WLNG Sag Harbor, NY

WLNG/ Summer 1979

Paul, "live on location"Yes, I've worked at the crystal-clear, tall tower, blanketing the coastline - 16 and 92 L-N-G. This was my first shift as a "disc-jockey" and I was surrounded by two floor-standing rotating carousels full of jingles, thousands of 45s and lost pet lists. The log had at least forty elements per hour. I got yelled at once for segueing two songs back to back. I'd show up for my Saturday evening shift, and Paul Sidney would be in the back yard, ever-present radio on his chest. If I talked one up, he'd show me the thumbs up. Located on the Redwood Causeway, the studios have a beautiful view of the bay in Sag Harbor.

What I'm remembered for most, is a certain 8 hour shift I did one afternoon that summer. I knew the staff was listening off premises at an event so I was "on." "On" as in I talked up every single record right up to the vocal. Over ten years later, I was in the Caldor (now Kohl's) Shopping Center in Lake Ronkonkoma and I found 92.1 coming in loud and clear, uh, CRYSTAL clear. Paul Sydney was on location talking to Gary Sapiane in the studio. As usual the talk was more about radio than the client and Paul was reminiscing about all the remotes the station has done. And sure enough, Paul starts talking about the time I "talked-up every record." At least there was one listener who knew what he meant.

On September 28, 2005, the Nassau Suffolk Chamber of Commerce gave Paul Sidney the "Lifetime Achievement Award." Many dignitaries and radio friends past and present joined Paul at the Canoe Place Inn for the special event.
Click here to see the photo album.

We lost Paul in April of 2009. This is what I wrote on the NYRMB.

I had received word Monday from a friend that Paul was in the hospital “not doing so well” and decided to make the trip to Southampton. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as I was walking past the nurses’ station, I could hear his voice coming down the hall. It was as if I were approaching one of the many remote broadcasts I had stopped by over the years to say hello. But this time he was sitting at the edge of the bed, on the phone, asking someone to bring him pizza from Conca D’Oro. Nevertheless, his voice retained the passion and power he had entertained us with for all those years.

It was a conversation I’ve had with him a thousand times; how’s my family, my son (Kyle who’s on WRIV), what I’ve been listening to, a few thoughts about WLNG and various people in (or now out of) the business. He talked mostly about the large aircheck collection he’d amassed over the years and “when was I going to come over to listen to some tapes?” I always pictured this apartment, not much furniture, but dominated by huge steel Ampex reel to reel recorders with tapes stacked high in all corners.

Like most of us, he loved radio passionately but also had the good fortune of finding a station to put his unique vision on the air. The format was his ‘passion;’ all energy and a mix of flavors borrowed from the stations he had admired and listened to (and air-checked) over the years. When he gave me my first ‘paid’ on-air shift, he told me to play something from every era and have fun. It was he who insisted I use my real name because of my family’s connection to Riverhead. His only criticism came when I segued two songs together. (“Stick a jingle in there or something!”)

Paul was extremely proud of everyone who came through WLNG and when I took a job at the competition a few towns over, he was the first with a congratulatory call. But Paul was more than just a radio programmer and mentor. He cared about people and enjoyed being in their presence. Bob Buchman, while at WBAB, once said he wanted to personally meet every one of his listeners. I believe Paul Sidney actually accomplished that feat - several times. Most people who live out here know who Paul was and, quite amazingly, he knew them as well.

To the broadcast cognoscenti, Paul and his station, WLNG, have been merely an eccentricity whose ideas are from an out-dated, bygone era. But as I look at the current state of our business and where WLNG stands within the broadcast community today, it’s easy to see who had the better idea for the long run. I won’t get the opportunity to sit with him and hear all of those tapes, but I know that, now safely in the hands of Gary, Rusty and the great staff he put together over the years, I will hear his vision, his passion and his legacy on 92.1 for a long time to come.

Thanks Paul – for everything.

To this day, WLNG does its own thing; a type of radio unheard of anywhere on any dial. Radio professionals debate whether this type of radio works anymore. Well, it does on Eastern Long Island and I finally figured out exactly how it does. At least I think I do. Here's my response to Allan Sniffen on the New York Radio Message Board as to why I believe WLNG is still on the air, well into the new Millennium.

For years, programmers and consultants have tried to figure out what makes WLNG tick or try to concoct a scenario as to why it still exists.  I’ve lived on the East End of Long Island most of my life and I’ve just recently begun to understand why this station works.

WLNG is to radio much like the Pennysaver is to newspapers.  Not something you would ever read from cover to cover, but if you were looking for something local, you would definitely open the pages.  There’s a little bit of everything and it’s all just around the corner.  WLNG isn’t about playing “oldies,” it’s about the community and what’s going on.  If the latest thing in radio is your IPOD on shuffle, then LNG is your scanner on roam.

The original post mentions ratings and out here in wine country ratings are for suckers.  Don Brink of WRCN once told me that all the ratings meant was that someone sneezed while filling out a diary and you got credit for it.  Back then there was no Hamptons-Riverhead book, but it still holds true today.  WLNG doesn’t buy or need “the book” because it’s the response to the ads that retain the sale and LNG is way ahead of the competition.  As just a small example; anytime I’ve run into Paul, Rusty or Gary and they’ve put me on the air for one minute, I’ll run into 5-6 people who will later say they heard me on the air.  Politicians from all east end towns know their ad HAS to be on LNG to be re-elected.  You see, despite having 75 minutes worth of commercials per hour, people listen to those ads much like people read the ads in the Pennysaver.  And like the Pennysaver, the commercials are part of the content.  Good, bad or ugly; most people do their own ads!

Death Notices and lost dogs may sound bizarre to the outsider, but many times I’ve been able to reach out to a family I’ve known over the years because I heard it over the air.  I’ve known many people who’ve had pets returned to them through WLNG.  I know what’s going on in my kids‘ schools, when the carnival is coming to Jamesport and where last night’s fire took place.  And you haven’t experienced all of radio’s wonder until you’ve listened to Paul Sidney during a hurricane.

Now could all this be done without the reverb, jingles and hitting the post on “Color My World?”  Of course, but where else could you do and play what you wanted on the air and still win big? Seriously, if you could play a song that peaked at # 47 in 1962 just because it was your favorite song and could get away with it, wouldn’t you?  And don’t think those guys don’t know it.  As the bumper sticker says, “I Put Up With WLNG.”  And believe me, many do.  I’ve gone into my accountant’s office and heard Rusty giving away donuts for TV trivia.  And then have the secretary tell me to hold on a sec because she was calling in the answer.  I’ve been on people’s boats and there’s LNG’s marine report.  I’ve sat in the Supervisor of the Town of Riverhead’s car and there was WLNG so he would know what was going on.

Allan, you say there’s no competition out here and that’s simply not true.  There are more signals on the dial here than in midtown Manhattan.  Plenty of local stations with equal or better signal patterns cover the market, plus a great deal of Connecticut stations provide many well-tested formats.  And out here, competition includes everything from newspapers to the phone book to the signboards on the back of a Little League field.  Unlike New York, there are no specific “newspaper” or “radio buys.”  Businesses have one, often very lean, advertising budget and you fight for any dollar you can get.

You say that WLNG wouldn’t work in a market like New York and you are absolutely, unequivocally correct.  But to that I have to add that you could take any radio station from New York City and put it out here and it would not bill what WLNG bills.  Unless you have competed against, worked for and/or lived with WLNG; you will sound like hundreds of other “big-city” programmers who think they can teach these hicks on the twin forks a thing or two about radio.  Come out here and try it.  Your station might sound good and may even top the ratings on occasion (see above).  But you will lose money.

There are many stations out here that have and are still trying.  I tried with WWHB, Paul Simon and Billy Joel tried after I left, SONY tried with “big city” personalities and a seven person newsroom.  Even WNEW-FM, in its rock ‘n roll heyday, gave it their best shot.  They’re all gone.  Out here, in our “real world,” Paul Sidney and company are still standing.

on to WWYZ

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