Michael Benner Rises
to Ageless Wisdom
From Underground Radio
you have been around the AOR/Talk world in L.A. for the past quarter
of a century, you know the name of Michael Benner. Michael is
a product of underground radio who somehow found a manageable
fit in the corporate radio world. If you are a liberal, you will
remember Michael. If
you have pondered the ageless wisdom of the great thinkers of
all time and attended one of his seminars, you will remember Michael.
If you have spent any personal time with this big, burly, huggable
bear-like being, you won't soon forget Michael Benner.
a decade Michael hosted a weekend talk show at KLOS. He crossed
the hallway at the ABC compound on La Cienega and subbed for Michael
Jackson, Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur. Michael would fm-talk on
KLOS and then head next door to KABC to do the Dodger post-game
news. If this sounds like a split personality, his radio journey
started just as fm radio was emerging.
grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan. "We were right on the lake
opposite Chicago," Michael told me over breakfast recently.
"When I was five, I had a cigar box filled with radio parts.
I used to sit behind the tv set and I would have my brother turn
it on so I could watch the tubes light up. I've always been fascinated
with radio and tv. I just thought there was something magical
there." Michael's father was an electrical engineer, which
may explain some of his fascination with the radio and tv.
began his college studies at Michigan State in 1966. "I started
out as a business major, but when I flunked my first business
class, I went to my counselor and changed my major to broadcasting."
He went into news because there was no fm. "My voice was
too deep and I couldn't talk fast enough to be a jock." So
after two years of campus radio at MSU, he joined the news staff
at WILS-Lansing where he worked until graduation in 1970.
1971, a new experiment was being launched in Detroit. It was the
first, full-time news/talk fm station. Management was looking
for youth and attitude, not the traditional Cronkite-type presentation.
A young Michael Benner moved to Motown and joined the young staff,
somewhat apprehensive about leaving the comfortable surroundings
of rural Michigan. Following his first night shift he went to
a diner on 8-Mile Drive. He was mugged. Michael grew up in a hurry.
ABC fm station in Detroit, WRIF, was making noise with an Album
Oriented Rock format and Michael left WDRQ for 'RIF as news director.
"It was a strange time. WRIF was a counter-culture rock radio
station owned by a big corporation. ABC was struggling with balancing
this 'underground' station with a successful Dick Purtan-led WXYZ
and ABC O&O WXYZ/Channel 7, so it changed the call letters
from WXYZ-FM to WRIF-FM.
were a bunch of weirdoes with freaky hair, lava lamps, and incense,
smoking pot on the air with corporate security protecting us."
It didn't last long. ABC hired Lee Abrams, then just 18 years
old, to come in and take control of the programming. "The
first thing he did was make us read liner cars. 'Hi, I'm fill
in the blank, and this is Rock 'n' Stereo, WRIF." We had
naively thought that if we got ratings, management would leave
us alone. Didn't happen.
ripped out all the beads, day-glow posters, tapestries, and table
lamps from the air studio. He turned on the florescent lights
and removed the switch. He even had the thermostat moved to his
office and set permanently on 68 degrees so there wouldn't be
any sleepy, hippy dippy jocks on his airwaves." Michael admitted
that maybe they were all a little crazy, but "Abrams went
fired Michael for refusing to use the word "enemy" in
his newscasts about the war in Vietnam. "They said I was
biased. I told them they were biased. I used the proper terms
like the National Liberation Front and the Peoples Revolutionary
Government. It was correct and appropriate. They were not my enemy.
They never did anything to me, so I got canned. The AFTRA union
sued ABC on my behalf, and we actually won the case."
went across town to WWWW in 1972 where Ira Lipson was running
the AOR format. "We ended up kicking WRIF's butt. We had
a very progressive and loose format. The pd had a 3-ring binder
with every tune that could be played. It was alphabetized by bands.
Under each song were 31 numbers for the days of the month. Each
jock had a different color grease pencil. When you played a tune,
you marked that day's date with your day-part color next to the
title. Four days had to pass before that song could be played
again. It was a wonderful combination of a pd who had control
over his music, yet as jocks, we were still pulling our own tunes,"
day in February, Michael was sitting in the three-story studios
of W4 watching the snow come down and slush on Jefferson Blvd.
He knew the money was in New York and Los Angeles and New York
also had snow. He packed his bags and came looking for Annette
Funicello, the Beach Boys, Malibu, and movie stars.
early 1976, about six months after arriving in the Southland,
Michael picked up a part-time job doing a public affairs talk
show on KNAC, followed a few months later by an all-night DJ shift
at KWST. "A year later I was fired on 7-7-77. Wish I knew
something about numerology." Three days later John Winnaman,
the gm at KLOS, called and Michael started his decade-long journey
with the AOR station.
Winnaman died shortly after Michael arrived and Bill Sommers took
over the station. He and Michael had their clashes. "One
day Bill called me in and demanded to know why I used the word
'Somocista' instead of freedom fighter to refer to the US-backed
forces opposing the new Nicaraguan government. I told Bill that
all their top commanders were recruited from the remnants of the
death squads maintained by the dictator Anastasio Somoza before
the revolution. I told him it was all documented in the Congressional
Record and that the proper term was, in fact, 'Somocista.' But
I thought here we go again -- like the 'enemy thing' in Detroit
always remember asking Bill, 'Don't you want me to be the best
newsman I can be and tell the most complete, balanced and accurate
truth I can tell?' He said, 'No, I want you to sound like everybody
else in town.'"
never signed a personal services contract while at KLOS. "Bill
and the company put a lot of pressure on me to sign a contract.
I told him that if I signed it, I wouldn't have any civil rights.
I couldn't oppose the war. I couldn't stand up in church and praise
God. I couldn't write a book without asking ABC's permission.
It was totally lopsided." And then came one of those defining
moments in one's career. "Bill leaned over his desk and asked
me, 'You want to be successful, don't you?' Without thinking --
and I have no idea where it came from -- I said, 'Bill, my success
is guaranteed. I'll either be successful here or I'll go down
the street. This is not about my success.' I walked out of his
office feeling twelve feet tall and worked there for eight more
loved working at KLOS. "Tommy Hadges was probably the best
pd I ever worked for. He not only was a great pd, but he treated
people right. He could take your show away or cut your hours and
you'd thank him. He just had that way about him."
across the hallway from KLOS was Michael's idol, Michael Jackson.
"He was the ultimate talk show guy on the biggest station
in the country. To me, there's Paul Harvey and Michael Jackson.
One of the most exciting days in my career was the first day I
sat-in for Michael on KABC and the ABC Talk Net. That was the
ultimate rush for me."
Benner's time at KLOS ended, he rented a cottage six thousand
feet up on Pine Mountain west of Frazier Park. "I sat up
there for two and a half years thinking about radio and my career.
I thought about deregulation and worried about the trend toward
greater media consolidation. I had just turned forty. It felt
like half-time -- a good time to reassess."
much reading and self-searching, Michael was looking for an answer
on what he could do if he didn't do radio. An answer eventually
came to him that radio would be an avocation. His love affair
for AOR and fm radio was gone. It had gone corporate. He felt
all the magic of radio had disappeared. The fun and magic that
he fell in love with as a kid sitting on the floor in his Michigan
home had changed so radically that he needed a new direction.
Michael didn't want to get to the point of hating what he loved
Michael became a teacher, a coach to help individuals overcome
stress and anxiety. During the past decade he has conducted standing
room only all-day seminars on personal growth. "It is a non-therapeutic,
educational approach to the same goals that psychotherapy addresses.
We use deep relaxation, visualization, and suggestion for accelerated
learning. I thought I could do in eight to ten private sessions
what therapists were taking three to five years to do.
wanted to take self-hypnosis, meditation, bio-feedback, yoga,
martial arts and sports psychology and bring them together in
an educational way. It's all the same thing. You close your eyes,
relax and visualize. You received insight, intuition, creativity,
inspiration, revelation and conceptual understanding and then
project and affirm."
believes that if you can visualize it, you can do it. He recalled
a story at the time of the opening of the Epcot Center in Orlando.
Roy Disney stood up and said it was too bad that Walt wasn't there
to see this. A few minutes later, Walt's widow addressed the crowd
and said, "If Walt hadn't seen it, it wouldn't be here."
has a mystical view of religion. "It is clear to me that
Christ studied Buddhism, the Hindu Yoga philosophies, and the
ancient Greek philosophers. When Christ was 12 they spirited him
away. It's thought he went to England because Joseph of Arimathea,
thought by some to be Mary's uncle, owned tin mines in the Glastonbury
area. And throughout Asia there are legends still told of Christ's
visits there as a young man," said Michael.
satisfaction comes now on a one-to-one basis. "When somebody
after eight sessions says I don't have A.D.D. anymore, or I'm
much less depressed -- that's when the satisfaction comes."
the road from Michigan to self-awareness and then teaching how
to heal the hurt has been a fascinating one for this LARP. "I
want to heal the old hurt, the false assumptions from childhood,
and the futility of trying to please unpleasable people. We heal
the hurt very quickly and from there it is a cascading effect.
Soon we touch the subtler feelings that reveal our authentic identity
as unique individuals. Then the true side of us shines. We let
go of the ego and the old self and we find the true, spiritual
self -- the higher self, the soul."
has a weekly program about Spirituality and Mysticism on KPFK
(90.7fm) called Inner Vision. This afternoon (1-23-04), from 1:00
to 2:00 PM, Michael's guest will be Jim Ladd from KLOS and KMET
fame. "We'll talk about his legendary radio career, the current
state of the medium, and his overt criticism of the centralization
of radio ownership." Next week, on Friday, January 30th,
from 1:00 to 2:00 PM his mentor Michael Jackson will be in-studio
to continue the discussion of the state and plight of commercial
Vision is broadcast live with calls from listeners on KPFK at
90.7fm in Southern California, and 98.7fm in Santa Barbara, and
streaming worldwide on www.KPFK.org.
Michael lives in Santa Clarita with his beautiful wife, Doreen,
and their two cats. You can find out more about his personal and
spiritual development classes and private counseling from Michael's
web page: www.TheAgelessWisdom.com.