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SIMON'S SIGNING BY WGR WAS LONG OVERDUE

On Wednesday morning's post-election show, WGR sports host Kevin Sylvester was admonished by a caller for being a Republican who was insensitive to job losses.

Sylvester, a vocal supporter of President Bush, responded by saying anyone in the radio business who thinks there is job security is crazy.

A few hours later, Sylvester and his morning teammates, Bob Gaughan and Gary Pufpaff, were given their walking papers and replaced by veteran sports talker Howard Simon and WGR evening co-host Jeremy White.

"It is kind of ironic and slightly humorous," Sylvester said. "Laughter is the best medicine."

Actually, it was crazy that it took this long for WGR officials to sign Simon, one of the area's most credible and popular sports talkers. He was available in May after his former sports station, WNSA, was purchased by WGR's owner, Entercom Communications, and turned into a music station. WGR passed, even though Simon's afternoon ratings were higher than those of WGR's Mike Schopp and the Bulldog.

That's why Simon thought someone was playing a prank on him a few weeks ago when WGR programmer Andy Roth called him on his private line to get things rolling. Simon thought someone was pretending to be Roth. When Roth and WGR's Tim Wenger met with Simon, he asked what took them so long to pursue him.

"They said, 'I don't know,' " Simon recalled.

Presumably, it had something to do with contracts in place and the misguided belief that the morning team would flourish with WNSA off the air.

The winners in the trade should be listeners who turned to WGR expecting to hear sports talk and instead were often treated to shallow discussions about politics, family matters and other current events. Simon is expected to concentrate more on sports and leave most -- but not all -- of the nonsense behind. Simon expects to tweak his act, occasionally discussing nonsports matters to fill out a four-hour show that doesn't have a hockey season to talk about.

"It is not going to be 100 percent a sports-based show," Simon said. Nor does he expect it to veer into current events as often as the previous morning team.

"They told me, 'We are hiring you because of your credibility and reputation,' " Simon said. "I've got to live with myself. I'm not going to do anything I'm not comfortable with."

"He's got a great following, he has great sports credibility and he's the type of person who should be at WGR," said Greg Ried, the general manager of the local Entercom stations.

No argument here. Compared to Simon, the three previous morning guys were minor-leaguers. Gaughan and Pufpaff also had two of the more irritating voices in local radio, which made their show hard to listen to in more ways than one. Still, you have to feel for the trio, all of whom were stunned when they were fired after Wednesday's show.

It comes at a difficult time for Pufpaff, whose father recently died. The timing isn't so great, either, for Sylvester, whose wife is expecting their second child in December.

I might have chosen to keep Sylvester, the most credible and reasoned of the departed trio. He seemed more comfortable and more interesting when talking sports, rather than manufacturing things to say about politics and current events.

In separate telephone interviews, the fired hosts accepted their fate with class and all praised Simon.

"Howard is a good man," said Gaughan, who had been at WGR for 13 years and didn't think the trio's ratings were that bad.

"You just move on, what are you going to do?" Gaughan said. "No hard feelings."

"I'm a big boy," echoed Sylvester. "I know the deal. I know it could happen any day. I didn't expect it to happen this way."

Pufpaff, who came to WGR from 97 Rock about a year and a half ago, said he didn't see it coming.

"You never like to lose a job that you like," he said.

Simon's return means he'll once again get a regular paycheck and no longer will have a sales career. He had to get his own sponsors for a freelance afternoon show that he had been doing on WLVL and the Empire Sports Network after WNSA folded.

"I'm very happy for Howard," said Empire General Manager Bob Koshinski, who was surprised by the timing. "(WGR) had the opportunity to bring him on board when they bought (WNSA) in May."

Of course, if anyone should know what a crazy business broadcasting can be after his experiences over the past year or so at Empire, it is Koshinski.
e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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