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Frank Benny's Radio Roller Coaster

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  • Started 6 years ago by Craig_Adams

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  1. Craig_Adams
    Radio historian

    Today July 8, 1937 Frank E. Biniak was born in Chicago, Illinois. He moved with his family to Los Angeles as a child. Frank majored in electrical engineering for two years at Loyola University in Los Angeles. In 1957 he took the stage name Frank Benny and began his radio career at KRKS in Ridgecrest, CA. Then traveling from one Rock & Roll station to the next.

    On January 16, 1961 Frank Benny joined KEX evenings from 6:00 to 10:00pm Monday through Saturday. On January 26, 1961 Benny was switched to KEX afternoon drive 2:00 to 6:00pm Monday through Saturday, replacing Lee Smith who was moved to 6:00 to 10:00pm. On March 25, 1961 it was reported that Frank & Lee were feuding over guest stars on each others show. Lee was probably trying to show the Program Director he had bigger pull, to get his old show back. Frank then challenged Lee to a debate. More wrangling. Then Lee walked off his KEX show March 22nd. On May 19, 1961 Lee Smith left KEX. On September 9, 1962 Frank Benny did his last KEX show. Golden West Broadcasters, new KEX owners, wanted Ray Ramsey for afternoons.

    On January 10, 1963 it was announced Frank Benny had joined "Kisn Radio, The Mighty 91" KISN afternoons 3:00 to 7:00pm. In July 1963 Benny was moved to Noon to 3, when The Real Don Steele came to KISN and was the new Program Director, taking afternoon drive. In November 1963 KISN began calling its DJ's "Kisn Good Guys." In January 1964 Benny moved into morning drive 6:00 to 10:00am when P.O.A. left. On May 1, 1964 Benny was moved to 10:00am to Noon. In July 1964 Frank Benny became Program Director when Steele left.

    On August 18, 1964 Frank E. Biniak married Patricia Jewel O'Neil Headrick in San Francisco. Patricia & sister Pamela had been the 1953 National "March of Dimes" Poster Children, for their remarkable recoveries from Polo. On February 1, 1965 Benny got an extra hour on KISN 9:00am to Noon. By July 1965 Benny was back on Noon to 3. On November 1, 1965 Frank Benny was back in morning drive on KISN.

    By April 1966 Frank Benny was on the move, becoming Program Director of Top 40 "1-2-3 W-B" WUBE Cincinnati where he did morning drive. Later in 1966 smooth-talking Benny moved to "Radio 55" WGR Buffalo, N.Y. and started a successful run as a morning newsman. He handled the transition to Top 40 with ease and became a popular fixture in the WGR lineup where he did morning and afternoon drive, as part of WGR's golden era of personalities. Benny was was known as “the master of the one-liners.” His breezy personality and occasional on air naughtiness ticketed him as a different breed of Buffalo personality.

    Benny’s popularity on radio led to an offer to become the weatherman on sister WGR-TV at both 6:00pm and 11:00pm newscasts and he hosted “Bowling for Dollars” five nights a week and the "4:00 Movie" along with doing telethons. Frank was very involved with the community. He handled public address chores at Buffalo Braves basketball games as well as Buffalo Bills football. In 1970 Frank & Patricia welcomed daughter Kimberly A. "Kim" Biniak. By 1971 Benny was one of the most prominent media figures in Buffalo. Seen on TV daily and heard on the Radio weekday mornings. Benny was on a roll but the media figure had his demons.

    In early Summer 1971 Benny found himself in a bad situation. Frank had a gambling problem and it was only getting worse. The more he tried winning, to pay off the debt, the more he lost. He was getting scared, the pressure was on. Then he got a threatening phone call from his bookie. Benny began thinking crazy thoughts to get the money and be done with it.

    On June 28, 1971 a man wearing a stocking mask, held up the "Homestead Savings & Loan Association" on Main St. in Amherst, N.Y. with a toy revolver, ordering a teller to fill a paper bag. A woman bystander became suspicious and left the bank, describing the getaway car for police. The car was seen by a patrolman who followed it and arrested Frank E. Biniak, 33, and recovering $503 with a toy gun and stocking mask. Frank was captured in the driveway of his suburban Williamsville home.

    On July 1, 1971 Frank Benny was released on $15,000 bail and was charged with second degree robbery and third-degree grand larceny. On October 19, 1971 Frank Benny was acquitted, finding that he was mentally ill at the time of the crime. Declared innocent "by reason of mental disease." Four psychiatrists testified Benny suffered "panic reaction" and they ordered him to be placed in state psychiatric custody.

    In November 1971 Frank Benny got his radio show back, returning to WGR mornings, on a great wave of public sympathy. In 1977 WGR was awarded Billboard magazine's radio station of the year. Frank Benny was a big part of that. Yet Frank left WGR in 1977 to open a golf shop in California but returned four months later. Benny was a legend in Buffalo radio despite emotional peaks and valleys.

    In January 1985 Frank Benny abruptly quit WGR and took a year's break from radio. In December 1985 Benny was lured back by crosstown "Buffalo Country, Stereo 106" WYRK to work mornings. In February 1986 Frank switched to part time at "Rock 102" WBEN-FM Buffalo. In August 1989 Benny quietly packed up and moved to Sarasota, Florida, Frank settled in at "The Dove" WDUV (FM) Bradenton (Tampa Bay) and did news for WCTQ (FM) Venice. Back in Buffalo, few people knew where Frank Benny had gone.

    On August 13, 1989 an article ran in "The Buffalo News" (excepted): No one seems to know where Frank Benny is living or what he is doing. His last radio gig was at WBEN, working part time. Friends suggested that he might be located at an old boardinghouse. The search proved fruitless. It turns out that Benny just moved to Sarasota, Fla., to work as a free-lance announcer.

    "Frank's been through hell in Buffalo," one of his friends said. "He said it was time to get away and go somewhere and start over. He wants a new life." Benny became a legend in local radio after years of emotional peaks and valleys. He has battled booze, gambling, family problems and once robbed a bank. Last week, just before he left for Florida, Benny finally spoke in a conversation from a pay telephone. "I'm leaving town, but my life is looking up," Benny said. "It's just one of those things. Hard times are what you make of them."

    Benny was asked if his problems might have been caused by radio. "Not at all," he replied. "The toughest times I went through were when I was the most successful. What I've learned is that material things don't mean anything. I suppose radio people are not normal. But I always thought it was a glorious way to make a living. I just didn't fit the mold." No one ever questioned Benny's talent. "He had some terrible problems," his friend said. "But when he was on the air, Frank was terrific. He was as good as anybody in this market."

    In 2003 Frank moved to "News Talk 1530" WENG Englewood and co-hosted “The Morning Magazine” with Scott Holcomb, 9:00 to 11:00am weekdays. Described by listeners as articulate and witty and always within the bounds of good taste. On October 27, 2003 it was announced Frank Benny was named WENG News Director. Benny was back on the peak.

    On May 9, 2005 Frank Benny died at age 67 in Bradenton, FL., from complications of pneumonia in Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. No memorial service was held. An avid golfer, Benny wanted his ashes scattered over his favorite golf course. Lynda Sawkes his longtime companion stated, “He would have liked to be remembered with a microphone in one hand and a golf club in the other. He was the master of the one-liners, he could fire them off as quickly as Johnny Carson. A true personality jock, he had a razor-sharp sense of humor and a beautiful radio voice."

    Dave McClure, his WENG boss and sales manager, He was known for his outgoing personality and his wit. He could do news, and it could be total gibberish, but his delivery was so great, listeners would buy it. Very easy going, true professional, just a great guy."

    On September 21, 2010 Frank Benny was posthumously inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Benny's daughter, Kim, accepted the award for her father. "He loved what he did," Kim said "He was a great dad. He used to be the emcee at my dance recitals when I was a little girl." Even at home, she said, her father was who he was. "I used to tease him, Dad, stop talking in your radio voice! I used to love watching him at the Erie County Fair," she said. "People would stand out there and listen to him forever. He'd sign autographs, go right back in. He never missed a beat. He would be truly honored and humbled by this recognition. He would be so excited."

    Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this Radio TV biography more complete.

    References: Billboard magazine, The Buffalo News, The Englewood Sun, FM Atlas, 440: Satisfaction, The Journal, The Oregonian, RadioYears.com, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

    Posted on July 8, 2014 - 06:33 AM #