by Marissa Maier
Almost everyone in Sag Harbor village has a story about Paul Sidney, the ubiquitous WLNG on-air host and founder who passed away last Thursday. As a young girl, Trish Kern remembers turning her radio dial to 92.1 on snowy mornings to listen to Sidney announce the school closings. Old friend Bob Freidah recalled Sidney doing a remote broadcast from the Lions Club every Easter for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.
Two days before he died on April 2, Jeff Peters, and his young daughter Isabel, visited Sidney in his apartment above the Variety Store. Peters remembers Sidney talking with Isabel about her new bike and telling her before she left to follow her dreams.
“Paul was unavoidable. I think that every single person who grew up in Sag Harbor knew Paul in some capacity,” said Kern, who previously worked for WLNG. “And if you grew up in Sag Harbor, he knew everything about you.”
Sidney initially made his mark on the airwaves of WLNG, but his role in the community transcended a local radio host. Friends and co-workers say Sidney became a vital and recognizable member of the Sag Harbor community. Â
Kern said Sidney would begin everyday by visiting the Harbor Deli, where Golden Pear now stands, at 5 a.m. and chatting with the locals until 8 a.m. Sidney could often be found on the bench sandwiched between Sag Harbor Pharmacy and the Variety Store. He held court on the bench as passersby would often sit down to talk with him, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said Freidah.
At almost every local event, from Stella Maris’ Irish step dancing performances to Harborfest, Sidney was always there with a microphone in hand. Longtime WLNG colleague Gary Sapiane said Sidney was always looking for members of the community to interview.
“One of Paul’s favorite things was putting people on the air. They were the stars of the remote [broadcast]. He felt like he was just the anchor, but he liked that,” said Sapiane.
Local organizations and residents also relied on Sidney’s broadcasts, said Sapiane. During storms, the Long Island Power Authority would tune into Sidney’s up-to-date broadcasts as people would call in to report power outages on their block. Elderly residents would call Sidney to tell him they were stuck in their homes and the station would call emergency services.
Few things, even life threatening forces of nature, could deter Sidney from broadcasting. In 1978, he was on-air during a hurricane-like storm. As the station started to flood with water, Sidney continued to broadcast and only stopped when the fire department made him exit the building. However, within a few hours Sidney cajoled a local politician to let him broadcast from their Main Street office.
“He would have people call in and put the mic up to the phone,” Sapiane said of the makeshift radio studio. Â
Sidney’s passion for radio was born at a young age. When he was just eight-years-old in 1948, he set-up a small studio in his bedroom in Brooklyn. By age 11, he hung around the Dumont TV studios in New York. The staff at Dumont soon let Sidney read commercials on the air. After a brief stint with WLIS in Old Saybrook, Connecticut in his twenties, Sidney was offered a position at the newly formed WLNG radio station.
He started out as the programming director in 1964, but through the years became the station’s vice-president, general manager and, eventually, president. He helped WLNG hone their trademark sound by choosing to broadcast in mono versus stereo. WLNG was also one of the first stations to let advertisers create their own commercial spots.
Although he dated from time to time, he never married and friends say the radio was his family.
“Growing up Paul didn’t really have anybody. The radio was who he stayed up with late at night. Back then, the old radio shows were more like television. The DJ’s would talk to [the audience] directly. The radio was his friend and it became his life. He engrossed himself in that,” said Kern, who added that Sidney was an only child.
Colleague Ann Buckhout said Sidney made Sag Harbor into his adopted hometown and his numerous friends and co-workers became his family.
“When Paul arrived, he was able to meet so many people so quickly. He liked being known and [in Sag Harbor] he could walk down the street and know everyone. Because he had no family the town became his family,” said Buckhout.
Sidney’s adopted family came out in droves last Friday at the Yardley and Pino Funeral home to recount old stories and to celebrate his life. Sidney was only 69-years-old when he died, but had been battling renal, or kidney, failure since 2004. Despite his illness, he was still able to work and he was even broadcasting in early February.
Sapiane said it was really only in the last week of his life that Sidney’s health plummeted. But right to the very end Buckhout believes WLNG was on Sidney’s mind.
“He died on the 92nd day of the year at 1 p.m.,” she said. WLNG is at 92.1 on the dial.
“I don’t think I will meet anyone like him. He taught me how to be passionate about life. He loved it so much. There was nothing better to him,” said Kern. “Over the years people get so bogged down by life, but he didn’t. I think that was why everyone loved him.”