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  • Writer's pictureJeff Schober

Does Danny Neaverth really need a job?

Legendary disc jockey holds a special place in Buffalo's radio history

Danny Neaverth on October 1, 2020. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Danny Neaverth isn’t looking for work, in spite of the videos filling his Facebook feed.

Every few weeks, the legendary media personality — who grew up in Buffalo and made his name in Western New York — posts a self-deprecating spot suggesting work he could do (should anyone wish to hire him) — substitute teaching, creating crowd noise at an empty Bills Stadium, working at a bottle-and-can return center. The videos are short, lasting only a few minutes, and often feature fellow media personalities. Sometimes Neaverth acts in multiple roles at once.

His hair is white now, but at 82, his eyes remain bright, tinged with the mischief that people have come to recognize and appreciate from his public persona the past 60-plus years. Describing himself as “82 going on 17,” he still possesses the aura of an upbeat teen, even driving a slick cherry red Ford Mustang.

Part of Neaverth’s appeal, both then and now, is that he’s never taken himself too seriously.

Neaverth has been a fixture in local media since the 1950s, working as a disc jockey at WKBW, WHTT, announcer at Buffalo Braves basketball games, and delivering TV weather reports on Channel 7. Generations of Western New Yorkers recall the ad campaign “Danny moves my fanny in the morning…” Up until April 2020, he and several other classic Buffalo DJs worked on-air at WECK.

“There was no person bigger in Buffalo on so many levels than Danny was in the 1960s and 70s,” said Steve Cichon, a local pop culture historian and author of 100 Years of Buffalo Broadcasting. “He was the guy who you listened to when you drove home from work in the 60s. He woke you up on the radio in the 70s. His face was on every television commercial. He was the biggest person in Buffalo media for a long time. He was everywhere.”

How does Neaverth view his place in Buffalo’s media history?

“I think Irv Weinstein would be the No. 1 guy,” he said, referencing Channel 7’s longtime news anchor, who died in 2017. “Going back further, it would be (radio DJ) Clint Buehlman.”

Always a storyteller

Neaverth's career in broadcasting began when he was a teenager living on Keppel Street in South Buffalo.

“We started at the Boys Club of Buffalo at Babcock and Seneca Streets,” Neaverth recalled. “We had our own little station on the third floor, and broadcast through the intercom to other floors. It was myself, Danny McBride, who ended up working at WEBR for a long time and then started an advertising agency; Bill Masters, who worked at WBEN and was very talented. Joey Reynolds performed there too. There were a couple other people who didn’t stay in the business, but we started that when I was probably 13 or 14. We’d play music, and when there was a football game, we’d look out the window to the field below and do play-by-play. We mentioned the name of a local restaurant, Casa Di Pizza, and they’d give us pizza once a week. That’s how we started.”

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

These days, he understands that strangers who recognize him are of a certain age. And years of radio experience have honed his ability to share stories. Neaverth knows how to set up an anecdote, fill in details to provide color, and gradually nurture the listener along toward a reveal at the end. It’s a skill he still employs, even in conversation.

“Something like this happens all the time,” he began, relaying details of a recent medical procedure. “An older nurse was talking to me. ‘Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to put a needle in your arm and you’ll go to sleep.’ The anesthesiologist comes in. That’s a hard word to say, anesthesiologist. She was a younger woman. She starts talking to me. ‘Do you have any allergies? No? Okay, we’ll see you on the other side.’ She starts to leave and the older nurse goes over and starts talking to her.”

As if performing for a radio audience, Neaverth lowers his voice to make muted whispering sounds.

“The anesthesiologist looks at me,” he continued. “No recognition. Then she leaves. When the older nurse came back over, I said, ‘Let me guess: you told her who I was and she replied, Who’s that?’”

Pausing only long enough for a breath, he barrels right into the next phase of the story.

“The next day, I go to the gym. This is at the YMCA. There’s a guy there with two teenage sons. He comes over and says ‘You’ve been on the radio a long time. I was just telling my kids about you.’ Let me guess: you told them who I was and they went—“ Neaverth shrugs, eyes smiling at his faded fame. “People tell their kids and grandkids, but they don’t know, and they don’t care.”

Neaverth appreciates the attention, but it’s not something he needs.

“He’s very approachable,” said Ron Schanne, who has frequently worked with Neaverth for years, beginning at WKBW radio in the 1970s. Schanne produced Neaverth’s radio show for a time, and now films, edits, and produces “Danny Needs a Job.”

A young Danny Neaverth, left, with Franike Avalon during a performance in Buffalo. Photo courtesy of Danny Neaverth

“We’ll be out for coffee, and people always come up to him,” Schanne observed. “Everyone has a story. They remember his humor and his boyish approach to things. His outlook may be off-center, but it’s very good-hearted and real, and people love that.”

“One of the reasons I love Buffalo,” Neaverth said, “is because in Buffalo, people feel comfortable talking to you. I never minded that. It’s not the same in other markets.”

There was an era when Neaverth was offered jobs in other cities. His colleague and old friend Joey Reynolds, who bounced among jobs in several major markets, was always trying to lure Neaverth to join him elsewhere. There was an opportunity with a Philadelphia radio station, but WKBW raised Neaverth’s pay in their next contract.

“So I stayed,” Neaverth said. “To me, Buffalo was big time enough for me to be successful here.”

When he began in radio, Neaverth admired Clint Buehlman of WBEN, a legendary DJ who ruled the local airwaves beginning in 1931 and worked until retirement in 1977. Neaverth never believed he could be as good as Buehlman. His bosses shared that sentiment.

“We never felt we’d be able to beat Clint Buehlman,” Neaverth said. “My mother and father listened to Clint Buehlman. I grew up listening to Clint Buehlman. He owned Buffalo morning radio. Years later, when I was put on a morning radio show, management told me ‘all you need to do was be No. 2. You’re never going to beat Buehlman. If you’re No. 2, we’re solid.’”

Creating Characters

Neaverth quickly developed his own approach to entertain listeners. Alone in a broadcast booth, he spoke lines of dialogue using multiple voices to create the illusion of several people relaying a story. He played all the parts himself, quickly switching between voices, so no breaks appeared between speakers.

“People tell me I had a unique talent,” he reflected. “Truth is, what I did was bits and pieces of everybody that I listened to or watched. I was impressed when Jonathan Winters did voices. When I was alone in the studio, I had to create characters to play off.”

One of his staples was dimwitted Artie, who spoke in a thin, whiny voice. On air, Neaverth would frequently take advantage of the fictional Artie, assigning him menial jobs.

Neaverth quickly slips into the dual role, each character beginning to speak as soon as the other stops. The rapid-fire dialogue offers the illusion that two people are talking over each other.

“Hey Artie,” Neaverth said, “go get me a sandwich.”

“Oh man,” Artie warbles. “What kind of sandwich do you want?”

“I’d like some baloney.”

“Baloney, okay, I’ll get you some baloney.”

Another regular character was Pierre Puck, who spoke with a French-Canadian accent.

“My name is Pierre Puck,” Neaverth said, with a guttural twang. “I have a dirty hockey school up in Quebec.”

“What do you teach them?” Neaverth asked in his normal voice.

“Dese kids today are so soft. I teach dem how to swear.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Dey need to know if dey get into major league, watch for camera. When camera come around to you dere, you wait until camera on you, and den you spit on de ice. Dat’s how I help dem.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Have you watched a hockey game on TV lately? Dat’s what dey do. High stick ‘em, kid!”

Neaverth displaying the "Whammy Weenie," what he calls one of the worst marketing ideas Western New York has ever seen. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Neaverth developed these characters by observing traits from real people, then adapting them for radio comedy. At WKBW, for example, the program director’s secretary had a desk outside the boss’ office, where she sat behind a typewriter. Neaverth would sample punch lines for her, until she became fed up and told him not to bother her, because she was an engaged woman.

“Engaged woman became a character on the show,” Neaverth said. Shifting his voice several octaves higher, he burst: “Don’t touch me! I’m an engaged woman!”

When other people came into the studio, the characters disappeared.

“I preferred being with real people who I could play off,” he said. “I never had a problem with the voices, but it was much easier to work with a person. There was no need to pretend. My program director complimented me and said I wasn’t afraid to share the microphone. If someone else said something funny, that was it. I didn’t feel like I had to say something funnier because it was my show.”

Neaverth and his longtime friend Joey Reynolds became masters of banter. When Neaverth’s shift ended, he and Reynolds would stay on the air and entertain listeners, often for 15 or 20 minutes.

“Joey Reynolds and Sandy Beach were two of the most talented people I worked with,” Neaverth said. “Joey would come on at 7 p.m., and we’d do a changeover. We never talked about it ahead of time. We never rehearsed. It was unique because most top-40 stations played songs one after the other to keep a flow.”

Cichon, a radio historian who worked in local media for nearly 30 years, is able to put these events into context.

“What made Danny Neaverth was that literally half the radios in Buffalo were tuned to WKBW. It was the hot talk at the office or in school hallways the next day, when Danny Neaverth handed off the show to Joey Reynolds. They were two (Bishop) Timon guys who were busting each other’s chops, and it was hilarious. Kids loved listening to them and parents loved listening to them.”

Radio has changed over the years. When Neaverth’s career began, playing music was a way to fill space between comedy bits.

“Everything was based on the DJ’s personality,” Schanne mused.

Cichon took the observation a step further.

“I don’t think local media exists the way it did even 10 years ago. I was a news guy and did traffic reports from a helicopter. I don’t think kids today have an understanding of what that even means. I might as well say I was a telegraph operator.”

If he was just starting out, could Danny Neaverth exist as a media force today?

“Probably not on the radio,” Cichon said. “The Danny Neaverth of 2021 might have a YouTube channel or an interesting Twitter feed or be a TikTok star. As far as a guy on the radio, that doesn’t exist in the media anymore.”

Varied Experiences

Neaverth’s wife, Marie, passed away three years ago. A longtime Orchard Park resident, they raised four boys: Dan Jr., Dave, Darren, and Dean. Neaverth has nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

He enjoys sharing anecdotes about his family and his career.

“I had the advantage of working at a big radio station. Because of that, I got to do a lot of different things. I tell people stories, and when I walk away, they probably think I’m full of it or making things up. But I’m not.”

Hosting the Sabah Ice Show at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium with Debbie Stamp in 1991. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

His missed opportunity to bring the Beatles to Buffalo the day after their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 will go down in local music history. (See the related Buffalo Tales story about this.) Later, he seized the chance to host the Dave Clark Five. He recorded a cult song called “Rats in My Room” with Joey Reynolds. (Click the link to hear the song, but be warned: if you listen once, you’ll be singing it for the next several days…)

“Joey and I recorded ‘Rats in My Room’ in Tom Shannon’s basement studio. You had to be a BMI songwriter to release a record. The first month after the song was released, I got a check from BMI for $50. I’m thinking, $50 every month for the rest of my life! The next month, the check was $30. BMI said until my account reaches $50, they won’t be sending another check.” Neaverth paused for effect. “That was my last check. David Letterman used an 8 1/2-second clip of it on his show years ago for ‘Stupid Pet Tricks.’ The royalty came to $7.69, which I didn’t see a penny of, because that goes to the publisher. So for 'Rats in My Room,’ I made $80.”

Neaverth has gone skydiving, taken flying lessons, and even played promotional basketball games against high schools across New York and Pennsylvania in the 1970s as part of the “KB Yo-Yo Basketball Team.”

“Most of those games were out of town,” he recalled. “We’d play the teachers at your high school. We had nice uniforms and sneakers. We’d tell our opponents, we’re always going to lose. You’re going to win and be heroes to the kids in the audience. We’d try to keep it close, but in the last moments of the game, we’d let somebody from the other team steal the ball and we’d lose.”

When TV personality Dave Thomas left Channel 7 in 1978, Neaverth was approached to take over Thomas’ role, hosting Dialing for Dollars, Rocketship 7, and delivering weather reports.

“The TV station was owned by the same people who owned our radio station,” Neaverth said. “The TV people wanted me to co-host Dialing for Dollars, which came on at 10 a.m. The radio station’s general manager didn’t want me to do it. He was worried people would lose interest in my radio show if I was on TV. I thought it was a good chance to get promotional value for the radio station. They talked back and forth and finally decided I should deliver the weather on TV. But I’m not a meteorologist.”

Neaverth’s zany personality was on full display during weather reports. Using old media clips, Neaverth showed a strong man at a circus having a cannonball shot into his stomach.

“I’d go on the air and say ‘What does Irv Weinstein do when he’s not on TV? He’s at the Erie County Fair. See folks, here’s his picture right here!’ And boom, they’d show the cannonball being fired at a guy.”

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

During the Blizzard of ’77, Neaverth went on the radio to advise listeners where to find milk and bread. He spent nights sleeping at the radio station, and borrowed newsman John Zach’s snowmobile to travel from the Orchard Park Library to his home near the Boston hills. He proceeded to give rides to all the neighborhood kids. Neaverth’s son, Dean, who was not yet a teenager, rode on the back, and reached around his father to blow the horn. Instead, he pressed a kill switch and the snowmobile shut down.

“I told Dean get in the house, go to your room, and stay there for the rest of your life,” Neaverth recalled. He struggled to get the machine started again, but when he did, Dean was soon back riding with his dad.

“Don’t tell Mr. Zach what we did,” he laughed.

Neaverth had the chance to meet famous musicians and athletes who came to town. He served as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Braves, when the NBA team played at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

“One night, we were playing the Boston Celtics and there were many calls going against the Braves. (Team owner) Paul Snyder and his wife sat directly across from me on the floor. They always had a security guard standing next to them, because Paul wasn’t very popular with the fans after he traded away some good players.”

As fouls were increasingly called against the Braves, the security guard circled the floor and hand-delivered a note to Neaverth, who saved it more than 40 years later:

“I like to do whacky stuff, but I thought, what happens if I read this?” Neaverth wondered.

He never did. A few weeks later, he talked with Snyder at a team party.

“Paul, what would have happened if I had read that?” Neaverth asked. “He started laughing. Apparently, he had researched an answer. ’The referees would have thrown you out of the arena,’ Snyder said, ‘and I would have been fined $5000. But it would have been worth it because the fans would have gone nuts!’”

Neaverth shook his head.

“Can you imagine if they threw out the public address announcer? That would have been legendary in sports history.”

Neaverth didn’t need that gimmick. To generations of listeners, he is already a legend.

“I think Danny’s one regret is that he’s never had a chance to say a proper goodbye to his audience,” Schanne reflected. “He was on KB for 30 years, then 15-plus years at Oldies 104. His listeners are like a family. The radio business is very unforgiving. When you’re let go, that’s it. One day you’re there, the next you’re off the air. He always wanted a chance to say goodbye.”

So the funny pitches on his Facebook page are a way to remain connected to fans. And knowing his personality, if anyone offers Danny a job, he just might accept.

© photo by Steven D. Desmond

© 2020 by Jeff Schober __________________________________________________________________________________ Did you like what you read? If so, scroll to the top of the page and click “Login/Sign up” on the right. About once each month, we’ll send you a link to a new Buffalo-based story… for free. Please check our catalog of past stories too, which can be read below, with more choices on the home page. Our stories are free, but there is a donate button on the home page. We only accept $1, and all money collected will be donated to Wings Flights of Hope.

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