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A little math and history lesson for local JFK expert

By Alan Pergament

If you read my June story on Steve Cichon after he left his job as news director of WBEN-AM, you know I’m a big fan of the 35-year-old, bow-tied media historian.

Since he left radio, the smooth-talking old soul has been everywhere – frequently writing for a local website and on Facebook, being quoted in this newspaper and appearing on local TV as an expert.

Cichon does a terrific job, deserves all the attention and I’m happy for him. But I had to laugh Friday and Saturday when he became the historian that Channel 2 used to describe Buffalo’s devastated reaction to the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Cichon shouldn’t have been the Kennedy expert. He should have been interviewing the expert.

Since news is watched by an older demographic, I probably wasn’t the only old-timer thinking: What is this young whippersnapper doing tell me about how WNY felt after the JFK assassination? I have ties (though not bow ties) older than he is.

If I’m doing my math correctly, Cichon was born about 15 years AFTER the assassination and 18 years AFTER President Kennedy won the election over Richard Nixon.

I know it isn’t unusual for historians to write about people who lived, or events that happened, before they were born. I’m pretty sure Doris Kearns Goodwin never met Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft or Abraham Lincoln before she wrote books about them.

But so many Western New Yorkers were alive when JFK was killed that you might have thought that Channel 2 could have used someone older to show headlines from the Buffalo Evening News and remark about how his death hit this area harder than elsewhere because he visited WNY twice and there is a large Catholic population here.

The idea floated by Cichon that Western New Yorkers cared more might have made some locals feel some pride, but I don’t know if there is any facts to back up that subjective claim. I’ve lived here more years than Cichon has been alive. But I was a teenager living on Long Island when JFK was shot and my memory is that my hometown took the assassination as hard as any place in the country.

One more thing about Cichon’s appearance had me shaking my head.

It involves math again. He said that there were estimates of 400,000 people attending one of JFK's visits here, and even if the truth was only half that, Western New Yorkers don’t even watch Bills games in the same numbers anymore.

Wrong. The Bills have been getting ratings in the neighborhood of 35-39 for several games this season. Each rating point represents more than 6,300 households. A 35 rating means 222,000 households in WNY are tuned in and those households often have more than one person watching. And that isn’t even counting the number of people watching in bars who aren’t counted by Nielsen. Conservatively, 300,000 people in WNY watch Bills games on Sundays. (And I bet half of them couldn't pick out Jon Bon Jovi in a lineup.)

This isn’t to diminish the large crowds that came out to see JFK during his visits here or Cichon's excellent work since he left WBEN. Just consider it just a little math and history lesson by someone old enough to remember Nov. 22, 1963 and when the Bills were decent. 

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