Jan. 9, 1931 – April 21, 2021
Sitting at his home piano, Paul A. Butler took delight from playing the music of Chopin and George Gershwin. He and his wife, Joan, loved dancing to the big bands of the 20th century.
But Mr. Butler spent his long and fruitful career broadcasting and promoting rock music – everything from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s to the punk and new wave bands of the 1980s.
Along the way, he met many colorful characters, including singer Johnny Mathis, innovative rocker Frank Zappa, Buffalo TV stars like newsman Irv Weinstein and “Promo The Robot,” and Louis, an orangutan at the Buffalo Zoo.
Butler, one of the pioneers of rock radio in Buffalo, died on April 21 in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, following a lengthy illness. The Amherst resident was 90.
He started his radio career in the 1960s, selling advertisements for WKBW-AM during the heyday of British Invasion rock and Motown soul. He managed or owned several other radio stations before finishing his career in 1999.
“He met so many interesting characters from the worlds of music, entertainment and the media, and he loved coming home and telling us about it,” recalled David Butler, one of Mr. Butler’s two sons. “He was devoted to his family and also made a point to include us in his experiences."
Born on Jan. 9, 1931, Mr. Butler grew up in Kenmore and graduated from St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. He embarked on a career after earning a degree in journalism from Michigan State University.
Although Mr. Butler preferred the classics, he had a “great enthusiasm” for rock music and the people who made it, David Butler recalled.
“I’ll never forget when I was five years old, and my dad woke me up to take me into the living room and watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show,” David Butler said. “He could see the significance of groups like the Beatles.”
After working at WKBW, he spent several years as manager of WTLB-FM, a rock station in Utica.
In the 1970s, he was station manager at WBEN’s AM and FM stations. WBEN-AM was then known as one of Buffalo’s top news stations, and the FM station, called Rock 102, had great success with a newly invented automated rock format.
As president of Butler Communications from 1980 to 1999, he owned and operated WZIR-FM and WHLD-AM in Niagara Falls. The FM station was known as “The Wizard,” which aired an eclectic mix of underground '80s music, including punk and new wave genres. The station eventually switched to a classic rock format known as Z98.
Known for the colorful promotions he used to bring attention to his stations, Mr. Butler created a “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” contest at WBEN-AM. Members of the listening audience who made the correct guess got to ride in a limousine and dine with Mr. Butler, his wife and the mystery guest, who turned out to be the popular crooner, Mathis.
Other promotions featured local characters including “Promo,” the robot from the Rocketship 7 show, and Louis, the Buffalo Zoo orangutan.
When Zappa came to Buffalo in the 1980s, he spent a day as a guest disc jockey on WZIR-FM, and Mr. Butler and his family got to hang out with the rock legend in the control room.
The late Weinstein was one of many other radio and TV broadcasters who became close friends of Mr. Butler over the decades.
Mr. Butler was also very active in fundraising for local charities, including the Salvation Army, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Niagara Falls Rotary Club and the old Calisanctius School for gifted children, where he also taught classes in communications during the 1970s.
As a youth, Mr. Butler was a student of the late Irving Shire, a legendary Buffalo entertainer and music teacher. He enjoyed playing the classics.
Mr. Butler and his wife of 65 years, the former Joan Scurci, also enjoyed spending time with their eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. In addition to his wife, Mr. Butler is survived by a daughter, Mary Ann; and two sons, Michael and David.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 8:45 a.m. on June 26 in St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, 200 St. Gregory Court, Amherst.