One just has to look at Steve Cichon’s daily fashion statement to realize the local media historian is an old soul.
Bow tie. Tweed jacket with elbow patches. Argyle socks.
“I hear that all the time,” said Cichon in a recent interview. “I’m a 35-year-old dressed like an 80-year-old. Some people wear this as a costume. I’m comfortable wearing this.”
Cichon’s decision to sign off on Friday as WBEN’s news director may add to the discomfort level of media members who are worried about whether their jobs look as out of place as tweed jackets and bow ties on a 35-year-old.
They might be thinking if Steve Cichon is leaving his dream job, what kind of future does the industry have? After all, Cichon’s love of the media is often on display on Facebook, on YouTube and on his website, staffannouncer.com.
• When former “AM/Buffalo” co-host Brian Kahle died, Cichon immediately posted the clip of Kahle’s memorable interview in which he booted Mayor Jimmy Griffin off the set.
• When legendary Buffalo News sports columnist Larry Felser died, Cichon immediately put together a CD of Felser’s TV appearances on the former Empire Sports Network and presented it to Felser’s widow.
• One of the two historical books that Cichon has written is “Irv: Buffalo’s Anchorman: The Story of Irv, Rick and Tom” about Channel 7’s news dominance for decades.
Clearly, Cichon is the go-to-man for memories of all local things radio and TV.
“I’ve now become the repository for that sort of thing,” said Cichon. “My attic is filled with that sort of stuff.”
His attic is so full of news memorabilia that his wife of 11 years doesn’t dare go there. It makes one wonder if frustration with where the news business is headed led to Cichon’s decision to retire his smooth voice from radio to begin a new chapter in his life.
“I wanted to leave before I got frustrated,” explained Cichon. “I’ve seen too many people get frustrated. I’ve seen a lot of friends, people I respect, forced out, and a lot burn out. I wanted to be neither one of those things.”
He appreciates what he has had for the past 20 years and may be the rare old soul who wishes he was even older.
“I think the media business is great for people out of college and for people in their 60s,” said Cichon. “If you are anywhere between wanting to raise a family or waiting for a buyout it is a rough time.”
He has noticed how much his role changed in the last decade.
“Ten years ago, I was able to be creative and write a good script,” said Cichon. “Now I spend more time tweeting and Facebooking and writing Web stories. I enjoy all these things. It is just the sheer quantity of work that has to go into all these different platforms takes away from the creative process.”
So he is off to tell Buffalo Stories, the company he created to help people and businesses tell their stories. The stories will have to be quite impressive to top Cichon’s own story on how he became hooked on the media.
His family lived in Western New York for all but a few years when his father was in Massachusetts as a civilian working for the Army. A 7-year-old Cichon would head to Boston early every Saturday morning with his best friend to watch his best friend’s father work as a disc jockey at WHDH. Cichon fell in love with the medium.
At the end of his sophomore year at Orchard Park High School, a 15-year-old Cichon wrote to every radio station in Buffalo, Batavia and Springville seeking an internship. WBEN’s Kevin Keenan was the only one to respond. Cichon’s radio career began. He worked full-time for no pay in the summer.
At 16, he was hired as a weekend board operator at $4.25 an hour, an early lesson that one doesn’t go into radio for money.
“I loved the business. I still do,” he said. “It is one of the reasons I am leaving it because I want to love it.”
By the end of his first year at WBEN, Cichon was working full-time as a producer and board operator. He produced Buffalo Bills football, ran the board for WBEN stars John Murphy and Howard Simon and was the first producer of Chris (The Bulldog) Parker’s show.
He also was majoring in English at the University at Buffalo. He was a little too busy with his job and helping his ailing father to graduate. “I had to get rid of the job, get rid of school or get rid of dad,” cracked Cichon. “School seemed to be the only choice.”
As smooth as his voice is now, he said an early tape of his promo work was “awful.” He said the voice at the end of his WBEN run was a combination of station stars Mark Leitner, Ed Little, Murphy, Simon, Susan Rose and former Channel 4 anchor Bob Koop. “Along the way they showed me how to do my job, how to be a reporter, to write, how to speak on the radio,” he said.
He left WBEN in 1998 to first become Van Miller’s sports producer at Channel 4, then worked at the Empire Sports Network and WNSA before returning to WBEN a decade ago.
Along the way, he developed his love of local TV and radio history and continued a love affair with storytelling that began with his grandparents telling tales about growing up in the depression and working in a parachute factory during World War II.
“I was lucky to have five excellent grandparents, including a great-grandfather,” said Cichon. “Both of my parents are great storytellers. The pictures they painted as storytellers were so vivid to me … It had to be so much cooler than the stuff we have now.”
His love of stories led to a close friendship with Little at WBEN. “Ed was the oldest guy at the station by a long stretch, and I was the youngest guy by a long stretch,” said Cichon. “Somehow we became really good friends. He was in his 70s and I was a teenager.”
Some people might have thought that Cichon would stay on radio as long as Little did because he loves it so much.
“People have said to me, ‘You personify what this is. If anybody should be doing this, it should be you,’ ” said Cichon.
He said he believes his new venture will enable him to continue doing what he loves the most about radio – storytelling.
“It is being able to tell someone’s story and hearing them say, ‘wow you got the whole thing,’ ” said Cichon. “That’s always the best feeling.”
You get the feeling that his crowded attic will be full of more memories very soon.