation to its syndicated offerings in early 2014.
Today, WBEN competes with country-formatted WYRK for the leadership in total audience in most quarterly ratings surveys.
- Portions of the above come from the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Web site.
- Buffalo's Early News, morning news program, hosted by John Zach and Susan Rose (Monday through Friday), Hank Nevins (Saturday), and Randy Bushover (Sunday)
- Sandy Beach, midday talk host
- Rush Limbaugh, syndicated talk host
- Tom Bauerle, afternoon drive host
- Sean Hannity, syndicated talk host
- Michael Savage, syndicated talk host
- Coast to Coast AM, overnights
- Cigar Dave, syndicated (but originally from the Buffalo area) weekend talk host
- Bob Brinker, syndicated weekend talk host
- Meet the Press
- NFL Football, in Season
- Ron Dobson (fill-in host, formerly 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. weeknight host)
- Larry Hunter (fill-in host)
- Brad Riter (fill-in host)
- Michael Caputo (fill-in host)
WBEN is an affiliate of the CBS Radio Network.
WBEN also operates a time signal service that sends a 1000 Hz, one-second tone at the top and bottom of every hour.
Between 1946 and 1960, WBEN simulcast on sister station 106.5 FM as WBEN-FM (with the morning show simulcast continuing until 1973). Both stations retained the WBEN call-sign (although the FM station would move down the dial to 102.5 and sell the 106.5 frequency to WADV) after the co-owned TV station, WBEN-TV, was sold separately to become WIVB in 1977. WBEN-FM later became WMJQ in the 1980s and finally WTSS in the late 1990s.
On April 5, 2011, WBEN began simulcasting on sister FM station WLKK at 107.7 MHz, relayed by translator W297AB at 107.3 MHz from Williamsville, New York. On September 26, 2013, WLKK dropped the simulcast.
- Radio Digest, September 1927, quoted in: McLeod, Elizabeth (September 20, 2002). CBS—In the Beginning, History of American Broadcasting. Retrieved on 2007-01-01. The other stations were WOR in Newark; WADC in Akron, Ohio; WAIU in Columbus, Ohio; WCAO in Baltimore; WCAU in Philadelphia; WEAN in Providence; WFBL in Syracuse; WGHP in Detroit; WJAS in Pittsburgh; WKRC in Cincinnati; WMAQ in Chicago; WNAC in Boston; WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana; KMOX in St. Louis; and KOIL in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
- Remembering Buffalo's BBC fybush.com February 26, 2010
- "WBEN/Buffalo Adds FM Simulcast On 107.7" From All Access (April 4, 2011)
- WBEN website
- The WBEN History Page by Buffalonian Steve Cichon
- WBEN jock history (billdulmage.com)
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WBEN
- Radio-Locator Information on WBEN
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WBEN