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Buffalo’s first African American DJs take off on the Simon Pure spaceship

1962.

After Buffalo’s WYSL Radio moved frequencies to 1400 AM in 1961, WUFO Radio took over WYSL’s old spot at 1080 AM, signing on Western New York’s first radio station with programming geared towards Buffalo’s black community.

The station also brought to the airwaves Buffalo’s first two full-time African American disc jockeys.

Jimmy Lyons was a Buffalo radio and entertainment veteran who was first heard on Western New York’s airwaves on WBEN in 1937. As a 17-year-old singer, he won the Buffalo Evening News/Shea’s Buffalo Amateur show. He won the following year as well.

Through the '40s, Lyons was a singer and dancer at nightclubs in Buffalo and across the northeast with a stint as an Army lieutenant in between, serving in Italy and Germany during World War II.

Jimmy Lyons at the mic at the Niagara Falls Boulevard studios of WXRA Radio in the mid-1950s.

After settling in Buffalo, Lyons became a draftsman for Bell Aircraft, while also entertaining in nightclubs and picking up weekend radio work at small stations around Buffalo like WWOL, WXRA and WINE where he was a pioneer in playing a mix of rhythm and blues and gospel music.

When this photo of Lyons was taken in the WXRA studios on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst, about where Outback Steakhouse is today, he was Buffalo’s first (and only) black disc jockey.

On WUFO, he hosted “The Upper Room” with gospel music twice a day and “The Lyons Den,” with R&B music middays.

Eddie O’Jay came to Buffalo from Cleveland as WUFO’s program director and daily “Blues for Breakfast” host.

Eddie O'Jay, left. 1960.

He would later hold the same on-air job at New York City stations WWRL and WLIB. His fast-paced pioneering style in Buffalo and then New York inspired many aspiring young African Americans, including Frankie Crocker and Imhotep Gary Byrd.

Both Crocker and Byrd were Buffalo natives who listened to O’Jay on WUFO, got disc jockey jobs at WUFO themselves, and then followed O’Jay to fame at WLIB in New York City.

When O’Jay died in 1998, both Crocker and Byrd attended his funeral and spoke to the New York Daily News.

"When I was growing up in Buffalo," said Byrd, "there were no black radio stations and no black jocks. Eddie O'Jay was the first black voice I heard on the radio. He hit that town like a tornado.”

Crocker said of his mentor, "The deejay was the show. You never looked at the clock. When the record ended, you talked, and Eddie was a master. He's the reason I went into radio.”

The most widely remembered claim to fame for O’Jay, whose real name was Edward O. Jackson, was the soul group the O’Jays.

The group that scored several hits in the '70s including “Love Train” was formed in the '50s as the Mascots. They renamed themselves the O’Jays in honor of the disc jockey after he began to heavily promote their music on the radio in the early 1960s.

O'Jay and Lyons starred in a series of radio commercials for Simon Pure Beer, where Lyons was aboard a spaceship called the "East Aurora," which was fueled by Simon Pure Beer.

When WUFO first signed on, Courier-Express critic Jack Allen wrote, “O'Jay has arranged, along with Lyons, a schedule of daily broadcasts which at first listening seem conservative and in excellent taste, and which should gain wide appeal with its constructive service contributions to the community.”

Luckily for the nearly six decades of great radio it inspired, WUFO from its very earliest days has remained excellent in taste, but has veered from the conservative to the innovative more often than not.

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