William Ostrander has been a part of the Western New York community his entire life. Whether through high school in Lancaster, college at Canisius and a professional career throughout the Buffalo area, he knows the region.
But with decades of experience in all facets of the radio business, there’s one thing the man known more commonly as Buddy Shula may understand better than most: the essential role that dial-in broadcasts serve in WNY.
"The radio industry, as a whole, needs to be a local, connecting experience, versus being just a distribution platform for national syndication or an automated collection of songs. You can get that anywhere," says Shula, a former marketing executive for airwave giant Entercom and on-air veteran of local stations like WPHD, WBEN and STAR 102.5.
This expansive experience has taught Shula how capped call letters — even amid competing and increasingly diversified media — can link distant neighborhoods as one.
And it’s this belief that motivated his purchase of WECK Radio last March. Found locally on 1230 AM and 102.9 FM, the station has catered to the music tastes of Baby Boomers with adult contemporary or mood music for an aging populace while always remaining a Buffalo-focused station. Shula wants to build on this foundation, adding an intense focus on live local news and information (but void of the ratings-stoking anger and divisiveness driving modern media, he says). This opportunity will allow him to do just that.
"WECK was perfect, as it’s a large-market station, but it’s been operated under local ownership for most of its life," says Shula. "We’ll use WECK as a platform to do good for our community, for Buffalo-area charities, for our advertisers, for our listeners, the company and for our staff. It’s what we call ‘the WECK way.’"
After Shula purchased the station, the players who’d carry out this WECK way were unknown. Many industry professionals assumed that his contacts in the business would help attract some familiar names, but few expected the all-star team Shula assembled.
Former WBEN voice John Zach is the station’s news director and morning news anchor. WYRK veteran Gail Ann Huber and previous WECK personality Tom Donahue are morning co-hosts. Jon Summers is in the late-morning slot; Buffalo Broadcasting Hall-of-Famer Harv Moore is on the lunchtime shift; and WKSE and WEDG name Mike Jacobs is on the drive home. And on Friday afternoons, Shula recruited on-air legend Danny Neaverth for "Danny Moves Your Fanny Friday," serving a mix of humor, music and news that Neaverth’s delivered for generations.
The line-up was solicited to not only appeal to the region’s over-50 market, but to deliver a relatable product that’ll uniquely belong to this demographic. This is part of Shula’s vision, and he got buy-in from all now involved.
"When our legendary Buffalo team members heard this vision, they wanted to be a part of it," says Shula. "It’s an honor to work with such passionate people who are icons in Western New York. They’re truly Buffalo’s very own."
And at a time of renewed optimism for a city on the move, Buffalo needs its own to lead the way. That’s WECK, mobilizing voices of the past to communicate the region’s locally focused future. Spotify can’t do that. Pandora can’t do that.
But in the same radio game he’s navigated for decades, Buddy Shula’s giving it his best shot.