Tonawanda News

March 11, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Back when the radio was always on

By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News

— Buffalo’s remarkable history — don’t let the economic malaise mislead you — includes its involvement with the rise of rock and roll. The city had breakthrough disc jockeys and radio stations, was an important site for concerts and appearances and generally was present, if not at the creation, then in the growth of the popular art form that overtook the globe. 

It is a story begging to be told in a carefully researched book. Bon and Terri Skurzewski’s “No Stoppin’ This Boppin’: Let the Good Times Roll” is not it, but it is a fine attempt at filling in a few of the details of Buffalo’s rock and roll lifestyle with interviews of some of the surviving major players.

If you grew up here in the 1950s and 1960s, a radio was likely within earshot. AM radio, most notably WKBW-AM, was a unifying force among the young and the most notable outlet for those seeking to retail things to a young and growingly affluent demographic. If the names Tom Shannon, Fred Klestine, Lucky Pierre and George “Hound Dog” Lorenz are a part of your adolescence, the book will be of interest.

To repeat, what the book is not is a balanced and researched history book; the subject, and the era, deserve such a book. What it is, is a series of interviews with the characters in the local music scene and broadcasting business, and commentaries on Buffalo bands and radio stations.

When facts and figures spill out, it offers no footnotes and only limited references (okay, it does not claim to be a scholarly book). Entire transcripts of interviews are printed in some places, without comment. Other chapters are all comment with no attribution.

As a privately-printed book by two fans of the genre, it is a laudable project, but it reads like a pile of notes waiting to be turned into a definitive history. 

To its credit, a lot of more-or-less forgotten people were located to offer observations on what many people in Buffalo recall as good old days. The entire July 3, 1955, incident in which WWOL-AM disc jockey Guy King was arrested for playing music atop a downtown billboard and encouraging passing drivers to honk horns, is here, an explanatory chapter preceding the actual transcript from the radio.

This sort of thing is a legendary part of Buffalo’s involvement in the history of rock music. Fewer and fewer people remember it, let alone have heard of it, but the wacky, complex and slightly shady growth of rock and roll, what you see in movies like “American Hot Wax” and others, was played out to the disbelieving ears of kids in Buffalo, listening in on tinny and tiny radios.

The era should be better remembered. The Buffalo History Museum has recently displayed an interest in it, as will others, and will likely use the Skurzewski’s book as research material.

The facts are here, surprising ones (Casey Kasem worked in Buffalo for a short while, for example), but arranged with a scattershot approach this reader found maddening. The reader will learn a few things about payola, publicity stunts and the uneasy separation of black and white audiences who enjoyed the same music. 

Underlying the book’s evidence and opinion is a nagging thought, that somehow this remarkably influential and disruptive period of music and broadcasting, a foreshadowing of what later went on in the 60 and after, was, after reflection, something Not Good for Us, just as our parents said. A listener back then could pin his or her dreams to what was heard on the radio, and the book suggests a lot of it was a sham, simply one stunt after another in search of an audience.

Every movement has a soft underbelly, and the interviews contained here suggest Buffalo radio had a big one. Details such as these make the book; whatever a reader remembers about KB Radio and its edgy and relentless format, he or she will learn plenty more here.

For the moment, “No Stoppin’ This Boppin’” is as close as we can get to reading about a time that influenced so many people so severely. It is packed with fragments, memories and isolated facts about isolated incidents; the authors should be commended for doing their homework.

Someone to simmer it all into a coherent history, though, is something we still await.

 

 

• WHAT: "No Stoppin' This Boppin': Let the Good Times Roll • BY: Bob and Terry Skuzewski • GRADE: B

 

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.