The news that its building was going to be demolished to make way for new apartment buildings created an opportunity for radio station WUFO-AM. It was time to head downtown.
Not having much choice doesn’t make the move any less exciting, according to the station’s operations manager, Sheila L. Brown. She talked about the move at a “Farewell to LaSalle” block party at the station Monday afternoon.
“We’re really excited. We have been tucked away on LaSalle for so long, we wanted to be more visible,” Brown said of the move to 143 Broadway. “It’s in a historic area, right next to the Colored Musicians Club, and near the Michigan Avenue corridor. It’s a beautiful space.”
1080 WUFO-AM began serving Buffalo’s African-American community in 1961 and has been in the one-story cinder-block building at 89 LaSalle Ave. for 48 years. Its signal towers will continue to operate from a lot near the station. As Brown pointed out, the studio and towers no longer have to be near one another.
The station, started as part of a small chain catering to a black audience, was sold in 1973 to the Pittsburgh-based Sheridan Broadcasting Corp.
Sheridan liked what it was buying, and the format – R&B and gospel music, plus locally based talk shows – didn’t change.
“Friendship Baptist Church has been in the same spot, the same time slot, since 1961,” said Brown, who started at WUFO in 1986, left for a while and returned in 2006.
“We’ll have a museum in the new building, and we’re taking the front door with us for it – we think about all the people that ever walked through that door!” she said.
“This was our source for news, music and the Word,” said listener Leslie Gardner, who stopped by for the party. “Since I was a little girl, I’ve listened every day.”
She recalled such DJs as Jimmy Lyons, Al Parker and Frankie “Chief Rocker” Crocker, who went on to fame in New York City.
Doug Ruffin started his Buffalo career at WBLK and moved to WUFO in 2007. He hosts the “Neo Soul Movement” show and enjoys exploring radio history.
“I grew up around the corner and used to pass the station on my way home,” Ruffin said. “It’s incredible for me sharing space that was used by legends of the industry … Eddie O’Jay, Frankie Crocker, Sunny Jim (Kelsey).”
DJ Dwayne Landers, who has worked on and off at the station for about 30 years, said being at WUFO is more than just a job.
“I came in as an intern through the Buffalo schools’ executive internship program and went from there,” Landers said, “The skills you learn here stay with you – it’s a small station even though it’s part of a big network. It’s conducive to learning and growing.
“I’ve worked in other cities, but always come back here. It’s interesting in Buffalo media, a lot of people come back. They’ve fallen in love with the audience here.”
Dwayne Ferguson, president and CEO of Mad Dads of Greater Buffalo, is a supporter of the station, and at one time did a youth show featuring students from various city schools. He praised the station’s commitment to serving all aspects of its audience’s lives.
“WUFO is a major part of the community, it has the heartbeat of our community,” Ferguson said. “The spiritual growth that it encourages is essential to the young people, and they are keeping it at the forefront of awareness.”
“Gospel is our format, it’s our platform, along with the talk shows,” Brown explained. “Those are very popular. When we started in 1961, there was no media outlet for that in the community. We provided it.”
As part of the party, staff and fans took turns swinging a sledge hammer at a doorway in the soon-to-be-demolished building while program director Lee Pettigrew continued the afternoon broadcast a few feet away.
L.C.H. Roberson, who hosts Saturday’s “Rhythm and Blues Revue” with Curtis Lee, enjoyed the celebration while recalling the earlier days as a blues radio pioneer in Western New York. He has been with WUFO for 26 years, he said.
Now, when he and the rest of the on-air talent move to Broadway in about two weeks, they will be more than voices floating from the radio.
“You’ll be able to watch our DJs in the front window,” Brown said. “There’s going to be a lot going on downtown, and we’re going to be part of it.”