Niagara Gazette — Since the early days of broadcasting Niagara Falls has always been spotlighted by radio and television networks and, of course, the movie industry. Scores of events have been carried coast-to-coast and even overseas (e.g. Nik Wallenda’s walk in 2012). At the dawn of the 20th century, the Shredded Wheat Co. Band, promoting its products and Niagara’s scenic wonder, was heard weekly on stations throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 1926, the famous Carborundum Band started to play on radio.
One of the highest rated programs on NBC-TV in 1955 was “The Tonight Show” that Steve Allen hosted from 1954 until 1957. That 105-minute show — instead of today’s 60-minute version — was brought to the Cataract City June 13, 1955, mostly through the efforts of the late Eddy Joseph, a veteran radio personality and longtime general manager of WHLD.
Eydie Gorme, 84, the popular singer who died last weekend, was center stage that night when she and Steve Lawrence were guests on the NBC “Tonight Show,” televised live from Goat Island. Two years later, in 1957, they became a husband-wife team. Among their notable duet singles recorded in earlier days on the Coral label: “Make Yourself Comfortable” (1954) and “Close Your Eyes (Take a Deep Breath)” (1955).
Longtime residents familiar with the extensive preparations for that live telecast from here — one of the first times that the show ventured away from its Manhattan studio — may recall the rift that a former manager of the state parks commission caused in the days leading up to the telecast. The story goes that the surly parks boss tried to dictate to Allen and the “Tonight Show” producers who should be the guests interviewed. In fact, the parks official backed down when Allen made it clear that the network was calling the shots and if the parks manager didn’t like that arrangement, the plans would be scrapped with the show returned to New York City.
It turned out a huge success, viewed by an estimated 12 million people. In addition to Gorme and Lawrence, the program that night included singer Andy Williams and Skitch Henderson and his band. Chief Elton Greene made Allen an honorary Tuscarora chief and a flaming, flower-decked raft was sent over the falls to re-enact the Maid of the Mist legend.
Allen hosted the show from 1954 until 1957, when Jack Paar assumed the role. Next in line was Johnny Carson and then Jay Leno.
A HOT LINE: So you want to know what owners are saying about problems and repair costs for particular car models? Check the website: www.carcomplaints.com. You may be surprised to learn your vehicle is known for its excessive oil consumption or a cracked panel.
VOICE OF NIAGARA: Tom Darro, host of the popular “Viewpoint” on radio station WJJL (1440), has an uncanny skill for remembering birthdays. I still recall walking with him once into the former Convention and Civic Center (Seneca Niagara Casino) and remarking, “Tom, that guy over there looks real familiar, You happen to know him?” Darro shot back: “The name escapes me right now, but he was born Nov. 13.” By the way, Tom, a protege of the inimitable Jimmy Thompson, turns 65 today. Happy birthday, pal!
TRIVIA: In what years did New York City host the World’s Fair for two six-month seasons? (Answer Sunday).Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.