March 19, 1946 – May 29, 2020
George C. Hamberger was a master of transitions during his many years in radio, a talent which served him well when he segued into a second career as a real estate broker for high-profile commercial properties.
“If people listen to you on the radio, they feel they know you,” he said. “You never make a cold call.”
Mr. Hamberger first took to the air in 1968 on WYSL-FM and was a full-time deejay for more than 20 years. In recent years, he continued to be heard as a regular guest on WBEN’s Morning Show, providing his perspective on real estate and development.
He died May 29 in his home in Hamburg, after a three-year struggle with multiple myeloma. He was 74.
Born in Buffalo, the oldest of five children, he attended School 67, Canisius High School and Bishop Timon High School, where he graduated in 1964.
He went on to Mitchell College in New London, Conn., earning a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing in 1968.
Returning to Buffalo, he was doing marketing with WYSL-AM and its simulcast FM station, which then had studios on the top floor of the Statler Hotel, when one of the FM disc jockeys called in sick.
“The station manager said, ‘You have a nice voice. Why don’t you fill in on the FM?’ ” he recalled recently. “I was on from 6 to 9 that night. Back then, FM was really not a factor, but to keep the license straight with the FCC, they had to separate the programming three hours a day and they needed somebody to come in and play the songs.”
Mr. Hamberger said that he and other deejays soon convinced the general manager to give them free rein on FM. One of his claims to fame was that he was the first to spin Led Zeppelin on the radio in Buffalo.
“It was cool,” he said. “We had a whole wall of albums. We pretty much had control over what we played.”
The station became popular, started broadcasting in stereo and was renamed WPHD-FM. He was host of the afternoon drive show.
“They wanted you to be natural, with personality,” he said.
During a time when FM deejays were long-haired and casual, Mr. Hamberger was an anomaly, neatly groomed and dressed for business. He also was versatile.
Jim Santella, who worked with Mr. Hamberger at WYSL-FM, remembered him as “a natural talent who could do any format.”
He was lured to WGR in 1971 and hosted the morning drive show on its FM station before it became 97 Rock.
Three years later, WBEN, wanting to attract younger listeners, offered him its afternoon drive program. He had built up ratings when, in 1976, a radio consultant offered him a morning drive program on the West Coast. He turned it down.
“I had a boat at the marina. I liked to ski in the winter,” he said. “Then the guy said, ‘KB likes you.’ ”
Mr. Hamberger took over an afternoon shift at WKBW radio, which at that time shared its studios on Main Street with WKBW-TV.
“It was fun,” he said. “Irv (Weinstein) and the guys would come over from the TV station next door to get copy off the AP machine. They’d shoot the breeze. We got to be really good friends.”
His stint at WKBW ended in a highly publicized flap over a double entendre. It was a comment he made after a commercial for the Dodge Aspen.
“I said, ‘I’ve always appreciated a good-looking As ... pen,’ ” he said. “When I got fired, it made all the papers. People thought it was just a promotional stunt.”
He soon was back on the air at WBEN, which was under new ownership, and was featured after broadcasts of Buffalo Bills football games. He then went to Toronto, where he did the afternoon drive show on CFTR and bought a house there.
In 1983, he came back to Buffalo to be morning host on WGR-AM and turned down a chance in the mid-1980s to replace shock jock Howard Stern on WNBC in New York City. He left WGR in 1987, but returned for a second stint from 1989 to 1991.
One of his regular morning show guests was realtor Peter Hunt. After one interview, Mr. Hamberger said he was interested in working in real estate.
“Peter said, ‘Talk to my father.’ Stewart Hunt was the dean of commercial real estate and I liked the business,” he recalled.
"Stewart really taught me about the perseverance, tenacity and patience you need for real estate," Mr. Hamberger told Buffalo Business First in 1999. "Some deals you think you have all sewn up and they just fall apart. Then you've got to go out and re-sell the property all over again."
He graduated into making high-profile deals. He organized the sale of the former Adam Meldrum and Anderson flagship store in downtown Buffalo to Richard Taylor. He sold the Occidental Chemical Building in Niagara Falls. He arranged for investor Bashar Issa to buy what was then the Statler Towers in 2006.
He continued to do radio. In the early 1990s, he had a midday show on a satellite station based in Pittsford owned by Tom Golisano. He drove there every morning and kept real estate appointments in the afternoon.
In the late 1990s, he hosted Saturday mornings on WHTT-FM.
“I got to do ad lib commercials for myself, for the real estate business,” he said, “but when 9/11 hit, I had enough of doing it.”
He continued with Hunt Commercial Real Estate until 2006, then worked with the Realty USA Commercial Division and Hanna Commercial Real Estate.
In 2016, he received the Stewart C. Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award from the WNY Chapter of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors.
Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Debra Ashdown; a daughter, Heather Davis; three brothers, Mark, Stephen and Karl; a sister, Heidi McKendry; and four grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.
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