WGY's Chuck Custer Announces Retirement


Let me try to be succinct. It won't be easy after 36+ years. I am not sick. I am not unhappy. I am not being pushed out the door. But...I am choosing to walk out the door. I'm retiring. My last day on air will be December 18th.

It's not a decision I make lightly. I love my job. I love working with Kelly and our world-class producer, Rachel Davis, as well as the great WGY News team and our Program Director Jeff Wolf. It's just time.  

During my last annual physical, while complaining about some minor aches or pains, my doctor, without any emotion, matter-of-factly stated, "Well you're no spring chicken". Ouch. I know I'm not young but in my mind, I sure don't feel old. 

The fact is, I'll turn 64 in March and I'm well aware that tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.  

The job is great. The hours are horrible. I look forward to sleeping later than 2:45am on weekdays. My wife just retired. Our granddaughter lives out of town and we miss her terribly. We want to move closer to her and avoiding another brutal Albany winter isn't such a bad idea either. It's time to prioritize and seek out the more important and meaningful aspects of life.

Working at WGY has truly been a dream come true.  I've always had an interest in news and always loved radio. I never wanted to do anything else for a living (we refer to each other affectionately as "Radio Geeks").  

I grew up in Western Massachusetts and was always well aware of the power, talent, success and heritage that surrounded WGY. In 1984, I was working, quite happily, in Providence, Rhode Island. I thought working in Boston one day would be cool. Providence at the time was the 26th largest radio market in the country and the perfect spot from which to jump to Boston. 

But I caught a break. WGY News Director Brian Whittemore, who gave me my first full-time professional radio job in Utica, called and made me an offer to do some newscast anchoring and reporting. I was smart enough to take it and thrilled to join a crew of people far more talented and experienced than I was. True legends such as Dick Beach, Peter Rief, Ilene Marder, and the late Jeff Gluck among others.  

I was lucky they let me in the building let alone permitted me to go on air. In typical media fashion, my first day was on a holiday, Memorial Day 1984. Back then, even the other "new kids" on the news team were super-talented and true pros at very young ages (Diane Ward, Tim Higgins, Julia Hernandez and longtime CBS "World News Roundup" anchor Steve Kathan among them). What a talented and fun crew. We did some great work.

I've made some of my own luck but I certainly have been lucky. It's a big advantage to work with talented people and be associated with a "winner."  I've also had some great mentors, including former program directors Tom Parker and Greg Foster, and retired Minnesota Public Radio legend Bob Collins, who took me under his wing when he worked in Pittsfield. 

I've also been a beneficiary of very good timing. In the 80's, radio news anchors tended to be stiff and presentational. But WGY was always ahead of the curve. Anchors were allowed (within reason) to have some personality and I was fortunate to be allowed to develop an on-air persona with some great hosts including Bob Cudmore, Dave Greene, Harry Downie and Joe Gallagher. That opportunity eventually turned into the lucky break of a lifetime, working as the "news guy" and quasi-sidekick to the GREAT Don Weeks.  Don and I had 20 great, ridiculously fun and successful years together and I miss him to this day. When Don retired, I caught another break. WGY management took a chance on Kelly and me to succeed (not replace) Don. Thank you Kristen Delaney and John Cooper. 

I will forever be grateful to the audience for giving us a chance. They hung with us before we even knew what kind of show we wanted to do. We don't usually brag about the ratings (it's tacky and there's really no listener benefit) but for the vast majority of the time we've been on the air, including during those early uncertain first few months,  we've been at-or-near the top of the ratings, more often than not the most-listened to morning radio show in the Capital Region.    

Over the past 36 years I've also had the opportunity to take on new challenges, at various times serving as News Director, Program Director and helping usher in the digital age, and I was fortunate to be intimately involved in some great charitable endeavors in the community as well as the annual "WGY Radiothon for the Children's Hospital at Albany Med." and "WGY Christmas Wish-Presented by Curtis Lumber". It kept me invigorated and fresh. I'm particularly proud of some of the work we did as a true News TEAM. Together we won three dozen awards for excellence in journalism, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards. I had a lot of great people who made my job easier and made me look good. Among them, Jim Gagliardi, Dan Miller, Bob Eller, Bonnie Petrie, Aaron Brilbeck, Tom Rigatti, John Craig, Read Shepherd, Diane Donato, Matt Delsignore, Maria Leaf, Doug Myers, Dawn Spicer, Ali Skinner, Mike Patrick and Peter MacArthur.

Fast forward to today. It's tough to walk away from the show Kelly and I have worked so hard to build. The show is healthy, our sponsors have been loyal and a true godsend. To all of them, I say thank you so much for having faith in us and trusting us to help build your businesses. I'm proud to have been associated with you.  

I still think I have something left in the tank.  But my wife Linda, who's been my rock and a huge supporter all these years, quite correctly convinced me the time to go is now.  I'm still young enough (relatively speaking) to take on a lot of new adventures. As well as her loving guidance and counsel, I thank her for putting up with the disruptive hours and my obsession with my work, especially the last 10 years. She's also helped me come to the realization that I'm actually mortal. I had a cancer scare last year, but I just celebrated one-year cancer-free with an excellent prognosis. Unfortunately, we know cancer can hit anyone at any time. I got a bigger wake-up call...a big surprise...in February. I had a minor stroke. It was shocking. My doctor says I'm in good shape even though, of course, I'm "no spring chicken." While I'm embarrassed to admit I'm 30 pounds over my ideal weight, I left my partying days of the 70's and 80's behind and a stroke was the last thing I expected. I don't smoke, I don't have high blood pressure and I don't have a family history that would lead me to believe I'd be at risk. I mention this now as an opportunity to publicly thank Kelly and Rachel. While I consider myself fully recovered (I tire a bit more easily these days and can get dates and times confused when I'm fatigued) I was not nearly as functional when I returned to work a day after the stroke. I stupidly ignored my wife's advice (and Kelly's too), and returned to work too soon. Getting through the show was a struggle at first but Kelly and Rachel stepped up, helped cover for me and got me through it. I'm forever grateful to them. 

I've written a lot of words here. I truly don't enjoy talking about myself, but after 36+ years I thought I owed it to you to explain what's happening and why. Thanks to all of you who have been so kind and generous with your support for the show and the great WGY charities. I'll miss almost everything about my time here except that damned 2:45am wake-up call. 

I'm blessed. It's been a blast. I can't thank you enough. -Chuck