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Apr 7, 2009 4:59 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Venerable radio host Paul Sidney, 69, dies

Apr 7, 2009 4:59 PM

Paul Sidney, the president emeritus, general manager and ubiquitous on-air host of WLNG 92.1 FM radio in Sag Harbor, died on Wednesday night, April 1, after a long illness. He was 69.

Mr. Sidney had been an on-air voice at WLNG since the station began in 1963. He started as a part-time contributor while still working at WLIS in Connecticut before WLNG’s owner recruited him to be its first program manager in early 1964.

Since then, he had become the station’s most well-known voice and face, and an icon in local communities, particularly Sag Harbor, where he regularly took up an observation post on a sidewalk bench outside his apartment when not on the air.

“He had a way of reaching the people,” said Gary Sapian, Mr. Sidney’s on-air co-worker since 1964 and a co-owner of WLNG. Mr. Sapian said Mr. Sidney had been battling leukemia for four years. “His personality made everybody a part of what was going on. The listeners were more the stars than he was.”

Mr. Sidney’s unique voice, hurried speech and eagerness to talk to anyone passing his microphone, about anything, made him a fixture at numerous events on the East End in the last few decades, be they community block parties, antiques shows or grand openings of new retail stores. His remote broadcasts, from a mobile broadcasting booth set up in a converted public bus, were one of the signatures of the programming format Mr. Sidney developed and made famous at WLNG.

He also pioneered a number of broadcasting trends, including allowing business owners to read their own commercials on-air.

He was inducted into the New York State Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2007.

Mr. Sapian said Mr. Sidney’s love of the radio and the local community will carry on with every broadcast of WLNG and the distinctive format he established there. “We’ve all been with Paul so long that we know what he wants,” Mr. Sapian said. “It’s his baby, still. We carry on.”

Growing up in Brooklyn, Mr. Sidney caught the broadcasting bug early in life. At the age of 8, he set up a small studio in his bedroom and by 11 had taken to hanging around DuMont TV studios, one of the first in the country, near his childhood home until the station operators gave him commercials to read, according a biography of Mr. Sidney provided by WLNG.

By the end of his teens, he was working full time as an on-air broadcaster for a radio station in Waterbury, Connecticut, and then for WLIS in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. It was from WLIS’s broadcast booths that Mr. Sidney’s voice floated across Long Island Sound and was heard by Fitzgerald Smith, WLNG’s founder, who recruited Mr. Sidney for the fledgling station. Mr. Sidney came to Sag Harbor to work for WLNG as its station manager in 1964, when the station was found only on the AM dial and had just 500 watts of broadcasting power.

With the limited reach of the station’s broadcast, Mr. Sidney tied the station’s programming to the immediate community and focused on the individuals who made up the fabric of Sag Harbor’s community.

“He took that station from nothing and built it into an East End institution,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a Sag Harbor native who remembered Mr. Sidney’s earliest local broadcast from his youth, said this week. “Sag Harbor has a very strong sense of community, and what Paul did played a very important part of building that community. For Sag Harbor, the radio station is part of our identity.”

As WLNG’s range increased, Mr. Sidney simply extended the formula he had applied to Sag Harbor. After acquiring the first of the station’s broadcasting buses in the 1970s, his remote broadcasts branched out across the East End. At grand openings or big sale days at local businesses, carnivals and fairs, or just from the street after a big blizzard, storm or, famously, the great fire that ravaged Sag Harbor’s Main Street in 1994, Mr. Sidney would wander his mobile booth’s perimeter, talking constantly and eagerly thrusting a microphone in front of any passerby who would pause for him. The broadcasting buses—there have now been several—all with Mr. Sidney’s face featured prominently on their exteriors, have become the hallmark of WLNG, across both forks of the East End.

“When he did those remotes, he was the show,” Mr. Sapian said.

The broadcast buses and Mr. Sidney’s wanderings figured prominently in most recollections of him by friends this week.

“He was all over the place,” Ann Buckhout, one of WLNG’s longtime employees and shareholders, said last week. “If you were an occasional listener to WLNG, he and the buses are probably what you know about us.”

His longtime girlfriend, Debbie Tuma, recalled a night when Mr. Sidney, who was private about his personal life, stayed at her Sag Harbor apartment more than 30 years ago.

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Via con Dios, Paul. He was large part of the East End, and what is a special way of life.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Apr 2, 09 1:58 PM
Sag Harbor will never be the same! Rest in peace Paul.
By CourtR111 (3), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 09 2:01 PM
Such sad news. I'll always remember Paul for his coverage of local Hurricanes , listening to him by candlelight and getting the latest updates. R.I.P.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Apr 2, 09 2:11 PM
I remember those storms too! LNG was our only source of anything local back then. Very sad.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Apr 2, 09 3:28 PM
I knew Paul for many, many years. He was a wonderful person who loved and cared about the East End of Long Island and its residents. He was a calming voice during emergencies and it was my honor to present him with a proclamation on behalf of Southampton Town during the station’s 40th anniversary celebration and Oldies Show at Southampton High School several years ago. I always enjoyed my time on the air with Paul and always called in during his "Christmas Card of the Airways" program on Christmas ...more
By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on Apr 2, 09 4:40 PM
He will be sorely missed. His humanity showed through everything he did. Paul Sidney's life should be a model for what one man can do if he believes and tries hard enough.
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Apr 2, 09 5:11 PM
Paul Sidney represented the best of the best. We were present when he was inducted into the NY State Broadcasters Association "Hall of Fame" in 2007. Everyone from New York Radio and Television Stations knew Paul Sidney, a wonderful, classic gentleman who loved radio and his listeners. You always felt connected through his on air presence. The industry has lost a legend.
He will be missed.
By Hamptons TV (4), East hampton on Apr 2, 09 5:20 PM
Paul was a man of the people who trusted in the people. He believed what he said, had strong convictions, and brought his brand of local community radio to an exceptionally successful level. And he was the real voice of the East End.
By barberosa (39), Westhampton on Apr 2, 09 5:25 PM
Paul was a great person. He would always have time for a hello while he sat on the bench in Sag Harbor. I think the whole East End is grieving for him today. The Voice of The Hamptons is no more. RIP my friend you will be missed.
By favaunt (24), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 09 7:41 PM
I remember back on a winter evening in February 1978, Paul and his staff were doing a show during a severe blizzard. There was about 20 inches of snow, winds blowing about 70 MPH and extremely high tides. Well, about 10 o'clock that night the water in the cove reached the station building and rose about 6 inches above the floor. Paul and his staff had to sign off the air or risk being electrocuted! They were rescued from the station by the Sag Harbor Fire Department in a four wheel drive ...more
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Apr 2, 09 7:42 PM
As President of the Long Island Wireless Historical Society I feel badly that another of Long Island radio's greats has passed. I was hoping to meet Paul at our Radio Day at the Tillis Center on April 18th. I hope that our efforts to establish a radio/tv museum here on Long Island will prevail and we can honor people like Paul, who have lived and loved radio.
By historymaven (1), Sayville on Apr 2, 09 8:33 PM
I met Paul on the phone in 1968 and instantly liked him, especially when he said I could drive to Sag Harbor and see a real-live Radio Station! I was about 19, and wanted to be a DJ more than anything. I live in Hicksville, and so, on the 80-mile trip to Sag Harbor, I had almost two-hours of listening to LNG while it got louder and clearer as I approached the Hamptons.

When Paul walked me into the WLNG studio, I remember asking him, “Where’s the studio?” I remember it as a small room ...more
By Jim Genovese (1), Hicksville on Apr 3, 09 1:56 AM
As the news of Paul's passing is spreading through radio circles nationwide it has come to me via an email from a radio person in North Dakota. Paul's fame was nationwide. He was-as another post here said-the best of the best. Paul gave me my start in on the air radio in 1965..Were it not for him I would not have spent the last 45 years in this business and as I wipe away a tear and ask God to shelter and protect his soul I can only say Thank You Paul.
By radioconsultant (4), Reno Nevada on Apr 3, 09 2:07 AM
Wind to your sails, or to the back end of your bus, Mr. Sidney.
'God Bless.
By scooter329 (1), Sag Harbor on Apr 3, 09 7:43 AM
RIP to the ''Master of Disaster''.
By hamptons surfer (79), southampton on Apr 3, 09 8:21 AM

How sad.
I remember back in 1979 a group of us from the NEW WNBC including Bob Pittman the creator of MTV went out driving to listen to WNBC's signal...we were driving out to the east end of Long Island. I said we HAVE to stop by WLNG....it's a GREAT station. Well we did....and Paul and the crew welcomed us with open arms like we were some kind of long lost brothers. That's just the way he was. What a great LOCAL radio station with an AMAZING record library that never gets stale.

By jdradio (1), Plantation on Apr 3, 09 12:03 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Apr 3, 09 12:22 PM
The first time I saw Paul Sidney was in 1964 or 65 while he was doing a live broadcast from the window of Spitz's Furniture Store in Sag Harbor in his pajamas on one of their beds. I was fascinated by his courage and humor. He was a very unique part of Sag Harbor and his character will be missed.
By wibby (1), Hempstead on Apr 3, 09 12:45 PM
Paul Sidney’s voice echoed in our family home for forty five years, I will always remember him and WLNG. Thank you WLNG for remaining an owner operated station when so many have sold to large communication companies. You are an important part of our community.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Apr 3, 09 4:47 PM
Paul will be sorely missed by the entire east end. He was a light in the night when we all listened to our battery operated radios during the terrible east end storms. He was a unique individual who had so many nice qualities. God Bless him. May he rest in peace and enjoy his eternal reward.
By bayview (160), Southampton on Apr 3, 09 5:18 PM
In this era of the Internet, the idea of a "local celebrity" is slowly fading away. We'll miss this era and Paul. RIP.
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Apr 7, 09 10:08 AM
paul sidney has kept my family informed from school closings( 5 nielsen kids listening anxiously) to hurricanes, local news, &the first local election results, for years. not to mention swap &shop, pet patrol, &our birthdays.god bless paul sidney . who says he had no family???
By montauk resident (41), montauk on Apr 7, 09 9:10 PM
God Rest You, Mr. Sidney - You gave many of us peace of mind announcing about missing pets & their descriptions, in a storm or what have you. Knowing that service was available made me feel that somebody cared - You did...and afforded the only available avenue to alert the community. We will miss seeing you in Sag Harbor on a Main Street bench - or will you appear there anyway from time to time? Please do so if you can. With your ready smile and handshake - who knew you were so ill? Praying ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Apr 8, 09 7:51 PM
Thank you, 27east.com for the great video of Paul.

By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 09 8:06 PM
Paul Sidney was a truly wonderful man with a heart of gold and a golden asset to the East End. He was an East End institution. I first met Paul in 1987 when I was 9 years old at one of his remotes. Paul let me use the microphone and get on the air. I was able to say HI to all my friends and family and it was a such a thrill and made me so happy. I became a radio star at age 9. He was such a nice guy. I had already been listening to WLNG at the time as it was always on in our household. I was already ...more
By mdflanders (1), Flanders on Apr 10, 09 10:22 AM
I am a little late to this but I wrote a tribute of sorts to Mr. Sidney on my Blog titled "Be in my broadcast when this is over" at http://tuckerstuesday.typepad.com
By T6 (1), everywhere on May 19, 09 11:14 AM