|City||Buffalo, New York|
|Broadcast area||Western New York|
|Branding||"WGR Sports Radio 550"|
|Slogan||"Western New York's Sports Leader"|
|Repeater(s)||98.5-2 WKSE-HD2 (Niagara Falls)|
|First air date||May 22, 1922|
|Callsign meaning||World's Greatest Radio|
|Former frequencies||940 kHz (1927)
990 kHz (1927-1928)
|Affiliations||Sabres Hockey Network
Westwood One Sports
Cumulus Media Networks
Buffalo Bills Radio Network
(Entercom Buffalo License, LLC)
|Sister stations||WBEN, WKSE, WWKB, WTSS, WWWS, WLKK|
WGR ("WGR Sports Radio 550") is an all sports radio station in Buffalo, New York that broadcasts on 550 AM. It is the flagship station of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, carrying a mostly locally originated sports talk and play-by-play lineup. Its studios are located in Amherst, New York, and transmitter in suburban Hamburg, New York. Although it has a power of 5,000 watts, during the day its signal can be heard as far north as Barrie, Peterborough and Kingston, Ontario, as far west as Windsor, Ontario, as far east as Syracuse, and as far south as Sandusky, OH and Youngstown, Ohio. At night its signal can be heard as far north as Sudbury, Barrie and Peterborough, Ontario, as far west as Guelph, Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, as far east as Batavia, and as far south as Jamestown and Olean. In nearby Erie, Pennsylvania the station has a city-grade signal, primarily in Erie's eastern suburbs. Under ownership of Entercom, its studios are located on Corporate Parkway in Amherst, New York. It can also be heard as far south as Salamanca, NY all day and all night.
The history of one of Buffalo's earliest radio stations has its roots at sea. On April 1, 1921 the Governor, a passenger ship, sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean after collision with a freighter, the West Hartland. The passenger ship’s assigned radio call letters were WGR. Due to maritime superstition, the call sign was never reissued to another ship and reverted to a pool of available call signs for new radio stations.
That same year, the Federal Telephone & Telegraph Company (FTTC), headquartered in a sprawling manufacturing complex in North Buffalo, began marketing its first, completely assembled radio sets. To fill a radio void in the city, and to stimulate sales of their new "high-tech" products, the FTTC applied for (and received) a commercial radio license from the Department of Commerce. The station was named "WGR" after George Rand (founder of Remington Rand), a key investor in the FTTC. On May 22, 1922, WGR's broadcast operations commenced, beginning nine decades of continuous service to Western New York and Southern Ontario. It is the oldest continuously operating station in Buffalo. Published reports say that the first programs on WGR were: a clergyman’s lecture; a concert from Victor’s Furniture Store showroom; and a presentation on the advantages of a college education by Dr. Julian Park, from the University of Buffalo.
In the late 1940s, the station was bought by a consortium of Western New York families known as the WGR Corporation, which signed on WGR-TV (channel 2) in 1953. WGR Corporation bought several other television and radio stations in the 1950s, and eventually became known as Transcontinent Broadcasting. Transcontinent merged with Taft Broadcasting in 1964. Taft sold off WGR-TV in 1983 (which, due to a now-repealed FCC rule that prohibited TV and radio stations in the same market, but with different owners from sharing the same call letters, amended its call letters to WGRZ after it was sold), but retained both WGR radio and WGRF (the former WGR-FM).
During its days as a full service radio station, its roster of personalities included "Buffalo Bob" Smith, later famous for TV's Howdy Doody children's show, and popular national TV and nightclub comedian Foster Brooks. The station's longtime music format combining Adult Top 40 hits and rock oldies and featured some of Buffalo's top radio personalities, talk hosts and news reporters including Stan Roberts, Frank Benny, Tom Donahue, Randy Michaels, Jim Scott, Jerry Reo, Shane, Joe Galuski, Tom Langmyer, George Hamberger, Tom Shannon, John Otto, Chuck Lakefield, Don Dussias, Lauri Githens, Wayne Smith, Sandy Kozel, Jane Tomczak, Tom Bauerle (as well as his brother, Dick Bauerle), Craig Matthews. WGR gradually evolved to news/talk during the late 1980s.
In 1987, Taft sold WGR and WGRF to Rich Communications, which was part of the Robert Rich family's business holdings, which also included a major processed-food company (and with it, naming rights for the Buffalo Bills stadium then [now called New Era Field]) and a venture applying for a National League expansion baseball franchise (for which WGR was projected to be flagship station of the team's projected network). Although the Rich interests were the National League's choice for the new franchise they dropped out of the competition for an expansion team (which ultimately went to Denver, Colorado as the Colorado Rockies) for cost reasons. Soon after, WGR was eventually spun off to new owners.
The 1990s: News Radio 55
For much of the 1990s, WGR was a successful news/talk station, competing head to head with WBEN-AM 930. From 1990 to 1994, WGR owned the radio broadcast rights to the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bisons. The Buffalo Bills' four consecutive Super Bowl seasons were broadcast on WGR, whose Program Directors included Chuck Finney (1991–1993), Daryl Parks (1993–1995) and Jim Pastrick (1995–2000).
Through its news-talk era the WGR line-up featured a variety of programs such as Breakfast with Bauerle (Tom Bauerle), The Fabulous Sports Babe, Chuck Dickerson, Art Wander, Extension 55 with John Otto, Ron Dobson, John and Ken, Rick Emerson, Joey Reynolds, and several other local and national hosts. Syndicated talk radio host Leslie Marshall, controversial talk radio host J. R. Gach and future WFAN New York morning drive fixture Craig Carton also worked at the station. Jesse Ventura was at one time a candidate to host a show on the station, but lost out to Dobson. The station was, from the network's inception, an affiliate of ESPN Radio, which it carried on the weekends from 1992 to 2013.
In 1995, Rich Communications which owned both WGR and its FM counterpart WGRF, sold WGRF to Mercury Radio headed by Charles W. Banta. Simultaneously, Rich Communications entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Keymarket Communications. The Federal Communications Commission approved the sale of WGR to Keymarket within twelve months of the LMA. Keymarket also owned WBEN, WMJQ, WWKB and WKSE. Keymarket merged with River City Broadcasting which was purchased by Sinclair Broadcast Group in 1997. Sinclair Broadcast Group sold its entire radio division to Entercom Communications in 1999. In February 2000, WGR changed formats from News-Talk to Sports-Talk.
Becoming an all sports station
In February 2000, WGR became an all-sports talk radio station. Bauerle, for a short time, was retained and paired with Chris "Bulldog" Parker, who joined from WBEN for the morning show. Chuck Dickerson maintained his afternoon drive show. Jim Rome, who was added to the WGR line-up in late summer 1998, was retained when WGR switched to all sports. Anne Burke, a frequent caller to the station's talk shows, joined Bob Gaughan to co-host middays. Mike Maniscalco and later Brad Riter hosted the evening shift.
From October 2000 to 2004, WGR competed with WNSA-FM, an FM station licensed to Wethersfield, NY in rural Wyoming county (with a 107.3 translator in Buffalo). The two stations battled for listeners and the rights to broadcast sporting events. Several teams' broadcasts bounced between the two stations, such as the Bandits, New York Yankees, and Buffalo Destroyers.
WGR landed a coup when it signed WNSA's top afternoon host, Mike Schopp, from WNSA-FM in 2002; the event came at about the same time as when Rigas and Adelphia Communications were beginning to collapse under massive financial scandal. WNSA never recovered and eventually WGR took the upper hand in the local sports radio battle. Schopp was at first teamed with Chuck Dickerson in afternoon drive. When Dickerson departed WGR, Schopp was teamed with Chris "Bulldog" Parker. Bauerle moved from WGR to sister station WBEN, Gaughan joined Kevin Sylvester in morning drive (Burke had been released long before this). Riter was paired with sidekick Jeremy White in the evening and lastly The Tony Kornheiser Show (from ESPN) was added in Gaughan and Burke's old time slot. (Kornheiser would later be replaced by Colin Cowherd by ESPN.)
With the purchase of WNSA, WGR re-joined the New York Yankees radio network and for the first time since 1996, regained the radio rights to the Buffalo Sabres. Howard Simon, also from WNSA, joined in November 2004, with White moving from evenings to mornings to be Simon's sidekick.
In 2006, the Sabres and WGR renewed their broadcast agreement through 2012, and Yankees rights were dropped by 2007. In 2007, host Brad Riter was fired after failing to report for work, and he joined rival WECK in March 2008. A series of WGR staffers, as well as past and present Buffalo media personalities such as former WNSA and Empire host (and former KOHD-DT morning anchor) Jim Brinson and WIVB-TV sports director Dennis Williams, hosted the vacated slot. (WGR also tried to lure John Murphy, but because he was also at the time the radio host of the Bills, his contract prevented him from hosting the slot.) In January 2008, Williams was hired as the new evening host at WGR; WIVB declined to his contract shortly thereafter, and replaced him with Murphy. Williams left the station in early 2009 to enter the sales industry. On January 4, 2012, it was announced that WGR would become the Buffalo Bills Radio Network flagship station. With the addition of Buffalo Bills broadcast rights going to WGR, the evening time slot was held by Bills announcer John Murphy.
WGR began a partial simulcast on Rochester sister station WROC in September 2008. Sabres games, Schopp and the Bulldog, and ESPN Radio were carried on WROC; Schopp and the Bulldog was dropped in 2011.
In 2012, WGR secured the rights to the Buffalo Bills Radio Network after previous owner WGRF decided against renewing their contract. As part of the deal, John Murphy began hosting a nightly talk show dedicated to the Bills on nights when the Sabres did not play. At the same time, Kevin Sylvester also returned to the station as the host of a daily Sabres-oriented talk show, Hockey Hotline, which last aired in 2004. WGR parent company Entercom moved the ESPN Radio affiliation to its own full-time affiliate, WWKB, in September 2013.
In 2016, the formation of MSG Western New York was announced. A regional sports channel for Western New York, the channel includes both Sabres and Bills programming. Two main WGR shows Sabres Hockey Hotline and The John Murphy Show began simulcasting on the channel on October 3, 2016. WGR and Pegula Sports and Entertainment reached a five-year contract extension for radio broadcasts not long afterward, keeping the Bills and Sabres broadcasts on WGR through 2021.
WGR's broadcast signal broadcasts at a power of 5,000 watts. During the day, the nondirectional signal, assisted by the Great Lakes, can stretch from Toledo, Ohio to Watertown, New York. At night, the signal is shifted to a directional north-to-south pattern aimed toward Toronto, Ontario.
Hosts and programs
- Howard Simon and Jeremy White, 6-10am
- The Instigators (formerly Sabres Hockey Hotline) with Craig Rivet and Andrew Peters, 10am-noon (no broadcasts on Mondays during football season)
- The John Murphy Show, 12-3pm
- Mike Schopp and Chris "Bulldog" Parker, 3-7pm (also postgame hosts, Buffalo Bills Radio Network)
- The Nightcap with Ryan Gates, 7-9pm
- MRN Radio's NASCAR Live with Eli Gold*, Tuesdays 9-10pm (tape-delayed)
- Performance Racing Network's The O'Reilly Auto Parts Pit Reporters with Brett McMillan*, Wednesdays 9-10 during NASCAR season (tape-delayed)
- Tony Caligiuri, Saturday Mornings, Inside High School Sports 10-11am
- Sal Capaccio, host, Sports Talk Saturday, 11am-2pm (also Buffalo Bills Radio Network sideline reporter)
- Dave Buchanan, Sunday Mornings 10-11am, WGR's Fast Track (NASCAR Talk); preempted during football season by Buffalo Bills pre-game coverage
- ESPN Radio
**--weeknight and weekend programming subject to preemption by live sports play-by-play coverage
Contributors and regular guests
- Sal Capaccio, WGR Buffalo Bills beat reporter
- Paul Hamilton, WGR Buffalo Sabres beat reporter
- Martin Biron, former Buffalo Sabres goaltender
- John Clayton, National Football League writer
- John Murphy, Buffalo Bills play-by-play announcer and host of The John Murphy Show.
- Rick Jeanneret, Buffalo Sabres play-by-play announcer
- Rob Ray Former Buffalo Sabres player and current Color Commentator.
- Harry Neale, Toronto Maple Leafs analyst
- Mike Robitaille, Former Buffalo Sabres and MSG hockey analyst
- Ted Nolan, former Buffalo Sabres head coach and father of current Sabres forward Jordan Nolan
- Aaron Schatz, creator of Football Outsiders, Obscure and interesting football statistics
:00 and :30 (no longer 20/20 sports) anchors and producers
- Thom Cich, Producer for Mike Schopp & The Bulldog
- Matthew Coller, Howard Simon Show Producer
- Dave Buchanan, Sabres Radio Network producer, Host of WGR's Fast Track
- Dan Cave, Anchor on Sabres broadcasts
- Pat Malacaro, Sabres Radio Network Anchor and Reporter
- Pete Carges, Weekday Anchor, Host of The Saturday Slice
- T.J. Luckman, Weekend/Bills Gameday Producer/Sabres Radio Network producer
- Tom Reitz, Weekend/Evening Producer/Anchor
- Jon Koziol, Sabres Radio Network Producer
- Michael Jafari, Weekend producer
Live sports coverage
- Buffalo Bills flagship station; play-by-play with John Murphy and Mark Kelso
- Buffalo Sabres flagship station; play-by-play with Rick Jeanneret/Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray
- Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play on ESPN Radio
- NASCAR Sprint Cup play-by-play from the Motor Racing Network
Much of the other sports programming WGR carried in the evening hours was displaced by The John Murphy Show, particularly the station's "Friday Night Lights" high school football package and select games from the Buffalo Bisons and, in various years, the New York Yankees. With Murphy moved to middays, the station has not yet indicated if it will re-expand its live sports offerings.
- Broadcast Station Calls With a Past, WILLIAM FENWICK, Radio Broadcast, July 1928, pg 150
- Fybush, Scott. NorthEast Radio Watch. 18 August 2008.
- Pergament, Alan (September 5, 2013). Sabres games in NHL prospect tourney on new ESPN Buffalo. The Buffalo News. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
- WGR 550 official Website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WGR
- Radio-Locator Information on WGR
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WGR
- WGR Jock History (billdulmage.com)
- Rock Radio Scrapbook page including recordings of Frank Benny and Shane on WGR, April 28, 1980
- Portions of information came from the Buffalo Broadcast Pioneers Web site.
- FCC History Cards for WGR