In this week’s issue… Remembering Buffalo’s Jolls, Rochester’s Guilfoyle – Townsquare picks up “Star” – RadioDays comes to Canada – New leaders at WBZ – Pittsburgh morning duo out
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*It’s been a huge week in Buffalo broadcasting, with a major format flip ahead of a sale – and the loss of an icon of local television.
The icon first: Tom Jolls was the last surviving member of one of the most famous lineups in local television, not just in Buffalo but almost anywhere.
“Irv, Rick and Tom” ruled the airwaves in western New York and southern Ontario for a remarkable 24 years together, as WKBW-TV (Channel 7) dominated the ratings with high-energy news anchor Irv Weinstein, sports director Rick Azar and personable weatherman Tom Jolls.
Jolls joined the Eyewitness News team in 1965 after starting his career in radio in his hometown of Lockport, where he was on the air at WUSJ (now WLVL) from 1951 until 1962. Jolls had a brief early fling with TV, working on the air at the very short-lived WBES (Channel 59) in its few months on the air in 1953, but he returned to TV in earnest in 1962 at WBEN, where he worked both on radio and on WBEN-TV (Channel 4, now WIVB).
Once he moved to WKBW, Jolls did so much more than just weather. As with so many TV personalities of the time, he was also the host of the station’s kiddie show in the afternoon. “Captain Tom” of “The Superman Show” quickly became “Commander Tom,” at the helm of “Rocketship 7,” an iconic figure in the childhoods of a generation of local TV viewers.
The show endured longer than most of its counterparts around the country; it continued as late as 1993, even as Irv, Rick and Tom rolled up record-setting ratings on the evening newscasts. Jolls became the last of the trio to retire, stepping down from the weather desk in 1999, six months after Weinstein and a decade after Azar. The trio were inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1998, and Jolls was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2019.
Jolls had been living in Newfane, near Lockport. He was 89 when he died Wednesday.
*Another Buffalo media institution also came to an end last week. After almost half a century as one of Buffalo’s biggest music stations, Audacy’s WTSS (Star 102.5) said farewell to its listeners Friday morning as the station gets ready to be sold to EMF Broadcasting.
For its last week on the air, Star’s hot AC format was filled with reminders to listeners that most of the music they’ve enjoyed there will still be available on sister station WKSE (Kiss 98.5), where longtime Star personality Sue O’Neil will move across the hall to do afternoons.
In its final moments leading up to the 10 AM signoff on Friday, Star’s other veteran personality, Rob Lucas, played a montage of airchecks of 102.5’s pop music history, going back to WBEN-FM’s 1974 flip from automated beautiful music to “Rock 102,” a top-40 station that was an important part of so many radio fans’ youths in western New York. (Where did those airchecks and station history come from? Where else but Buffalo radio historian Steve Cichon, who started his early career at WBEN and 102.5 in its WMJQ era.)
Lucas spoke of his attempts to string up an antenna at his home in Hornell to hear WBEN-FM, and your editor remembers doing the same over in Rochester in the 1980s, taking advantage of the huge 102.5 signal that reached well into Canada and all over the Niagara Frontier.
That enormous signal still matters – and now for EMF, which will use it to bring its K-Love format to a big chunk of Canada’s biggest market, starting later this week when Audacy ends a temporary WKSE simulcast on 102.5. EMF will move the K-Love format and WBKV calls from its current smaller Buffalo signal on 89.9, and that 89.9 signal will go to EMF’s Air 1 format with new calls WBWA.
Just as WTSS went into a few minutes of dead air a little after 3 on Friday, WMSX moved to a hotter AC as – what else? – “The New Star 96.1,” promising the same hot AC music that WTSS played, as well as the all-Christmas format that brought WTSS huge ratings every holiday season.
For now, there’s no change in the 96.1 on-air lineup, which has only Dave Fields as local morning host, followed by voicetracked talent from other Townsquare outlets, but could that change? On his next to last day on WTSS, Lucas took about ten minutes on the air to talk emotionally about his history in Buffalo radio – and to drop a strong hint that he’s far from done on the Queen City airwaves.
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