Legendary Buffalo broadcaster Jim Santella retires from his weekly Blues program Saturday night.
He's been doing the Blues for 15 years. Former WBFO music director, Bert Gambini, said when he was looking for a new host for the station’s fledgling Blues programming in November 1997, he didn’t have to do much of a search.
"(Jim) was already a member of the station. He was working with Tony Chase on Theatre Talk. (Former WBFO Program Director) David Benders and I started talking about a possible Blues host. We look at one another and said, 'He's probably already here.' Why not just ask Jim?" Gambini recalls. "It was the best choice we could have made."
With Santella now hosting, the Blues became a ratings powerhouse, making WBFO a top five radio station in the Buffalo market on Saturday afternoons. Santella remained with WBFO when the station was sold to the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association last March. The Blues moved to evenings, and so did Jim. But even before the sale, his longtime friend and Theatre Talk co-host, Anthony Chase, said Santella was thinking about retiring.
"He was ambivalent. Should I go? Should I not? Nobody leaves broadcasting on his own terms. But Jim is," Chase said. "He was ready."
A sentiment Jim Santella confirmed in our conversation with him prior to a retirement party in his honor the other day.
"I thought the audience had enough of me," Santella joked. "No, I always enjoyed performing. (There are) health conditions. And I was (no longer) performing up to my standards. And when that happens, I think it's time to become part of the retired staff."
While Santella’s credentials as a Blues host are now well-established, he’s also remembered as the “Father of Progressive Radio” in Buffalo. He began working at WYSL-FM, later WPHD, in January 1969. Santella famously quit on the air in April 1972 when WPHD management reduced the size of his record library. He was told he would never work in Buffalo radio again. Yeah, right! Santella soon returned and worked at several stations, including 97 Rock.
"He had a warmth about him. An inclusiveness and friendliness. He's Italian and he likes to talk," said Pat Feldballe, who will succeed Santella as host of the Saturday night Blues show.
Former WBFO Spoken Arts Host Mary Van Vorst agrees.
"He loves radio. He breathes radio," said Van Vorst. "It's inconceivable to me that he would not be on the radio."
That’s why Van Vorst and others were pleased when Santella decided to continue working on Theatre Talk, heard Friday mornings on WBFO.
But his career was not limited to radio broadcasting. He taught college courses. And WNED President Don Boswell said Santella was a talented floor director who was an important part of the production of the station’s nationally broadcast Mark Russell specials.
"(Jim) orchestrated that program and prepared for a live national broadcast," Boswell said. "It's never easy doing live television."
Jim Santella’s radio career began at WBFO when he was a UB student. And as the station’s longtime program director David Benders notes, it’s ending here as well…
"That's neat. That's really great," Benders said. "He was a volunteer and also going to school, working in the UB Library and still doing something for WBFO."
So, tune in Saturday night at 7 as Jim Santella -- a Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer -- proclaims one final time.
"Are you ready for the Blues?"