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Jeff Beauchamp, vice president and station manager of Baltimore's powerhouse WBAL radio, is leaving the station after almost 34 years on the job. His last day at WBAL, the 50,000-watt broadcast outlet that he helped transform from an adult contemporary music operation into one of the most honored news-talk stations in the country, will be next Friday.

"The company presented me with a package that is fair, and I'll be doing some consulting work for WBAL radio in the months and year ahead," the 58-year-old Beauchamp said Thursday.

"This is a great company to work for, and the proof of that is that they put up with me for 34 years - but I wanted to be here every day for those 34 years. This place is like a part of me. I've been here over half my life, so I have a lot of emotions right now."

Beauchamp, who joined the station as a news anchor in 1976, said, "The thing I think I'm most proud of is being part of the transition of WBAL from a station that played music and had a lot of other kinds of programming that they called Adult Contemporary to a news-talk station."

During Beauchamp's tenure, WBAL radio won 19 national Edward R. Murrow Awards - more than any other local station in the country. The Murrow Awards for news and public affairs programming are among the most prestigious in radio.

"The change to news-talk was an evolutionary process, and it wasn't always easy," Beauchamp said. "But along the way, I was able to work with people and hire people like Dave Durian and Ron Smith."

Describing Beauchamp, who hired him in 1984, as "one of the most widely respected broadcast executives" in the country, Smith said, "Jeff Beauchamp, in a very real sense, made my career possible."

"This truly is the end of an era," Smith said Thursday. "Personally, I'm losing a manager, a mentor and friend from our work family. Our family is grieving."

Calling Beauchamp a "guardian of free speech," the conservative host said coming out against the war in Iraq "cost" the station 30 percent of Smith's audience.

"Never did Jeff presume to tell me to rethink my position - never did he tell me what to say, or what not to say," Smith said.

No one has worked closer with Beauchamp than executive producer Mike Wellbrock, who has been at the station 26 years.

"Jeff is a natural leader," Wellbrock said. "He's the type of boss who would run interference and block so others could score touchdowns. And then he wouldn't take any credit."

Both WBAL radio and TV are owned by Hearst Television Inc., which consists of 26 TV stations and 2 radio stations. The company's two radio outlets are both in Baltimore - WBAL-AM and WIYY-FM.

It's no secret that WBAL radio, like many media outlets, has felt the effects of a terrible economy and vast change in listener habits brought about by technology - especially during the past year.

In January, the station laid off sports talk show host Steve Davis to shed his six-figure contract.

WBAL has been buying out employees in what one industry analyst described as "dribs and drabs" during the past year.

Beauchamp's separation package was not a part of any widespread buyout at the station.

Ed Kiernan, WBAL's general manager and the person to whom Hearst Television referred calls yesterday did not return calls from The Baltimore Sun.

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