Michael Benner Rises 
to Ageless Wisdom
 From Underground Radio

If 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.
For 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.
Michael 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.
He 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.
In 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.
The 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.
"We 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.
"Abrams 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 too far."
WRIF 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."
Michael 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," remembered Michael.
One 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.
In 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.
John 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 during Vietnam.
"I'll 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.'"
Michael 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 years."
Michael 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."
Working 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."
When 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."
With 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 so much.
So 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.
"I 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."
Michael 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."
Michael 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.
Michael's 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."
Well, 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."
Michael 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 radio.
Inner 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.

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E-mail - MB@theagelesswisdom.com

 

 

 

 


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This page was updated on Monday, January 26, 2004 11:55 AM