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A blast from the past

Boston WBZ radio icon Gary LaPierre returns — if only for just a week

Radio newscaster Gary LaPierre walks with his wife, Peg, at their Ipswich home. Radio newscaster Gary LaPierre walks with his wife, Peg, at their Ipswich home. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / January 6, 2011

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IPSWICH — Gary LaPierre pulled into his driveway late one December morning looking well-rested and cheerful. No sign that he had been on the air at WBZ-AM (1030) at 5 a.m. This was his first week on the morning shift in four years, filling a temporary vacancy created by the retirement of his successor, Ed Walsh. It was going well, but . . .

“One week is enough,’’ he said with a laugh.

“I did the morning for 43 years, the only shift I ever worked at ’BZ, basically,’’ said LaPierre, 68. “I loved working in the morning. That’s the prime time in radio, obviously, and you want to be on in prime time. But the toll is, you get up at three o’clock in the morning, which is second only to getting to bed on time in terms of difficulty.’’

The night before, the Patriots were on “Monday Night Football,’’ but he had to hit the hay before halftime. “I thought, why am I doing this? I retired four years ago. I don’t have to do this anymore. But I agreed to do the five days, so I’ll get through it.’’

He is a Boston broadcasting icon, his career spanning the Beatles’ 1964 arrival in Boston — one of the 22-year-old LaPierre’s first ’BZ assignments — and the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Bringing him back, however briefly, was a good attention-getter for the station, said WBZ’s director of news and programming, Peter Casey.

“He’s got longevity; people grew up with him,’’ Casey said. “And when you grow up with somebody on radio or television, and you invite them into your home and your car, there’s a certain intimacy that comes with that. They feel like they know you. People feel like they commuted with Gary all those years, almost as if he was sitting next to them.’’

Add that resonant voice, good news judgment, and a sense of what people care about in the morning, and you have a memorable presence, Casey said.

LaPierre said he’s quite content with his life of leisure, splitting his time between his homes here and on the beach in St. Augustine, Fla.: “My favorite part of the day is about four in the afternoon when I say, ‘What are we going to have for dinner tonight?’ ’’ He does much of the cooking for himself and his wife, Peg.

LaPierre is a Shelburne Falls native, and his mother and two brothers still live in that area. He and his wife have two sons and four grandchildren. They lived in Reading for many years, moving to Ipswich when they became empty-nesters. Local favorites include Crane Beach, the Choate Bridge Pub, and the restaurant Ithaki.

For the last nine years he has lived behind the gates of the Ipswich Country Club, where winding streets snake between fairways. But LaPierre has never teed off, here or anywhere else.

“I shudder at the thought of playing golf,’’ he said. “I just have no interest. People always said I had the ideal setup for it, I was through at noon, but . . . I don’t want to.’’

The choice of a country club home, he said, was more about having a “turnkey’’ lifestyle where the couple can take off for Florida whenever they want. “I’ve had enough of mowing lawns and maintaining pools and shoveling snow,’’ he said. “We can decide this afternoon, ‘Let’s take off for a month,’ and boom, we lock the door and go.’’

He has resurrected a different hobby, though. LaPierre said he worked his way through Grahm Junior College by playing drums in the Combat Zone and elsewhere, and he’s picked up the sticks again. He still favors big band jazz, but he does his playing on Roland electronic drums.

“They’re totally silent unless you turn the switch to the amplifier. My wife can sit across from me and watch television, and I’m wailing away to the music in the headset,’’ he said with a grin.

Among LaPierre’s other amusements now is a blog, Trained Observer (http://garylapierre.blogspot.com), where he cheerfully crosses the line between news and opinion in much the same way he did with his “LaPierre on the Loose’’ commentaries on the air. Venting in the blog is “cheaper than hiring a psychologist,’’ he says. But prod him a little and he admits he’s concerned about the Internet and the new world of journalism, where anybody with a computer can be a reporter, without accountability.

Casey said the two men have communicated regularly since LaPierre’s 2006 retirement, and LaPierre still does voiceovers and other incidental work for the station. It only took a couple of e-mails to bring him back. Casey happily admits he had another agenda: The week included the last days of a ratings period.

“Other radio stations can send their morning teams out to do stunts and things like that, but that’s not what a news station should do. So I thought, ‘What can we do to attract some attention to ourselves?’ and I thought this was about as good an idea as I came up with,’’ Casey said by phone, a few days after LaPierre’s week ended.

Casey has a folder on his computer filled with resumes and mp3 files from prospective morning anchors. He expects to make a decision soon, but he knows LaPierre won’t be back.

“I said, ‘One of the reasons you’re having so much fun with this is that you know on Friday it’s over, and on Monday you don’t have to get up again,’ ’’ Casey said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s probably got something to do with it.’ ’’

“Somebody said, ‘You’re the Brett Favre of radio,’ ’’ LaPierre said. “I said there’s one thing different. If Brett Favre comes back as an old guy, there’s about six 300-pounders looking to take his head off. I don’t have to worry about that.’’

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@gmail.com.

Three other north-of-Boston residents were named to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame last year.

Dale Dorman, of Tewksbury, rocked Boston for 40 years, making his name as the upbeat morning host at WRKO-AM (680) from 1968-78, the heyday of AM rock. He later starred on WXKS-FM (108) and WODS-FM (103.3).

S. James Coppersmith, of Marblehead, was honored for his local television career, notably his decade-plus leading WCVB-TV (Ch. 5) beginning in 1982, when news and local programs such as “Chronicle’’ were nurtured.

Bruce Arnold, of Methuen, was recognized for his 45 years in radio as a host and program manager, primarily at WCCM-AM (1110) in the Merrimack Valley, where he was first hired in 1959.