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Brudnoy plots his latest comeback

One night last week, talk-radio legend David Brudnoy popped up as a guest on his own station, chitchatting with Paul Sullivan on WBZ Radio (AM 1030). Brudnoy, 63, had been off the air since October to battle Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer. Several months of radiation and chemotherapy robbed Brudnoy of his voice and left him gaunt and exhausted. But now, incredibly, he is attempting another comeback, nearly 10 years after nearly dying from AIDS complications.

Brudnoy lost almost a third of his normal 180-pound weight. But his voice is recovering ó though itís softer and less mellifluous than listeners are used to ó and he says heís feeling well. His hair, covered by a WBZ cap, is growing back. In recent weeks, heís returned to teaching journalism at Boston University and to reviewing movies for the Community Newspaper chain. Still, he yearns for the microphone.

On Tuesday, at his Back Bay condo, Brudnoy sat for an interview. He was yawning ó heíd stayed up until 3 a.m. grading papers, he explained ó but was charging ahead, planning to do live political analysis that night with Jon Keller on WLVI-TV (Channel 56). Edited highlights follow.

Q: Youíre scheduled to go back on the air on March 15.

A: Well, thatís my desire. Peter Casey [WBZís director of news and programming] seems to think that until my voice is much, much better, audiences wonít be able to abide it. I think this is untrue. I think people would rather have me on the air with a deficient voice than not have me on the air at all.

And Iím concerned that the voice may never get better. Thereís no guarantee with throat radiation. Iím more than my voice. Johnny Most had a terrible voice, and everybody loved Johnny. Jimmy Durante. Bob Dylan. They have succeeded without great voices.

Q: Whatís been hardest about not being on the air?

A: Having all these wonderful topics go unremarked upon. Dean up and down, the Kerry thing, the same-sex-marriage thing, all sorts of wonderful topics would have been covered. I chat about them with friends, but I miss having that opportunity to talk with the audience.

Q: Where do you stand on gay marriage?

A: Not surprisingly, I think that it isnít governmentís business to decide who can do it. Religions should decide as they see fit, but in terms of the government, it should be anything that adults, couples, wish to do. Period. The notion that marriage, if the word is used, somehow destroys your marriage, because of some lesbian couple down the road ó it doesnít make sense. Itís a childish argument.

Q: How does your recent ordeal compare with what you went through 10 years ago?

A: I probably have obliterated in my memory some of the stuff from í94. But I think I didnít have as extended a period of really excruciating pain as I did with this one. The throat radiation, coupled with the chemotherapy, led to such pain in my throat ó inability to swallow or eat or talk ó and that went on for months. Only recently has that begun to ease. It still hurts a lot to swallow. But itís better. So I would say, probably, that this has been worse. Also, Iím nine and a half years older.

Q: I saw you at the governorís Christmas party, and you seemed to be on the mend. Yet I understand you had one of your worst setbacks right after that.

A: Yeah, I did. It was the 21st of December. It was only 10 days in the hospital. But it was back to not being able to eat, being fed by a tube, being given transfusions of red blood, white, and platelets. And I felt for a very brief period that I really didnít want to go through this anymore. I really didnít care if I lived or died.

I was in the hospital for Thanksgiving, for Christmas. I thought, will I be there for New Yearís Eve as well? Iíd had a rather fanciful notion that somehow I would never have to go back into the hospital again, and have a real pleasant New Yearís Eve, and go to New Orleans on the fifth of January with my French friend who was coming to visit ó none of that was possible. And I thought, does it ever end? Well, it does. And it has, more or less.

Q: Youíve been living with serious illness since your mid 40s. How has that changed you?

A: I think that it helps focus the attention on the fragility of life and the necessity to live it fully. I think Iíve become a more balanced person in many ways. Certainly much less ideological. Because when you go through a lot of real trouble, you tend to challenge your conception that you know all. I think it makes for a more mature individual. Although it may just be decrepitude. Maybe Iíve lost the spark of life. [Laughs.]

Q: How has talk radio changed since the í70s, when you got started?

A: There are a lot more of us out there, so no one person in any large city dominates. Secondly, it seems to me that things have gotten much nastier.

Q: Whoís the worst talk-show host in America?

A: Oh, God, I donít know. Mike Savage seems to come pretty close to it. Heís ghastly.

Q: Whoís the second-best?

A: Paul Sullivan. There you go. Okay? Iím a company man.

Issue Date: February 27 - March 4, 2004
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