Tom Calderone – Non-Performer
BMHOF Class of 2014
Tom Calderone, president of VH1, affectionately calls Buffalo his adopted hometown.
Originally from the New York City area, he came to Buffalo to attend Buffalo State College and it was here that he began his career in the music industry.
From program director of WBNY-FM at Buffalo State to president of one of the nation’s most popular music media companies, Calderone has always kept Buffalo close to his heart.
When Calderone entered Buffalo State College in 1981, WBNY was still a carrier current radio station – it was carried on wires throughout the university’s buildings. But in January of 1982 – when Calderone was program director – it went to 100 watts and started broadcasting to the wider Buffalo market.
Calderone and the management of WBNY fueled the change in the radio station as it took a turn toward the alternative; WBNY had finally found its niche.
Under Calderone’s direction, the station transformed. WBNY started putting local musicians on the air. The station played performers such as the Goo Goo Dolls, The Fems, Mark Freeland and the Ramrods. The station had one rule; every DJ had to play a local band every hour, whether it fit in with the rest of their program or not.
WBNY hosted battle of the bands events, broadcast bands live from the Checkboard Lounge and started the Original Local Show. The goal was to feed the local community with the music that was happening all around them, whether it be through promotions, live broadcasts or first radio runs.
Things could get crazy.
“He had a professional attitude in running the station that inspired me and others to greatness. (But) he's also a jokester,” said Tina Peel, a long-time Buffalo radio personality. “His ‘Y91’ April Fools Day prank in 1984 is a prime example of his creative mind and mischievous personality. He had much of the staff convinced – on April Fools Day – that the station really did change format.”
Some of the audience fell for the prank – switching formats to pop/top 40 – as well. Calderone said Buffalo Music Hall of Famer and eccentric genius Mark Freeland was the first person at the station, pounding on the door and shouting, “what the (bleep) is going on here!” Later the station gave Freeland an entire 24-hour block to fill by himself – and Freeland did.
The community was very responsive to WBNY’s new sound. Calderone recalled one event when the station was giving away tickets to an upcoming concert by the Clash at the University at Buffalo. The station informed listeners that they would be calling random phone booths on a number of area streets and giving the tickets to whomever answered. Hundreds of people participated, gathering around phone booths, hoping to hear them ring.
After Calderone graduated in 1986, he stayed in Buffalo for a while working on other projects. One was 33 West, a variety show Calderone hosted along with fellow WBNY alumni that aired low-budget music videos made in Buffalo and featuring Buffalo bands. He also helped put on live shows at the Kenmore West and Kenmore East, exposing high school students to local bands.
Gabe DiMaio, another long-time Buffalo radio broadcaster, said it was Calderone’s passion for the station that brought him to the city in the first place. He had known Calderone in high school, and Calderone convinced him to come to Buffalo State over his other college choices.
“What I respect the most about Tom is his complete lack of attitude and self-effacing demeanor,” said DiMaio. “Though his fingerprints are all over WBNY, working there was never about him. When other college-aged students could have used the WBNY program director position as a platform for hipster-fueled “cool kid” exclusion, Tom encouraged and celebrated many different people coming together to have fun, make friends and make radio.”
When Calderone left Buffalo to continue pursuing his radio career, he joined WRCN in Long Island as a marketing director and was later promoted to program director.
While working for a radio station in Long Island, Calderone got a call from the head of MTV asking him to join the company. Within the MTV companies, Calderone has worked in radio, TV and online media. He served as the senior VP of music and talent programming at MTV Networks starting in 1998, the general manager of VH1 in 2005 and has been the president of VH1 since October of 2008.
Outside of his daily responsibilities, Calderone also directs VH1 Classic’s Rock Autism Initiative, a project that raises awareness about autism, and is the Chairman of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.
In 2008, Buffalo State College awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. He says he looks for WBNY moments wherever he goes. Calderone says that it was the people that made WBNY what it was.
“The stars just aligned perfectly in that group,” said Calderone. He described it as a team that would never work on paper, but it did in real life. It was truly the most loveable real life "island of misfit toys"! With WBNY as a template, Calderone has been able to create a diverse and vibrant team today.
While in college, Calderone started spending summers in Buffalo and fell in love with the city. He describes it as a city with a passion for creativity, music and something different. To this day he considers Buffalo to be the city that defined him.
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