Career Capsule: “Big Wave Dave” James Benzing has worked Christian and General Market Stations around the country including Nashville stations WSIX, WLAC, WRVW and WNRQ. He’s served has Program Director, Assistant Program Director, Copywriter, Chief Coffee Brewer and Grunt. For the last 21 years he’s worked at Salem Media Group-Los Angeles. Dave currently is on the air for KFSH, KKLA and KPRZ. He also serves as Production Director for the Salem-Los Angeles cluster, Co-Hosts with Pastor Greg Laurie on “Refresh” and Co-Hosts with Gina Pastore on, “Real Life.”
Dave, tell us what’s new at KFSH … any news, changes etc… and what’s new with YOU?
We’ve had a nice season where everyone has stayed at their posts, connecting with our audience and building relationships with them. And all of us know how big of a difference that makes from the on-air presentation, relationships with clients, station events and culture within the walls. It’s been very refreshing. I’ve had kids, young listeners (we call them, “Very Important Guppies”) who were 6 or 7 when I moved west from Nashville that are now in their late 20’s, getting married and having VIG’s of their own! They’ll call, check-in, ask for prayer and be incredibly stoked for me to meet their offspring. I eat that up! It’s the tangible circle of life! And to know that we’ve had the chance to experience this journey together and that I (we) have the privilege and honor to impact in such a way puts a big grin on my face. But the reality is, our listeners have impacted ME in such a way that I desire to connect with them even more deeply. And I try new ways to do that every time I open the mic. Then, to welcome new listeners into the fold and we can start the cycle over again.
How do you balance work & family, how important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?
Great question. So, when my four were younger, I would take them everywhere with me: To events, bring them on stage, have them help engineering or promotions at the Station table. I would do my best to bribe them to behave (ice cream, In-N-Out, cold hard cash) and integrate them as often as possible. When they were very young, they would bring their toys and blankets and The Fish tank is large enough where they could spread out and play or take a nap. Again, bribery played a large role when I would go on, live. I would have them chime in during a phone call or two and listeners got a great big kick out of that. Funny—now I have a bank of nearly 3,000 calls and going back through them, I have an audio record of my four growing up. Fast forward to today, I have one that’s learning Welding in Waco, one that graduated BIOLA and another in her Senior year. My eldest, Matt is still at home. He’s just been accepted into a home in Arizona where they work with adults with developmental delays to become independent and thrive. Same stuff Claire and I have been teaching him accept it’s NOT Mom and Dad and that will make a big difference. Finding that balance between work and family can be elusive especially since majority of us are multi-tasking freaks. My best advice is to train up the next generation of broadcasters: Teach them, give them responsibility, hold them responsible and then take a holiday or two or eight. If you were to ask my bride of 33 years how I’ve done with this one, I might have to go hide.
Overall, what is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
“Treat and coach the client so well, that they never want to go another station and record with anyone else!” That piece of advice, given to me 32 years ago by one of the 4,937 sales reps I’ve worked with over the years has immensely served me (and saved my bacon) during my career. And it works in the production room, in the control room, at a remote, on the air broadcasting live from a crusade, at a company party, anywhere. So many accounts have been salvaged because of it. Happiness ensues when a client comes back after going across town to another cluster only to be treated horribly and says something along the lines of,” I only want to work with you.” And I also know the suits appreciate it too.
The worst. Wow. The worst is being told by more than one, in multiple markets and in so many words, that you will never be good enough; That you’ll never amount to anything. And to water down the quality for quantity. There was one, and I remember this like it was yesterday-I can still remember the clothes I was wearing-the room I was in and the cologne I had on when he said it: “You will be nothing without my help.” And the P.D. nodded in agreement. Must have been a General Market station, you say. Nope. Christian. And said from the lips of one trotting from coast to coast, making Christian radio, better. Interesting. I don’t even know where that guy is anymore. Ted—everything should start from a heart of humility. You can be the best! You can make the most! But at some point, it all comes crashing down when you don’t have the bedrock of humility in your life. Humility isn’t weakness. It’s strength. Here’s one more piece of programming advice that works: “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
What’s something you’ve learned due to the pandemic, about Christian Radio, that you didn’t know before?
That even though we’re alone in a control room talking to ourselves, on the other side of the microphone, those airwaves are penetrating hearts. So much anxiety, anger, resentment and fear in the world. And we’re not immune in the Church. That’s why it’s important we craft each break to be real and authentic. It can be a funny bit or a tender one. During the lockdown, I’ve been reminded and relearned the importance of community. How many times have we heard, “I thought you were just talking to me” or, “I heard you talking to that guy stuck on the freeway about his son in the hospital and I want you to know I was moved by that”? We probably don’t even remember doing that break. But they do.
What are your thoughts on podcasting, should all Christian broadcasters have a podcast?…
I look at them as, “a skimmer that I can go back to and listen”. Not to long ago if we missed something, we might be able to find the transcript if we were lucky. Now, with podcasts, anyone can have a voice. I don’t think it’s essential that all broadcasters have a podcast but at the very least, recording a quick video or audio clip and posting to social media can add an extra layer of connection. It goes back to having the time and balancing family with work. Were it not for KPRZ-San Diego having a sponsor for Discovering Joy on The Journey so it airs as a programming element, I don’t think I would be exerting the energy required to research, voice and produce it. Working this has given me a newfound appreciation for guys like Dave Spiker and the team around him in writing, producing, voicing and mixing all the programs he works.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
I have been concerned about this very thing for going on 15 years.
This is a good time for me to encourage and maybe even challenge the suits: Please hire a talent or two that can earn their stripes working an overnight on-air shift. Have that young soul hone their chops in connecting with your audience overnight. Have them grow into taking calls and personalizing liners. Justify having them live overnights by having them keep watch over the other stations in the cluster, taking readings, researching stories for AM Drive talent, brewing coffee, migrating dubs—stuff they can do in that room all the while, crafting their skill set. It will pay off for you, BIGTIME later. Ted, there is no proving ground anymore. That’s where it all started for me. First gig right out of Trevecca and WNAZ, a U-Haul trailer to Virginia Beach. Claire and I survived on the dollar menu at Taco Bell. Not only is it a proving ground for broadcast but it’s a proving ground for life. One day, let me tell you about the time I was working overnights and a curious mouse, nibbling on the ceiling tile above me, fell through, landed on my board, freaked me out so much that I hit my head on a cart rack and passed out. Only to be woken up by the engineer yelling at me from the other side of the closed control room door, (that my knocked-out body was blocking), asking if I was asleep or still alive.
Tell us about your show “Discovering Joy on the Journey”.. how did it come about, concept etc ?
Discovering Joy on The Journey airs on KPRZ in San Diego, Sunday’s at noon. I’ve wanted to challenge fellow Jesus followers to go deeper into knowing why what we know is The Truth, for decades now. It can be easy to fall into staying on the surface. Which is not good: Bad theology or even the enemy can sneak in and destroy us. So, I take quotes from the writings of thinkers and Intellects of the faith like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom, Oswald Chambers, Elisabeth Elliot, Alistair Begg, Voddie Baucham, CS Lewis and others and marry them with songs of artists from the early pioneer days of Jesus Music to today. There is a treasure trove of artistry in our genre that is just rich and yearning to be heard again or be discovered for the first time. Christian Music played a huge role in my mom having the strength to get out of a very toxic and dangerous marriage. I was 7 and my brother was 3. I’m convinced that if my mother had not escaped that relationship, I wouldn’t be here. Nor would my brother. Early on, it was artists like Randy Matthews, Honeytree, Maranatha Singers and 2nd Chapter of Acts. Later, Keith Green, Imperials, Andre Crouch and the Disciples. Because of my bio, I did not trust men. In fact, I hated them. I was horrible to each guy that courted my mom. One day, the man who would become my dad, who took years to model Jesus to me, sold his Mustang and bought a Plymouth Volare. He hitched a trailer to the back of it and we moved 3,000 miles away and never looked back. Growing up in New Hampshire and listening on WOTW to artists like Dallas Holm, Petra, DeGarmo and Key and this up-and-coming Amy Grant and Michael W Smith would be huge influences on me. And artists like Point of Grace, 4Him, Chris Tomlin, Elevation Worship, Newsboys, Phil Wickham, Tauren Wells-their roads were paved by those that went before. So, here we are. 2022. In Southern California: I’ve worked in markets across the country from Boston to Norfolk. Nashville to Los Angeles. I would like to hope that a program like Discovering Joy on The Journey would, through the quotes, scriptures, prayers, phone calls and music bring those who already know Him, closer and deeper. And give them courage in the public square. And maybe just maybe, there might be someone listening who doesn’t know Him yet, who will hear an authentic and real guy on the radio and ask Jesus into their life. Just like I did, when I first started listening as a very young lad.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
#1 influence on my radio career-in fact, his mentorship was even more influential than my broadcast training at WNAZ at Trevecca. Hands down. William “Hoss-Man” Allen. Just google, “Hoss Man Radio”. A true radio legend. He’s in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame along with his colleagues, Gene Nobles and John R. There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of Hossman. For whatever reason, he saw something in this fledgling radio runt. During lunches at Granite Falls, he would have me bring copy along and teach me how to make it my own. In his studio, he taught me how to make the microphone my best friend, taught me how to ad-lib and improvise. Hoss was the master of representing ministries on the air as well. He taught me how to campaign on-air and raise money for non-profits by painting a picture. I am forever indebted to him.
#2 Dan McGrath who was my Program Director at WLAC-AM early on. Dan is now in Palm Springs. He taught me how to inflect. How to take my voice and even when a softer tone is called for, have incredible subdued energy in the delivery. Dan is a genius.
#3 Tom Lewis of Lewis and Associates. Tom is a craftsman at story telling. He engages his audience by choosing his words carefully and invites them to impact. He has given and taught me the gift of being compelling all the while conserving time.
#4 Chuck Rhodes: Chick taught me how to become an ace with a razor blade and splicing tape. I saw him make an edit to an Eagles song on Ampex 456 that was impossible. I spent weeks trying to replicate it. He also greeted me every day with. “Why are you here-What is your purpose?” He meant it as a joke but it changed my life. He’s now the manager of a bunch of country artists, I think.
#5 David “Gumby” Harms. David invested heavily into teaching me the art of impact. Meaning, the words we choose to use, matter. And how and when we choose to use them, make all the difference.