Tag Archive | "Paul Sidney"

Remembering Paul Sidney as a Voice of the Community

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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.  

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.  

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.”



Mr. Radio Man

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by Joseph Hanna

“No, you are wrong!” said my boss. “Radio is the most intimate medium there is. You are speaking into someone’s ear, right into their head. Try it again from the top, and speak like you are talking to someone you know.”

The exchange had begun while I was attempting to read some copy for a bank commercial that would be replayed on five area stations including WLNG. I was trying to use my FM radio voice, the deep one, properly articulated, sonorous, oily, and as phony as a starlet’s promise of undying fidelity.

“It’s got to be real,” said my boss. “The hardest thing in broadcasting is honesty – and when you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Did I mention he was a wit?

I lived on Howard Street in those days. I was so close to the WLNG signal tower that I could pick up the station at three places on the dial. I got the main carrier signal plus the harmonics, which are usually too faint to matter. I used to joke that I could pick it up on my toaster, but that was only half a joke, It came through my guitar amp, my reel to reel recorder, my microphones and anything else that wasn’t well grounded.

When we moved to Sag Harbor after a touring the South and Midwest with a country band, I had heard a lot of stations around the US, from LA to backwoods Arkansas. Our mandolin player (from East Meadow, Long Island) loved to imitate the drawling fundamentalists from the giant, unregulated, high-powered stations in Texas. We called them “blowtorches” because their signal from the big transmitters across the border from Del Rio could toast bread. You could pick them up all the way to Indiana on a clear winter night. I had heard a lot of radio on thousand mile drives and I thought I had heard it all, but WLNG was unique. There was nothing else like it in the entire country.

What would make a radio station so … eccentric?

It was filled with weird anachronisms like the little 5-second musical station IDs. My boss at the studio had been a jazz vocal arranger. He knew how to fashion a chord using human voices that would make a hep cat flip his wig. The station IDs for WLNG sounded as if some wiggy, flipped out hep cat had done the vocal arrangements. Why? How? By the ‘70s when I first heard the station, hep cats were hippies and they played fuzz guitar and sang in trippy monotones. What was going on?

This is how I found out.

The boss bought an ancient RCA ribbon microphone from an antique shop in New York to use as a stage prop for his ultra-modern control room. A ribbon mic uses a microscopically thin ribbon of metal to catch sound waves – hence the name. A good one is extremely delicate. A friend of mine ruined one by putting it down on its side. They have a particular sound, or as we used to say, they color the sound they pick up. Sound engineers can recognize the type of mic used for a particular recording. When the boss tired of the dusty old thing, he asked me to give it to Paul Sidney as a kind of gag. You have probably seen those mics in old movies. They were the size of a cocktail shaker, shaped like a suppository and had ribbed sides. RCA with a lightning bolt was emblazoned on the side.

“What did he say?” asked the boss on my return.

“He said thank you.” I answered.

“That’s it?”

The joke was on us. A couple of weeks later I had to deliver some spots to the station after the receptionist had gone for the day. I entered quietly because I knew from my car radio that Paul was live on the air. He didn’t see me come in. He had his back to me. The announcer booth door was open. He was talking fast, gesticulating like a pushcart fruit vendor and dancing on one foot. He was directing his energy, his words and indeed his personality into the ancient RCA ribbon mic! It was back on the air! Back from nowheresville! He was using it in real life! That’s how he was getting that particular sound that I noted on the drive to the station.

When the recording studio in Bridgehampton was shutting down, it was my job to offer Paul another piece of equipment, the old Ampex mono tape recorder. It had been converted from tube to transistors in the ‘60s. The American tape recorder came from an intelligence operation in Germany during the war. An Army unit was sent to a radio station to close down a “live” concert in the middle of the night. They discovered a tape recorder and a lonely and terrified engineer. Tape recorders had been developed by Germany in secret just before the war. The men had never seen anything like it. It was shipped to California as war booty, where it was copied and produced by the company that became Ampex a few years later.

Paul’s eyes lit up when he saw it. He put it into immediate service and it was still being used the last time I looked about eight years ago. While I was there, Paul showed me around the facility. He explained that he grew up in love with radio in the classic era just before television took over much of the entertainment load. He found a place in Buffalo that was going out of business and bought all their old station IDs. He wanted the old sound. He wanted the old vocal arrangements. He even ran his signal through an obsolete spring reverb and a compressor to get that specific, high-energy but out-of-focus sound we associate with the early rock and roll days. He thought about everything he did. Nothing at the station just happened by accident. The eccentric sound was one man’s vision, worked out detail by detail.

I tried not to listen to WLNG in those days. My wife and I played in a local band and we tried to project a certain professional cool. But it was impossible not to listen to it because it was a true community resource. The on-air personalities called out our son’s birthdays, told us who died, told us who to call for used boats and motors, garage tools, firewood, septic tank services. Paul and crew ginned up excitement for thousands of pancake breakfasts, whaler’s festivals, parades, basketball games, football games, Santa visits and all the happenings that gave a sense of community to our town. It was an eccentric station for an eccentric town. It was completely honest in a dishonest medium.

“Look at those numbers!” said Paul as we concluded the tour. He pointed excitedly at the latest Arbitron survey. WLNG was the most listened to station in the local market. His eyes were on fire. This (in every sense) was his baby. In a world dimmed down by sameness and franchised offerings that varied not at all from sea to shining sea, WLNG stood out like a ’57 Chevy with hood scoops in the valet parking lot for a charity ball.

“Those are good numbers,” I said.

“Those are great numbers,” he said.

The numbers didn’t lie. They told me what I already knew through experience, that WLNG was the voice of Sag Harbor and the East End. It was brought to you by Paul Sidney, who was passionate about radio and what it could do. In a sense, it was a giant toy, but some of the best things in life are created by people who enjoy what they do. When you love your job, it’s like play time all the time. We will miss him.

The Voice of the East End

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Tuning in to listen to local basketball games, waiting to discover what schools were cancelled on cold, snowy mornings, and learning where we could find shelter as storms raged outside our homes – we could always count on Paul Sidney to celebrate the best times, and give us guidance during difficult times, on 92.1 WLNG.

Last week we lost the voice of the East End with the death of Paul Sidney – a man whom, with seemingly boundless energy, broadcast community news, small and large, into our car radios and homes with an enthusiasm reserved for the best in our business. The first, and the most well known on-air voice at WLNG, Paul was a legendary figure for many on the East End, especially in Sag Harbor, where he created a radio station many recognize as an integral part of the community identity.

In many ways, Paul was WLNG. So strong was his influence, so unmistakable the reverb behind his voice and so distinct his style, he built a visual picture in an aural medium. The intimate relationship he developed with the community, what he did to insinuate WLNG into the life of the East End, from car dealership openings to fairs and carnivals and parades, to the wall-to-wall coverage of high school sports, gave the station its flavor. He made WLNG a cherished partner with the East End community – everyone’s hometown radio station, Paul its mouthpiece.

He often referred to the “tireless wireless” – taking the station from location to location. Paul thrived in storms and disasters, reveling in his ability to bring people together, to help in the midst of a hurricane or blizzard. As a news publication, The Sag Harbor Express has always had a tremendous amount of respect for what he was able to do, and what he inspired his crew to do – the mission he created in broadcast news.

Certainly, Paul’s is a voice that will be missed. Since his passing last week we have heard him described as an icon, a character, a legend. The sound of his voice, its quality was unique – not always attractive, but electric. Even when Paul was sitting down he was animated. His voice broadcast an energy, an urgency and excitement that demanded the listener pay attention. It’s a voice that will be missed in Sag Harbor, and across the East End. 

Sag Harbor Says Goodbye to WLNG Legend Paul Sidney

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On Wednesday afternoon, Sag Harbor Village police cars closed off the northerly portion of Main Street, making room for an ambulance to park in front of the Sag Harbor pharmacy. A stretcher was brought out onto the street, and emergency workers helped bring Sag Harbor mainstay and WLNG radio celebrity Paul Sidney down from a nearby apartment.

After suffering from a prolonged illness, Sidney passed away early Thursday morning.

Sidney was one of Eastern Long Island’s most well known broadcasters and he monopolized the East End airwaves for almost four and half decades. He also served as the co-owner and general manager of WLNG radio, based in Sag Harbor. 

Sidney’s unusual career in radio was described in a statement WLNG released on Thursday. Sidney was said to show a passion for radio even as a child. At the tender age of eight, he set up a small studio in his room in Brooklyn. By age 11, he was hanging around the Dumont TV studios in New York so often that they finally let him read commercials on air. After a stint with WLIS Old Saybrook in Connecticut, Sidney relocated to the East End. WLNG went on the air on August 13, 1963, and Sidney found himself, in his early twenties then, the new program director at the beginning of 1964.

Sidney’s trademark sound made WLNG famous even to those who never set foot on Sag Harbor’s shores, and he rapidly became the station’s vice-president, then general manager. He became the president of the company by the early ‘70s.

Sidney devoted much of his life to radio, which he felt was more than a simple broadcasting music or the news.

In an Express interview with Sidney, from early 2000, he said, “WLNG is like a person. You’re with it. It’s your friend. We’re talking to one person at a time. I know there is no other station in the world like it. Even if you want to avoid it, you always come back. Whether it’s Sag Harbor or Norman, Oklahoma. Main Street is Main Street.”

A gathering at Yardley Pino Funeral Home in Sag Harbor will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, and will be preceded by a prayer service. Sidney will be buried at the Chevra Kodetia Cemetery on Route 114 in Sag Harbor. All are welcome to attend.