Well-known local radio personality steps back from the mic
When Kevin Benson was a young boy in Winthrop, Minnesota, he wanted to be one of three things when he grew up. An airline pilot, owner of a sports store, or a radio announcer.
Now after 42 years in radio 41 of them at KBEW radio in Blue Earth Benson will retire on Dec. 12, his 65th birthday.
“I want everyone to know that this has nothing to do with the new ownership here at KBEW,” Benson says. “They are good people to work for, and they are very experienced in ownership of stations in small markets like Blue Earth. But, eventually you feel one thing it’s time.”
It was music that first led Benson to radio.
“I loved to listen to popular music,” he recalls. “And radio intrigued me from an early age. I loved listening to radio, the Stones, Beatles and Credence. And I thought, you know, it would be fun to be on the radio.”
So, after graduating from Winthrop High School, he headed to Mankato State University for a degree in mass communications, and a job as the manager of the college radio station KMSU.
Then it was time to find a real job, he says.
“It was Sept. 15, 1975, that (then KBEW owner) Paul Hedberg hired me,” Benson remembers. “It was a strange job interview. We just chatted about various things until he said, ‘well, you’re hired.’ It was after I had worked a while that I realized he had never said how much I was going to be paid. Turned out it wasn’t much.”
Years later, Benson reminded Hedberg of that low starting salary. Hedberg laughed and said, “Well, that was probably what you were worth.”
“I started by doing all sorts of things, like writing copy for commercials, doing some announcing, even did the suppertime news,” he says. “Eventually I did even more, like more of the news, the midday shift from 10 to 1. I did the remotes, recorded commercials and even did some sports.”
Then in 1991 Benson left KBEW and spent one year working at the New Ulm radio station doing sales. After that he returned to Blue Earth and continued doing sales.
“Sales is a tough job,” Benson says. “I have the utmost admiration for anyone in sales, whether it is cars, radio commercials or newspaper ads. It can be hard or easy, depending on your ability.”
In February of 1996, long-time KBEW morning announcer and station manager Roy Haven left and Benson became the general manager and continued with full time sales. He is grateful to station owner at the time, Jerry Papenfuss, for giving him that opportunity.
“I have loved my job, couldn’t wait to go to work each day,” Benson says. “The best part has been the people. I have been blessed with working with a very good staff over the years. They have all been dedicated, highly professional people and I hold them all in high regard.”
One of his fellow employees, Diane Holland, is retiring just two weeks before Benson does. She has been at the KBEW radio station for 28 years as the office manager.
Benson says there have been many highlights in his career, but there are a couple that stand out.
“I was news director in 1984 when Walter Mondale was Democratic party nominee for president,” Benson says. “There was a media circus going on, but I was fortunate to get a one-on-one interview with him, and he was great.”
Then years later, in 2013, Mondale returned to his boyhood home in Elmore for an all-school reunion, and Benson was able to interview him live on the radio again, as the two watched the parade together.
“I asked him if I could call him ‘Fritz’ while we talked on the radio, and he said absolutely,” Benson says. “He was down to earth.”
Other highlights include doing wrestling coverage broadcasts with Dick Maher, especially in the days Blue Earth Area won state titles. And doing the broadcasts when the Blue Earth Pirates won the amateur baseball title.
Now that he is going to be retired, Benson says he is asked what he is going to do in retirement.
“I plan to ride my bike more, and go to baseball games I love baseball and want to do those charter baseball tours,” he says. “And I have a lifetime of reading to catch up on.”
Benson says he and his wife, Becky, plan on doing a lot traveling, something they have not done much of in the past. Becky Benson retired from teaching a couple of years ago.
They will see their two daughters a lot more, Benson says. They are Stacey, who is 36, and works for a law firm, and will graduate from law school on Jan. 7, and Samantha, 30, who is a special agent for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and monitors sex offenders.
Benson says he and his wife also had a son, Zachery, who was born with multiple health issues and passed away at eight months old. It is a painful memory still, he said.
Benson says he looks back and thinks he was always destined to be a radio announcer.
“It wasn’t just my love of music,” he says. “I was a good student but I was getting in trouble for being a smart aleck. I thought I was just witty and clever.”
And there is one more thing he is going to do in retirement.
“Some people know this about me, but some don’t,” he says. “I am a huge Jackson Browne fan. I have seen him perform live in concert 15 times. And if there is a Jackson Browne concert within 200 miles of Blue Earth, I’ll be there.”