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TV & Radio: Dial-a-Doctor

4 minute read
TIME

Buzz Bennett, known on the air as Captain Boogie, is a 32-year-old bushy-haired former disc jockey who dresses like an Old Western street freak, talks like a Madison Avenue adman and currently has a six-figure income. Bennett is a radio doctor—one of the top half a dozen itinerant programming consultants who specialize in transforming dull and unprofitable pop-music stations into listener-loaded moneymakers.

Radio doctoring is roughly akin to political campaigning. The basic principle is to zap a little new life into the ailing station while undermining the competition with every dirty Tuckish trick in the doctor’s book of ruses. Bennett has so successfully mastered this technique that he was once voted the radio industry’s “Program Director of the Year” for ingeniously one-upping his own strategies.

In 1969 he moved into station KGB in San Diego, and in 45 days the station leapfrogged from nearly last to first in the citywide audience ratings. Two years later, KGB’s chief competitor, station KCBQ, hired Bennett. Within a month KCBQ had regained its supremacy among the all-important 12-to 17-year-old audience and replaced KGB in the lop slot.

Giant Amoeba. A few samples of his listener-grabbing gambits make clear why stations buzz Bennett. In a rating battle with another station in New Orleans, he played The Blue Danube Waltz every hour, just before the other station’s newscast. “After a while,” he explains, “people began to hate The Blue Danube and switch over to the other station. But when they did, all they heard was news. At the end of 30 days, most of the kids in town thought our competition was an all-news station.” In Pine Bluff, Ark., figuring he could do just as Welles, he simulated a ten-man news team reporting a fictitious attack on the city by a giant amoeba.

Bennett also claims to be the man who started the rumor that Paul McCartney was dead. As more “clues” were broadcast each day, Bennett’s station, KGB, doubled its share of the market. He has even been known to arrange for local record stores to feed competing stations false information about best-selling records. The bamboozled competitor plays losing tunes while Bennett’s own station blasts out the real biggies. In that ultimate radio-ratings booster, the random phone-call contest, Bennett is like a child feeding ducks on a pond. At a station in Miami, he once handed out $125,000 in less than two months. Says Lloyd Melton, station manager of Phoenix’s KUPD: “He gives contest money away to the extent that he virtually buys the market.”

Right Vibes. Born in Pittsburgh, Bennett jockeyed his first disc at the age of 16 and has worked for 35 stations in his 16 years in the business. “I’ve never had a family,” he says. “My home is where the radio towers are.” Bennett’s success is not entirely the result of his wily stunts, of course. He haunts record stores and pop concerts, and studiously keeps one hip ahead of ever-changing adolescent argot. He is also, as one client station’s program manager notes, a “maniac” about listening to his listeners. At Bennett’s current home tower at Minneapolis station KDWB, for instance, he has installed 12 telephone lines on which two staffers take up to 5,000 calls a day. Bennett contends that he has turned more than a score of obscure songs into gold hits—among them Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl, Seals and Crofts’ Summer Breeze and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water—because listeners told him that those were the songs the public wanted to hear.

“Buzz has got the right vibes,” says Disc Jockey Wolfman Jack. “Why, even his employees listen to his station when they are off duty.” That is quite a tribute, especially when station employees can hardly be taken in by one of Bennett’s simplest but highly effective ploys, which is to ever so slightly increase the speed of selected pop songs. This device makes other stations sound slow while Bennett’s pace seems distinctly upbeat.

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