Bob Benson dies at 74

Bob Benson, a longtime news director at KGO-radio in San Francisco, died on Jan. 29 at the age of 74.

Mr. Benson had a noteworthy career, starting in high school and spanning the country. While a high school student, he got his start at WIZZ in Illinois, according to the website Radio Ink. He went on to work in Omaha, Chicago and Washington, D.C., with a long and successful stop along the way in San Francisco.

Peter Cleaveland, a longtime colleague at KGO, remembers him as a creative and appreciative boss at a time when radio news was fast-paced and competitive. He recalls Mr. Benson’s start in San Francisco:

“One day in 1968, I was in the executive offices of KGO radio when the program director, Dave Crane called me into his office. There, sort of sprawled on the couch was this tall guy. ‘Meet Bob Benson, news director at WLS,’ Dave said as he introduced me. Bob stood up and said, ‘I’ve heard your work.’ That was my introduction to the best boss I had in a career that ran from 1965 to 1986. I went back up to the newsroom and told Ted Wygant, who anchored our noon news, ‘I have just met our new boss.’ And within a matter of weeks he was. He took to San Francisco and KGO like a duck to water.

“It became a wonderful association. He was filled with ideas, some he had used at WLS, some that popped in his head as he got acclimated to the city and its highly competitive radio news market. At that time there were more than 10 stations doing news. (Compare that to today when there is basically one). We were in a constant battle with KCBS, the CBS owned and operated station. A month or so after Bob took over he told me, ‘I’m going to make you a star.’ And he did. Off the nice 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift I had.

“Onto 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Checking every morning with all the major Bay Area police and fire agencies to see what had happened overnight. Bob said when people wake up they’ve been unconscious for 7, 8, 9 hours. They want to know what happened while they slept. So was created ‘San Francisco Overnight.’ It soon became ‘Bay Area Overnight.” I did it five days a week for close to seven years.

“Bob was a boss who would go out of his way to let you know how much he appreciated what someone did and how much it meant to him. It made it easier for us on those few occasions when he had to take one of us aside and kick our rears. His management style made everyone want to do his best everyday. No one wanted to let Bob down.

“By 1974 when he left ABC to create and build AP Radio News, he was programming all of KGO. As he headed out the door on his way to Washington, D.C., he told me we would work together one day.

“He was right. Six years later, back at ABC, this time as VP in charge of ABC radio news and its six news services, Bob brought me in as a San Francisco-based correspondent. Though I was based in San Francisco, Bob had me all over the world. To Germany with ex-President Jimmy Carter when the Iranian hostages were released. Then it was to Buenos Aires for the Falkland Islands war. Only one rule with Bob, keep your passport with at you at all times and when either taking off or landing in a plane, make sure your tape recorder is running. One time he flew my wife and I to New York to receive a national award — saying he loved to get awards but it was getting expensive.

“When I got cycled out of Argentina after four weeks of untold hours of live coverage and very few days off, I landed at JFK, was sped through customs by an ABC fixer and led to a black limo. It was 5 a.m. I opened the door and there was Bob Benson with coffee and Danishes to welcome me back.

“He was the best boss and the best friend I ever had in my career. His kind will never be seen again and that is a loss to us all.”