December 13, 2004
Remembering David Brudnoy
*MASSACHUSETTS - and the nation
- lost one of the great ones last week.
Since 1976, David Brudnoy had entertained, educated and, often,
irritated audiences on WHDH (850), WRKO (680) and - starting
in 1986 - the 50,000-watt night signal of WBZ (1030 Boston).
In 1994, Brudnoy came to the nation's attention when he revealed
that he was suffering from AIDS. After a viral infection related
to the disease put him in a coma for nine days and kept him off
the air for ten weeks, Brudnoy returned to the air with a reduced
shift (7-10 PM instead of 7-midnight), a new studio (in the library
of his Back Bay home) and a profile raised by appearances on
national TV and the publication of his memoirs, Life is Not
Brudnoy's illnesses continued to take him off the air occasionally
in recent years, but it quickly became clear that his latest
absence, which began on December 1, was a serious one. Last Wednesday,
Brudnoy gave an interview to WBZ anchor Gary LaPierre in which
he announced that his Merkel cell carcinoma had spread to his
liver and kidneys and that he did not expect to live more than
a few days.
Wednesday night's Brudnoy show, hosted by former WBZ personality
and close Brudnoy friend Peter Meade, took the form of an on-air
wake, with Brudnoy listening from his room at Massachusetts General
Hospital as politicians, authors and average listeners called
in to say how much Brudnoy had meant to them. At 6:11 the following
night, Brudnoy succumbed to his cancer. He was 64.
That's the outline of the story - but our appreciation for
Brudnoy this week must go deeper, for David was not just a voice
on the radio but a treasured colleague, teacher and friend.
Dr. Brudnoy was, for one thing, one of the most educated people
to sit behind a microphone anywhere in New England radio. He
held a doctorate in Asian studies from Brandeis University, and
his undergraduate education at Yale took place alongside notables
such as Christopher Buckley. It was not uncommon to hear David,
a native of Minnesota, reminisce about school vacations spent
at the mansion of Buckley pere - and it wasn't a matter
of pretension, either; it was just the person David was.
While five hours of talk radio (or even, later, three hours)
was more than enough to occupy most people full-time, it was
just one of the many facets of the man known to his friends and
colleagues as "Bruds." He delighted in teaching communications
courses at Boston University, a job he carried out long after
his health began to fail in 1994 and a job he continued right
up until his death, correcting papers from his hospital room.
He was an avid movie buff, reviewing new releases for the Tab chain
of community newspapers. He was a world traveler, even in the
late stages of his illness, and even though he didn't hold a
driver's license. It was not uncommon for Bruds to hire a WBZ
producer to drive him down to Cape Cod on summer weekends, and
it's fair to say he was on a first-name basis - as a customer
- with many of the cab drivers who listened to him every night.
About those producers:
it was no surprise to hear just about every producer David ever
had call in during WBZ's on-air appreciation of Brudnoy, which
continued after his death on Thursday evening and again on Friday.
(Friday night's broadcast marked the return of Paul Sullivan,
WBZ's 10-midnight host, who has himself been absent from the
airwaves as he battles a brain tumor.)
David took a keen interest in the lives and activities of
his producers, many of whom came to know him as a friend even
outside work. He was always an encouraging voice for young staffers
at WBZ. (Your editor will always be grateful for his support
in producing a radio history special that aired in conjunction
with WBZ-TV's 45th anniversary in 1993; it was at Bruds' behest
that I joined him behind the mike that night, and what a thrill
for a young newswriter, fresh out of college, to have David Brudnoy
calling him "my colleague" on the air for two hours.)
That was David, though: always opinionated, but always open
to new ideas and ready to learn about unfamiliar topics. (Another
fond memory is of the time, also in 1993 or 1994, when Brudnoy's
producer assigned him to do a show about something new called
the "Internet"; that afternoon found us huddled over
one of the few computers in the station with a dial-up modem
attached, introducing David to concepts such as "e-mail"
and "newsgroups," the Web having not yet been invented.)
And no obituary of David Brudnoy would be complete without
mentioning the unique sound of his broadcast. In a talk radio
environment full of bombast and vitriol, the David Brudnoy Show
was an oasis of civility. David was, as he was never shy to proclaim,
a libertarian, with regular and well-principled criticisms of
Democrats, Republicans and independents through the years. But
his show always allowed a voice to those who disagreed with David,
and the outpouring of affection for David at the end is a tribute
to the openness of the forum he gave to those on every corner
of the political spectrum. David's show valued intellectual argument
and gave no corner to the sort of empty-headed name-calling that
has come to characterize so much of the rest of the talk-radio
dial, and it was, and is, irreplaceable.
(It must be noted here that Brudnoy's show, even as it broke
all the rules of contemporary talk radio, was also the highest-rated
talk show in Boston for most of its run; even competitors, like
WRKO PD Rich Carbery, had nothing but praise for him. "He
was the reason I got into this business," Carbery told NERW.
"What a master." And yes, WRKO's Howie Carr made David
his topic Wednesday night, devoting the final Boston-only
hour of his show on Wednesday to an appreciation of his predecessor
That said, WBZ still has five hours to fill every weeknight,
and at presstime the plan looked like this: Paul Sullivan will
eventually occupy the 8-midnight slot, a move Sullivan claimed
was Brudnoy's dying wish. The WBZ afternoon news will be extended
to fill the 7-8 PM hour, a move which will ease the sometimes
awkward transition into Bruins hockey in the event the NHL ever
resumes play. Until that schedule shift takes place sometime
in January, Sullivan will do 7-10 PM and guest hosts will handle
his old 10-midnight shift. (And the good news is that Sullivan's
making a speedy recovery from his own illness.)
No funeral plans had been announced at press time; in a way,
though, since David's colleagues and his audience were his
family, the on-air remembrances of the past week are themselves
the best memorial David could have wanted. (Donations to the
David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research can be sent to Massachusetts
General Hospital, 100 Charles River Plaza, suite 600, Boston,
*There was other news, in MASSACHUSETTS and elsewhere,
ill-equipped as we were to deal with it in the face of the sad
news from WBZ.
Over at sister station WODS (103.3 Boston), veteran New England
programmer Pete Falconi (late of Worcester's WXLO) takes over
as music director and midday host, filling the shoes of the departed
yet another corner of the Infinity Boston cluster, the changing
of the guard continued at WBCN (104.1 Boston), where afternoon
jock Nik Carter, one of the last remaining veterans of the Oedipus
era at the rock station, is out of a job, with his contract not
being renewed and no replacement named just yet.
Out west, we note the passing of Bob Berger, former manager
at WREB (930 Chicopee) and WMAS (1450 Springfield) and former
GM of WHYN radio and TV. Berger died Saturday (Dec. 11) at his
home in Wilbraham.
*In MAINE, the WTVL calls returned
to the dial at 1490 in Waterville after a brief interlude as
WODJ. Citadel had been parking those calls on the Waterville
station after moving them off its 107.3 in Greenville, Michigan,
in the Grand Rapids market; it's not clear to us that they were
ever even actually used on the air in mid-Maine.
*In NEW HAMPSHIRE, WQLL (96.5 Bedford)
has hopped on the all-Christmas bandwagon, we're told.
And up in Concord, there's a shift in the ownership transfer
at WKXL (1450 Concord); instead of passing from Warren Bailey's
Embro group to a partnership of WKXL GM George Stevens and former
senator Gordon Humphrey, a transaction the FCC approved back
in July, Embro has now filed to transfer WKXL to Humphrey alone
(doing business as "New Hampshire Family Radio LLC").
*In CONNECTICUT, WKSS (95.7 Hartford)
brings Frankie V south from WJBQ (97.9 Portland ME) to be its
new night jock, replacing the departed "Stick" (now
in Cleveland at sister "Kiss" WAKS); meanwhile, Adam
Axe moves from late nights to midday, taking PD Rick Vaughn off
*On any other week, the sudden death of a veteran
upstate NEW YORK morning man would have been our
lead story, and we're saddened indeed to have to report the passing
of WBEE (92.5 Rochester)'s Bill Coffey.
Bill started at WBEE in 1988, not long after the station flipped
to country, and he held down mornings there until he was forced
to return to his native southeastern Pennsylvania to care for
his ailing father.
Three years later, the departure of his successor, Fred Horton
(now in Erie, Pennsylvania at WXTA) created an opening at WBEE,
and thanks to the modern miracle of ISDN, Bill was once again
hosting the "Coffee Club," this time from the comfort
of his home in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. The show worked, though,
thanks to local co-host (and WBEE veteran) Terry Clifford and
frequent visits to Rochester by Coffey.
After a show last Monday that went without a hitch, the staff
at WBEE was shocked to get a phone call later in the morning
saying that Bill had suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died.
He was just 56; he leaves behind his wife, Barbara, and three
Tuesday's show was devoted to remembrances of Bill from his
listeners, friends and colleagues; for now, Terry and news guy
Steve Hausmann are holding down the morning shift while the station
still more sad news from elsewhere in the Empire State: Dawn
"Break-a-Dawn" Blackstock Flemming, who spent most
of her radio career at Buffalo's WBLK (93.7 Depew) before heading
down to Orlando and mornings at WJHM (101.9 Daytona Beach) last
year, died December 8 from complications from giving birth to
her first child. Flemming is survived by her newborn daughter,
Toni, and her husband, Tony. She was just 31.
And one of the first sports talkers on New York's WFAN (then
on 1050) has died. Pete Franklin was a legend in Cleveland, where
he was the star personality on then-WWWE (1100); he came to New
York in 1987 amidst high hopes for the brand-new all-sports format
that WFAN was pioneering. Illness kept him from appearing on
the FAN until several months after the station's launch, though,
and he never found the success there that he had enjoyed in Cleveland.
In later years, Franklin appeared on San Francisco's KNBR (680)
and eventually returned to Cleveland at what had by then become
WTAM. He died Nov. 23 in San Luis Obispo, California, though
his death was not reported until last week. Franklin was 76.
Hey, hey, he's a morning host: Yes, we know we're not the
first to make the joke - but when WCBS-FM (101.1 New York) names
ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz as its new morning guy, what do you want
from us? Dolenz starts his new gig January 10. Over on the AM
side, WCBS (880 New York) is now streaming its all-news programming;
could other Infinity news-talkers follow?
In Kingston, WGHQ (920) flips from standards to talk, with
the local morning show continuing.
Up in the Glens Falls market, WNYQ (105.7 Queensbury) is stunting;
we believe this is a preface to its move south to Malta and its
entrance into the Albany market.
*In NEW JERSEY, All Access lays
out the details of the transaction that moves WKOE (106.3 Ocean
City) officially into Press Communications' hands: Press will
pay Millennium $4 million for the class A signal, after Millennium
pays Ocean Communications $900,000 to complete its LMA-to-purchase
Over at Millennium's WSJO (104.9 Egg Harbor City), Marilyn
Russell takes over as MD/midday host; her resume includes stops
at Philly's WXPN, WDRE, WPLY and most recently WMGK.
*More details about the deal that took a
PENNSYLVANIA AM station off the air: the borough
of Chambersburg is paying M. Belmont VerStandig, Inc. $590,000
for the land on which the four WCBG (1590 Chambersburg) towers
sit. VerStandig took the station dark a week ago, allowing construction
to resume at the borough's new water tank just a few hundred
feet from the array. Chambersburg officials say they may go after
the consultants who approved the siting of the tower, since they
should have known that its proximity to the 5000-watt station
would cause problems during construction. (Work on the tank halted
two years ago, after construction workers began suffering RF
burns whenever they touched the metal of the tank.)
VerStandig says it's taking a $1 million loss on the sale;
the company plans to move the WCBG calls and CNN Headline News
format to what's now WHGT (1380 Waynesboro), a 1000-watt daytimer
that's simulcasting VerStandig's WSRT (92.1 Mercersburg).
(And interestingly, a roving NERW correspondent reports that
the lights on the WCBG towers were out when he drove by last
week, a couple of days after the station had gone silent.)
One new callsign in the Keystone State: Family Life Ministries
gets WCIG for its new 91.3 in Carbondale, which should be on
the air soon.
*Over in CANADA, Lee Dunbar retires
on Boxing Day (that's December 26 for us statesiders) after a
half-century in Hamilton radio. He's spent the last 37 years
at CHML (900 Hamilton), most recently as host of "Memory
Lane" on Sunday afternoons.
busy shipping out the Tower Site Calendar 2005 to
radio fans from coast to coast and far beyond (would you believe
It's getting a little late for trans-Pacific delivery in time
for the holidays, but you can still have your calendar
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This year's calendar begins with WSTW/WDEL in Wilmington,
Delaware on the cover, ends with Sutro Tower in San Francisco
on the inside back cover - and along the way makes stops at WNBF
in Binghamton, CFNB in Fredericton, Poor Mountain in Roanoke,
KXNT in Las Vegas, WBBR in New York, Gibraltar Peak above Santa
Barbara, WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, WRIB in Providence, WOOD
in Grand Rapids, KFJZ in Fort Worth, KYPA in Los Angeles and
the top of Chicago's Hancock Tower.
(You can see some previews of this year's calendar images
at Tower Site
of the Week - this week, it's Miss November, KYPA Los Angeles...)
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