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Chad Benson Is Changing The Conversation

Benson hosts his morning show on KTAR, and later, he has the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 2-6 p.m. on weekdays.

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He’s not Joe Exotic, but he’s kind of a lizard king. He’s not quite as festooned as Pete Davidson of SNL, but he’s on his way. 

“I love to get ink,” says Chad Benson. With tattoos, he says you’re either in for a penny or in for a pound. “They’re addicting,” he says. “I like to wear my art on the outside.”

He gets his love of ink honestly, as his father had tattoos, and many of his friends have them as well. “If I wanted a new tattoo, friends told me to put the idea in a figurative drawer for a couple of months. If I still wanted it two months later, then I should get it.”

Benson’s left arm tells an entire story. His next tattoo will be an indelible part of him soon.

“I’m getting one of those old-school microphones,” Benson said. “Like the one, David Letterman had on his desk.”

Oh, and the lizard thing.

“If anybody listens to my show, they know I love lizards. I always have.”

If he gets a tattoo of a lizard, he’ll be the happiest guy in the world. His kids love the lizards too. “Some lizards are tough to get and expensive,” Benson explained.

Benson, his lizards, and tattoos are very busy. He hosts his show on KTAR in Phoenix in the afternoon, and starts each morning hosting the nationally syndicated “The Chad Benson Show” on Radio America from 9a-12p PT.

When he was young, he was also a pretty talented jock, playing some professional soccer in Europe. Benson was signed by the Bristol Rovers, the Falkirk Scotland, and the Portsmouth Football Club.

“It certainly was fun,” Benson said. “I’m pretty certain I went further in soccer because of my drive rather than talent.” He said there weren’t as many Americans in the game when he played; it was a different scene.

After getting hurt a couple of times, he asked himself what career could he go into where he could still wear shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and not tear up his knee. It came down to a choice between beach-bum and radio.

“I came into talk radio in a different way,” Benson explained. “I never wanted to be the ‘next’ Rush Limbaugh; I just wanted to be me. They say you’re the ‘next’ so-and-so just because you’re younger. You’re not really doing anything much different.”

On his shows and in life, Benson said he likes to stay grounded. “I grew up in Los Angeles, and most of my friends are progressives,” he said. “We don’t base our friendships on politics. We just talk. I look around, and we all live in this insane world.” 

Benson said a lot of folks just want to argue over the dumbest things, but all they really want to do is argue. “I’ve got news for you; you’re not always going to get everything we want.”

There’s too much-misinformed emotion in the world, he says. “You can’t start a conversation by calling the other person a piece of shit. I’m a fact-based guy, and I’ll look at the other side.” 

In that manner speaking, Benson’s neighborhood isn’t very crowded.

“I like to say we’re in the ‘exhausted majority,” Benson said. “It’s funny when people say you don’t care about something if you don’t pick a side. Some say you’re wearing a mask to stop a virus, or you wear one because you hate Trump. It’s insane.”

After a bit of prodding, I asked Benson if he thought most News/Talkers believed in most of the stuff they peddle or if it was part of their job. 

“In general, I would say a majority of them are full of it, and they know it,” Benson said. “The scary question is, does the audience know it? I’m friends with several ‘talkers,’ and they’re not over the top in real life. They understand it’s a job, and they have to sell tickets.” He said it goes the other way. Some hosts act like they’re all progressive, but he knows them better.

On-air or off, Benson has some concerns about who we are collective. 

“Yes, we are pretty stupid on the whole,” he said. “We’re no longer coming at things in an honest conversation. We have to win the discussion or argument. It’s about beating the other side, not being right. Most would rather win on something small then you’d have something over others. All they care about is the ‘win’ and did I beat the other side.” 

Benson reminded me that even gladiators didn’t kill other gladiators–it was bad for business. He said part of the argumentative equation is we don’t hold people accountable any longer. 

“People just move on from a situation,” he said. “All that matters is how loud you are. When Radio America syndicated me, they said it was important to change the conversation.” Benson said his show isn’t about being a one-trick pony. Instead, he shoots for a mix, say a goal of 75% politics, and 25% of what everybody else is talking about. 

“We talk about the Johnny Depp trial, Roe vs. Wade. I have a super-young audience, and it really doesn’t skew hard right or left. I have a lot of independent listeners, so we don’t want to pigeonhole our content.”

When he’s not talking about Depp’s wife defecating in their marital bed or the Supreme Court leaks, Benson says he likes spending time with his family. But don’t invite him to a baseball game; it’s not going to happen.

“Baseball is so boring. Pitching changes, what shift is on. Who cares?”

Other than me and Alexander Doubleday, I can’t say.

Benson worked as a producer for Robert W. Morgan in the latter years of the legends’ career. Morgan was a legendary broadcaster who paved the way for Don Imus and virtually everyone else that followed. 

“Imus even talked like Robert,” Benson said. “The last few years at KRTH with Robert W. weren’t always easy. He was a tough SOB. He wouldn’t last a day in today’s era of ‘wokeness’ or with any human resources department.”

Regardless, Benson said Morgan was brilliant. “He pushed us hard to prepare well for the show. There were three of us producers who watched local television for three hours every night to find things to address. After that, we scoured VHS tapes for a couple of hours and pulled things off for his use on the show.” The cuts would often consist of something stupid the mayor said, and they’d gauge the audience’s reaction. 

“If the audience reacted well, we’d use it a couple of times an hour.”

I’d read a very salient message on one of Benson’s websites. He said we can still purchase Mein Kampf in bookstores, but not some Dr. Seuss selections. 

“That’s the kind of weird world we live in,” Benson said. “This world of ‘wokeness.’ Part of the problem is we’ve allowed the extremes to dominate.”

He likened the state of things to a carnival ride. “You know those big swinging rides that go back and forth like a pendulum? Well, sometimes the sweet spot is right in the middle. We never seem to get that.”

Is he getting tired of the grind of two shows in a day? Hell no.

“I’m 51; I have an 11-year-old and a three-year-old,” Benson begins. “I drive an hour to the station and do some pre-production. After that, I do a show from 6-9. When I’m finished with that, I start prepping for my afternoon show.”

He says he still has time to watch Viking-themed shows on television, play with his lizards and get some new ink now and again.  

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As History Unfolds, It’s Important for News/Talk Radio to Remain Focused on Playing the Hits

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward.

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The age-old radio adage is to “Play the hits”.

It applies more directly to music stations, but the phrase can also relate to sports talk and news/talk. So, suppose you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself behind a microphone on a news/talk station the last couple of weeks. In that case, you might be having an internal conversation about whether you’ve focused too much on the national political discourse since the unforgettable Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden debate on June 27th.

My short answer is: No, you’re not too focused. 

But in an effort to not stop this column at 100 words, I’ll explain further.

I’ve long advocated for focusing your local shows on your local radio markets as much as possible. It will separate your show from the national syndication that can be piped into any station nationwide. Your local flair is what will build your credibility in your community. It’s what will separate you. Local will win. 

And given that it’s been an unusually predictable few months in the election news cycle, there hasn’t been much to lean into on the national political side. Joe Biden was the unimpressive, octogenarian incumbent going up against Donald Trump, who rolled quickly through a primary and was set to be at the top of the Republican ticket for a third-straight election cycle. It was a rematch of 2020, a period in American history most Americans would prefer to forget, given the state of the nation at the time. Unfortunately for many, they are being forced to relive it. 

However, what happened two weeks ago in Atlanta between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has given a massive jolt to an election season that had been relatively boring. Tens of millions of Americans were tuned in that evening, and given Biden’s debate performance, it has kicked off two weeks of speculation of Biden dropping out, party infighting, replacement conversations, various media reports, and drama that we haven’t seen around an incumbent President in an election year since 1968.

It’s cliche, but we are living through history. And your audience is coming to you for the latest on this unfolding history, with opinions, analysis, and an ability to move the story forward engagingly and entertainingly while also, when appropriate, bringing on guests who will provide them with insight they can bring to their conversations with friends, at the water cooler, on group texts and on social media.

In a perfect world, you can also localize these national stories by getting reactions from local officials, reading/playing their social media reactions on your show, or if you’re in a swing state, your options beyond that are unlimited.

But now that we are in a national news cycle that has been on fire, don’t force yourself into local talk. Find your top local stories that are compelling and impacting your radio listener’s day-to-day lives, and work to blend it with the historical moment we find ourselves living through on the national political stage. And always be working your hardest to think of and find new angles, while moving the story forward.

In the end, just like your local CHR station has to play Taylor Swift multiple times an hour, you need to give your audience what they want and “Play the hits.” We’re living through history, after all.

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James Golden AKA Bo Snerdley Relishes New Nationally Syndicated Weekend Show

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”

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(Photo: James Golden)

Radio host, radio executive, producer, author, and a jack of all media trades. Since he was 14-years-old James Golden (AKA Bo Snerdley) has devoted his entire life to the media industry.

The on-air talent’s weekend show —The James Golden Show — just became syndicated through Red Apple Audio Networks.

“I really appreciate having the platform that WABC has provided. It’s a wonderful thing to have a show that’s now in a bunch of different markets and growing! It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Long before Golden hit the airwaves as ‘Bo Snerdley’ on The Rush Limbaugh Show, he was a teenager visiting his cousin, DJ Gerry Bledsoe, at work. “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. So many things happened that day. In fact, that day was when one of the older guys there, the guy who’s had a reputation as being a real grumpy, curmudgeon type guy, for some reason, took a liking to me.”

He let Golden into the show where Golden learned how to cut tape. “It took me a lot of years before I actually got a job, and ironically, it was at the same station, doing marketing and research, looking at ratings and learning how to analyze ratings and learning how to do marketing. Later on, I moved into the programming side and started doing music research.”

James Golden was one of the first in the country to do music research which led him to WABC. There he worked with the station’s transition from music to their first talk program.

“I think in life you’re given the sort of the things that you need to fulfill whatever destiny you have. I had always been interested in news, politics, and all of it. This dual love I had for music, it allowed me to transition when the station changed format and to become their senior producer of news. And it was at ABC some years later that I met Rush Limbaugh. And of course, that turned into a 30-year relationship.”

The Author of “Rush On The Radio,” recalled the first time the pair met. “So my first day working on his show, I brought him some news stories. I was in the habit of doing that before I even worked on his show. I developed a friendship. When I saw something interesting, that I thought he would be interested in and I would take it to him. So it was a smooth transition for me being rotated on the show.”

It wasn’t before long James Golden became Bo Snerdley. “So I walked in, dropped off some stories, and on the way out he says, ‘Well, everybody on this call screen has got to be a Snerdley, have you come up with your name?’ So The Daily News was on his desk, and it was on the sports page. Bo Jackson was in the news for some of the headlines, but I just wasn’t able watch it. So I just said ‘Bo’ and walked out. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, I’d be Bo. But it’s great and I love it. I’m comfortable with either one.”

Golden recalled the time spent with his friend saying, “No words can ever describe it. He was the best that there ever was to me, or ever will be in the industry. His talent, as he said, was on loan from God. But it was something unique. The incredibly intelligent, incredibly hardworking. 30 years in, he still brought it. Even when he was sick, [Rush] did as much of the work that he could to make sure that his show was extremely well researched and well delivered.”

While working on Rush’s show, James Golden also had his own weekend show. He worked 7 days a week for years. Today, he is back at his radio home. “Back at WABC, doing six days on air with them, and it’s just been a wonderful ride for me.”

Throughout the years, the former executive producer turned host has seen significant change in the industry.

“For some people, it’s not as much fun as it used to be. And I’ll just speak frankly about that. When the bean counters took over because of corporate interest — instead of it being a lot of different families with smaller radio groups, it moved into more of a big business — for a lot of people a lot of the fun was taken out of it, because those decisions that used to be made locally are now being made by regional managers or by national managers, some of whom had more of a background in sales and didn’t understand the programing,” he shared.

“So there’s always that schism. And so for a lot of people in the industry, I have friends who have left the industry because it just was no longer fun for them.”

Another big difference? You no longer have to work your way up through the markets.

“You had to work your way up through lower markets to get to a higher market. You don’t have to do that now. People that are just good at what they do, if they have very good communication skills, you can learn how to become [one of the] best radio hosts. There’s only one best radio host and [Rush] passed away, but it is still about your ability to tell a good story. To understand and to I think it really is how much you are in love with the medium yourself.”

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The Difference Between News/Talk Radio Programmer and Bureaucrat

The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets.

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Let’s talk about the worst aspect of every news/talk radio programmer’s job: commercial stops, those designed traffic jams that occur every ten or twenty minutes bringing your excellent content to a dead halt. And so, you wait, knowing full well that you’re losing a significant percentage of your audience to button pushers looking for a station where talkers are still talking and news is still being broadcast.

The way most news and talk radio stations operate today commercial clutter takes up 20-30 minutes of each programming hour. It would be nice to say that’s because your inventory is sold out thanks to great ratings but we know better. It happens because it’s allowed to happen. Some of that load is likely bonus spots and far too much of it consists of recorded promos that use branding phrases begging the listener to wait through the clutter.

Yes, commercials are necessary but there are some things to consider that might make them less annoying and potentially informative and entertaining.

Warning: old fart flashback straight ahead.

When I was a young program director I had the authority to reject any spots that I didn’t feel met our standards. Yes, I’m quite serious. I didn’t exercise the option often but if a spot was of lousy audio quality, badly produced, boring, or even just plain stupid, I could kick it back to the sales exec and/or ad agency and ask them politely to make it better.

You might think that could result in an impolite opposite reaction. It never did, not once. From time to time I talked with an advertiser or his agent and they always said the same thing: You’re the expert. I want my time and money spent well on your station.

Sales execs could get annoyed but usually went along as good teammates without too much grousing. Besides, schmoozing clients with better ideas is part of their art; the best enjoy it.

Often these conversations would lead to brainstorming sessions with the production director. (Remember that creative and crucial position?) Ideas were tossed around, writing began and a highly effective ad was usually the result.

If you’re a program director or air talent today your mind must be reeling. It has probably never occurred to you that you could have the authority to actually determine all of your news/talk station’s programming, not just the words between the breaks, every blessed minute. Why not? You’re responsible for your station’s content 24/7 though you have no control over half of it.

Most program directors in corporate-owned stations today have been hired as functionaries at the end of a long chain of corporate bureaucrats. Your days are filled with layers of programming and sales hierarchies. Presidents have lieutenants, regional and format V.P.s, who send out the memos and convene Zoom meetings to address general issues with generalized answers.

They dive into recent studies and charts for boilerplate policies, seldom suggesting anything bold or of local significance because they can’t, they don’t know your town. The sad part is these people achieved their high positions by successfully programming actual radio stations to real people in specific markets. They’re smart enough to know that what worked in Boston might not fly in Amarillo – except in a vague, general way.

As a local PD today your log is bloated, your programming is filled with syndicated shows, and your hands are tied. 

Unless you have a creative fire in your belly and the guts to assert it.

Dream up great promotions that will excite your audience in your hometown. Enlist the members of your on-air, newsroom, and production staff. Invite them to a pizza place for some brainstorming. Don’t make it mandatory, suggest it will be fun and exciting because it will. Your crew will be happier and bubbling tomorrow. Before long fresh ideas will start trickling in regularly because everyone is enthused, involved, and feeling appreciated. You’ll all make each other’s great ideas even greater. You’re having fun and it’s contagious.

If you can ignite a spark of excitement and faith from your GM and sales department you might find yourself with the programming reigns in both hands.

You weren’t hired to be a clickbait expert, you are a radio expert. You know more about the stuff that comes out of the speakers than anyone else at the station. And you can identify problems and turn them into opportunities. You need to spend your days refining the product, not in endless meetings trying to implement generalized corporate buzzspeak into local program policy.

Attend the Zoom meetings, be a cheerful good soldier but if called upon speak your mind with truth and passion. It’s infectious.

Explain to your boss why you should be allowed to reduce the on-air clutter by as much as half and that you need to spend most of your time every day with your news and talk talent because they’re your stars. It’s why they pay you. The station and the community are all that matters to you.

Tell her/him you’ll read the interoffice memos faithfully and join digital meetings when you can but that the corporate culture will mostly just have to take care of itself.

And, oh, by the way, you need the authority to reject bad radio commercials.

You may not get everything you ask for but I promise you’ll earn some respect.

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