WBT-AM losing voice of Al Gardner

Al Gardner, as solid a piece of morning rush hours as the daily jam on I-485, will be leaving the WBT-AM (1110) "Charlotte's Morning News" microphone at the end of the month.

Gardner, 64, will be returning to his native Philadelphia as vice president of programming for Merlin Media's newly-acquired WKDN-FM, which the company is expected to convert from religious programming to all-news.

"This is a pinch-me job," Gardner said Friday. "It couldn't be better."

Gardner had been doing some consulting for Merlin Media, which was formed this year and operates news stations in Chicago and New York. An agreement to purchase WKDN in Philadelphia was announced this week.

WBT agreed to let him out of his contract, which had a year left to run, Gardner said. His last day on the air will be Dec. 30. He joined WBT in 1997 from a station in Atlanta.

After Gardner's departure, sports anchor Jim Szoke will take a larger role in the morning show with co-host Stacey Simms, said Carl East, WBT's program director.