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WBZ radio's Sullivan to step down after one more show

Seven weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor, WBZ-AM (1030) talk-show host Paul Sullivan announced yesterday that he will not be returning to the airwaves on a regular basis. In a letter to station colleagues, Sullivan emphasized the decision was not based on his current medical condition but on the burden his health issues continue to place on family, friends, and co-workers.

"The fact is that WBZ deserves the best team on the field," Sullivan wrote, "and as of this moment with my condition I would not be the best teammate to take the field." After being on hiatus for two months, he will return to the airwaves Thursday night from 8 to midnight for his final show .

Sullivan's surgery in May was the fourth such operation he's undergone since being diagnosed in November 2004 with Stage IV melanoma. The decision to retire from regular broadcast duties was reached during the past week, according to Sullivan and WBZ radio news director Peter Casey , following lengthy discussions among the radio host, his family and doctors, and station management.

"It was a cumulative thing over the past three years, not just the last few weeks," Sullivan said yesterday, speaking by phone from his home in Salisbury. "I've had the best job in New England, at the Cadillac of radio stations. But it isn't even close to being more important than my family."

Flashing the dry wit that entertained listeners over three years and hundreds of broadcasts, Sullivan added: "Not to sound too corny about this -- I'm not Pat Robertson -- but there's a time in life to move onto something more structured around family. My wife was really giving up her own life to get me to the station every day [before his last surgery] . She never hinted it wasn't worth it, but it became a case of not being that important to me."

Sullivan said he is not receiving radiation treatment or chemotherapy and that his cancer is considered treatable, if unlikely to go into remission. There was no recent prognosis driving his decision to step down, he reiterated.

"I'm 50, and I expect to be collecting Social Security," he said with a laugh. "I also want to comment on issues like the presidential campaign and Fifth Congressional District race. I don't know specifically what I'll be doing yet, but I'll weigh in somehow."

In his letter, Sullivan also said that on a day-to-day basis he feels fine. "I am up and alert and going out for lunches and walks when I can," he wrote. "I don't need constant care but what my illness and treatments have taken from me is the energy needed to do my show five nights a week."

Casey said that while he'd been hopeful Sullivan could return to his lineup, he'd realized for some time that it might not be possible.

"Unfortunately we've gone through this process before with [David] Brudnoy," said Casey, referring to the longtime WBZ talk - show host who died in 2004 and whom Sullivan replaced.

" At the time the intent was always to have Sully come back, if not for a four-hour show then a two-hour show," Casey continued. "But over the past week or so, it became clear that the impact on his life would be more than it should be."

Sullivan left the airwaves two months ago. His show averaged nearly 200,000 listeners nightly, according to WBZ. Featuring an eclectic array of topics, from politics to pop culture, it consistently placed among the three top- rated programs in its time slot.

Since Sullivan went on hiatus, WBZ has tapped Jordan Rich and Dan Rea to fill in as substitute hosts. WBZ vice president and general manager Ted Jordan issued a statement yesterday saying the station would "take an appropriate amount of time" to determine a permanent replacement. Echoing Jordan's remarks, Casey said that while WBZ had no timetable in mind, the process would begin soon.

"Right now," Casey said, "it's all about Sully."

Michael Harrison , publisher of Talkers Magazine, a Springfield-based publication covering the talk-show industry, praised Sullivan as a worthy successor to Brudnoy. Sullivan, he said, represented "an increasingly rare breed" of local major-market talk-show hosts known for their respectful and credible work on air.

"We're losing another great broadcaster, and that's a shame," Harrison said. "Both he and Brudnoy showed tremendous courage and stamina doing what is a very demanding job, both physically and mentally. Hopefully, 'BZ will find itself another one like them."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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