The Buffalo Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame will toast the former WADV-FM tonight for 50 years of broadcasting in Buffalo. Now WYRK-FM, the station with a mom-and-pop feel was the first stereo station in the city when it was launched by Dan and Nancy Lee Lesniak in 1962.
"We didn't buy it. We built it," said Nancy Lee during a recent phone interview from her Williamsville home. "At that time the music we played was called middle of the road. It was Big Band, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jerry Vale. The announcers picked the music, but I screened the albums. I wrote on the cover the songs that could be played on the air."
The station broadcast from the floors 21 and 22 of the Rand Building on Lafayette Square.
The idea to open WADV was conceived by Dan when he had been called for jury duty, according to Nancy Lee. Dan Lesniak was already working in radio, selling time for AM stations WKBW and WWOL.
"He took care of engineering and sales ," she explained. "I handled the programming and hiring and firing."
WADV was on the air for 19 years, with shows including Dan Lesniak's "Polka Ballroom," Bernie Sandler's "Big Band Sound" and Joe Vendetti's "Jazz Thing." Touring singers Tony Bennett, Tom Jones and Harry Belafonte would visit the downtown station when performing in Buffalo. A gold record for Engelbert Humperdinck's song "After the Lovin' " hangs on the wall of her family room, Nancy Lee said.
"It was a family-operated station, and because of that we were all family," said former DJ Joe Vendetti, who now lives in Clarence. "Come Christmas time, the Lesniaks had something for everyone - whether it was a gift or a bonus - depending on how profitable the year was. They were great people to work for."
Vendetti worked midnight to 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday, offering Buffalo listeners 18 hours a week of jazz programming. Touring jazz performers stopped by his show, he said, many of them appearing at the former Revilot Lounge on the East Side.
"At that time, nobody listened to FM much," Vendetti recalled. "AM was king, and WKBW was the giant radio station. It really was kind of a risk on Dan and Nancy's part to start the station."
When WADV was sold in 1981, the format was switched to Country Western and the call letters became WYRK. Soon after, Dan Lesniak died from a heart attack.
Caroline Lesniak, born in 1984, never met her grandfather, but she grew up hearing stories about the charismatic businessman.
"I certainly remember as a kid people asking me if I were related to the Lesniaks who owned the station," said Caroline. "They would get really excited and I didn't know why."
Caroline, a London schoolteacher, visited Buffalo in spring and created a WADV website (www.wadv-fm.org) as a gift to her grandmother.
"To have a chance to go through and read the material, hear the history and see what my grandparents went through to bring this station to life is astounding," she said during a phone interview. "I never knew how unique it was."
"My hope is that it becomes a place we can keep the memory alive, where fans, former employees, business contacts, anyone who remembers WADV will be able to connect with each other," she said. "To that end, there is a forum and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/wadvfm)."
Other honorees include former investigative reporter Lee Coppola, Buffalo Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret, VH1 President Tom Calderone, CNN's Southeast Region Bureau Chief Mary Lynn Ryan and retired television photographer Bill Cantwell, who worked at the former WBEN-TV.
WGR-AM traffic reporter Mike Roszman, who died in a helicopter crash while on the job in 1993, will be honored posthumously.
The Tim Russert Medal of Merit, recognizing a student planning a career in media, will be presented to St. Bonaventure University broadcast journalism graduate Shannon Shepherd.
The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. at WNED-TV, 140 Lower Terrace. Call 873-2233 for tickets.