In May when the New York State Broadcasters Association announced broadcaster Paul Sidney of Sag Harbor's radio station, WLNG
induction into their 2007 Hall of Fame, Sidney thought it was a different Paul Sidney. Sidney, the only broadcaster in the New York/Long Island region to be honored had to be convinced it was him. "I never sent them a note so I don't know how I was selected. Everybody was telling me about it, and I was shocked so many people knew about me. I never went around blowing my horn. I was just fortunate enough to do what I loved to do," said the humble veteran of over 45 years.
The Brooklyn native knew at the age of five he loved radio broadcasting. "There was a news breaking story on the radio WOR/NY and I asked my mother to get me a newspaper so I could read all about it," Sidney remembered. "I was fascinated by radio and the early days of live television." At just 11 years-old the budding broadcaster used to take the train into Manhattan by himself and visit all the news stations. "Every opportunity I had I'd hang around Channel 5/WABD on Madison Avenue and other stations in the Theatre District. They'd let me in without a problem. Live television was brand new then."
Prior to coming to WLNG, Sidney worked for three years at WLIS in Old Saybrook, CT, and thought he'd be there forever. "It was a hard job to take being so young," he confessed. "At that time it was a serious hobby for me not a job, as now. I contemplated for a few months taking it, and turning my hobby into a job."
Sidney gravitated to the New York market and worked Upstate, eventually making his way to Long Island. In 1963, his long love affair with WLNG and the people of the East End began. He was in his early 20s and as their new Program Director brought with him the personal style he had developed. As a new station they sought a committed crew to grow with. "I fit in right away and there was room for me to advance there. The style I began at WLIS, local live broadcasting involved with the community, never changed."
As he was allowed to enter into the NYC broadcasting community when he was just a boy…it would become the foundation of his own style. Reaching out to the people the way they reached out to him. In between the music, Sidney would cover Sag Harbor and East End news that was important to his listeners and the community, from a lost dog to the death of a familiar neighborhood face.
"In those days if you weren't good on the air you wouldn't have a job," he admitted. His idols in the NY area were Don Russell from Dumont Television, and radioman, Herb Oscar. He's seen a lot of changes in radio broadcasting since the 60s, "Right now a lot of radio stations don't care about the people. The honesty is gone. Now they hit the button for the commercials, playing seven or ten of them in a row. Sometimes without anyone even being in the building. It's all computer operated," he remarked as the old days of radio have vanished. "You have to do things for people…you need that one on one connection."
With the recent Imus debacle Sidney says he doesn't like what he does or listens to that type of broadcasting, others do and that's the point. "In the past you couldn't do that or you'd lose your license. But that was his style and why he was hired," he explained. "Others are doing the same thing but they singled him out. I have nothing against him. He was nice to me at periods, talking up me and the station."
From the 1970s – 2004 Sidney was the station President, and is now the General Manager Emeritus. "I just did a job…it's beyond the title of President or General Manager. I was happy to just be doing radio," he says of his career. "I'm married to radio, there's less interference," he jested.
His career highlights were getting up every day and not knowing what was going to happen. "I wasn't just coming in and opening the mic, but being involved with the community. The most important events were the TWA crash of Flight 800 in 1996, the Pine Barrens fire the year before, and the hurricanes. The people were more important than the next record. And they ended up becoming local advertisers."
Sidney's dedication to the community even took precedence over his career, and still does. "Receiving a plaque isn't important to me," he said. "I'd like to see more stations be what we're about or do better than us. I can say that because I love the business that much. But the interest doesn't seem to be out there." Because of Sidney's influence and operating style, WLNG has been honored with Crystal and Marconi awards for its Excellence in Community Service.
Wherever Sidney goes now, somebody shakes his hand congratulating him of the Hall of Fame accomplishment although it hasn't changed him. "Because there's no difference. I could still be here [at the station] seven o'clock at night. I've been with this company a long time and they know how serious I am about broadcasting…and frankly, the accolades make no difference to me."
At the NYS Broadcasters Hall of Fame awards Sidney was surprised, television broadcasting anchorman Ernie Anastos recognized him. "I've always admired him…he's such a gentleman…and one of the best in the business. If the studio machine breaks down Anastos can do it live on his own. He's 10 million times better than I am. Funny, I can talk about him, but I can't talk about myself," he ended.
For listening, the Sag Harbor radio station is 92.1FM WLNG. For comments or congrats visit WWW.WLNG.COM, telephone 631-725-2300.