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Back at the mike, Rea has mixed emotions

Dan Rea has returned to his WBZ radio roots with 'NightSide With Dan Rea.' Dan Rea has returned to his WBZ radio roots with "NightSide With Dan Rea."

Dan Rea considers it a kind of homecoming, albeit a sad one. After 31 years on television, the longtime WBZ-TV newsman has officially returned to radio to take over the late Paul Sullivan's shift. With the launch this past Monday of "NightSide With Dan Rea" on WBZ-AM (1030) weeknights from 8 to midnight, Rea has come full circle to the medium where he first cut his teeth.

"I'd done weekends at WBZ radio back in the '70s, while I was in law school at Boston University," recalls Rea by phone from the WBZ offices. After finishing his degree and passing the Massachusetts bar exam, Rea went on to television, winning two Emmys and nine nominations. His four-year investigation of the wrongful imprisonment of Joe Salvati for 30 years resulted in the 1997 commutation of Salvati's life sentence for a murder he did not commit - and multiple awards and commendations for Rea.

But radio, he says, has other rewards. "In TV you have one- and two-minute stories," says Rea. "In radio, you can really spend time developing a story and making it interesting."

The new show, says Rea, will have serious discussions in the host's acknowledged areas of strength: politics and law. As one of the regular fill-in hosts in this time slot since last spring, Rea has already led discussions of the "Jena Six" protests, centering on the racially charged Louisiana case, as well as an in-depth discussion of the memoir "Fighting Castro: A Love Story," by Kay Abella.

"But," says Rea, "I know as a talk-show host, I'll have to broaden my interests." His modus operandi: "Any subject can be interesting if you're smart enough to ask the right questions." On Monday, he'll be speaking with author Rick Atkinson about his new book, "The Day of Battle," which is a follow-up to Atkinson's Pulitzer-winning "An Army at Dawn." On Wednesday, he'll have Jeffrey Toobin, author of "The Nine," which looks at the Supreme Court.

Whatever arts background Rea lacks, says WBZ program director Peter Casey, will be amply compensated for by his wealth of general knowledge and ability to think on his feet.

"I was impressed with Dan's knowledge over the last few months," says Casey. "He has a great institutional knowledge about the city and about the region, about news and newsmakers. I'd hear him talk with a caller, and the caller would bring up a story from years ago, and Dan would quickly rattle off some facts. That kind of institutional knowledge and quick recall is valuable in talk radio, because it helps put things in perspective right away. Plus, he has a good way with callers."

"The word for me is 'respectful,' " says Rea, hoping to increase the number of women and minority callers. "We have a wide variety of legitimate political viewpoints in our society. I feel people should be able to call up and be at ease."

At some level, Rea knows he will be compared to David Brudnoy and Sullivan, his predecessors in this time slot. "I don't think I'm as intellectual as Brudnoy, and I don't think I'm as quick a wit as Sully," says Rea. "But I'm hoping that with a little wit, I can get along."

"If I had my druthers, it would still be 'The Paul Sullivan Show,' " he says. Still, Rea is honored by the opportunity to make the show his own. "Succeeding Paul Sullivan and David Brudnoy, it's sort of like the tradition of left field for the Red Sox. There are certain chairs that are special, and the nighttime talk chair at 'BZ is very special."

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