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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 A Rehearsal.

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 at 680.)

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, MA 02114-4719.)

*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 Sandy Benson.

In 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 his airshift.

*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 children.

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 regroups.

*There's 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 deal.

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.

*We're busy shipping out the Tower Site Calendar 2005 to radio fans from coast to coast and far beyond (would you believe New Zealand?)

It's getting a little late for trans-Pacific delivery in time for the holidays, but you can still have your calendar in plenty of time if you order now. We're shipping them out daily, and we'd be delighted to set one (or two, or three, or 30) aside for you.

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...)

We're holding the price from last year, notwithstanding increases in printing costs and PayPal fees - just $16 postpaid ($17.32 including sales tax to New York addresses). And as always, it's free with your $60 or higher subscription to NorthEast Radio Watch/ You can use PayPal, below, or send your check or money order, payable to Scott Fybush, to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Please note that the prices below are valid for U.S. and Canadian orders only; please e-mail for information about overseas shipping.)

And here's an even better deal - We still have plenty of 2004 calendars left, so how about this? For just $20 postpaid ($21.65 in New York), we'll send you both the 2005 and 2004 editions. It's almost like getting an extra calendar free! (Or, if you just need the 2004 edition, that's still on clearance at $8 - and if you buy two 2004 calendars, your third is free!)

Order the 2005 Tower Site Calendar for $16...
Order the 2005 and 2004 Tower Site Calendars together for just $20...
...or subscribe to NERW at the $60 level and get a FREE 2005 Tower Site Calendar
...and you can still order the 2004 Tower Site Calendar at our special clearance price of $8! (US and Canada only - e-mail us for overseas ordering information.)

Don't want to order by credit card? You know the drill by now - make those checks payable to "Scott Fybush," be sure to include sales tax (8.25%) for New York state calendar orders only, and send them along to 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue, Rochester NY 14618. (Sorry - we can't take orders by phone.)

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NorthEast Radio Watch is made possible by the generous contributions of our regular readers. If you enjoy NERW, please click here to learn how you can help make continued publication possible. NERW is copyright 2004 by Scott Fybush.