Doug Moe: Benedetti ends his hit streak at 57

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Posted by on July 17, 2010 at 10:47:50:

Ben Benedetti said he�s retiring because he now has 57 years on the radio in the Madison area and he doesn�t want to break his hero Joe DiMaggio�s record of most consecutive games with a hit.

It�s a little more complicated than that, of course. It always is.

For one thing, we�ve heard this tune before. I first retired Benedetti in print back in 2001, when the station where he played his beloved Sinatra and big band music, WIBU-AM in Poynette, got religion.

Benedetti�s show had co-existed with the �German Music Hour� on WIBU � polkas, and only German was spoken � but once the station went to an all-religion format, Ben was out.

He thought he was done. �I think so,� Benedetti told me at the time. �I just don�t see another outlet in this area. It�s either talk, or not the kind of music I play. So that�s kind of sad. But, you know � 48 years. That�s a pretty good run.�

As it turned out, his listeners wouldn�t let it end. Just four months after his retirement announcement, Benedetti was back on the air, hosting a four-hour show Sunday afternoons on WTUX-AM.

Benedetti had 18,000 LPs in his personal collection and only one problem at WTUX: The station had no turntables. �We had to order a couple so Ben could play his music,� station manager Bill Vancil said.

He had a fine run at �The Tux,� as the station was known, but in January 2009 that station, too, changed formats, to 1950s and �60s pop and rock. Benedetti landed Sunday nights at WTDY-AM � same ownership � but the audience never really landed with him.

Well, some did. �Thank goodness we still have Ben Benedetti on Sunday nights,� wrote Katherine Vanderbilt in a letter to the State Journal.

Still, when a recent health scare put Benedetti, now 84, in the hospital for five days � he�s out and recovering nicely � he decided it was time. His last show was last month.

�We�ve heard this before,� Benedetti was told.

�I think this is the last time,� he said. Then he grinned. �I�m going out having never been fired.�

How many with nearly six decades in radio can say that?

The first job, in 1953, was at WMFM � the only FM station in Madison at the time. Benedetti grew up in Springfield, Mass., and came to Madison as an Air Force gunner stationed at Truax Field. He met his wife, Helen, here (she died in 2005) and decided to stay.

The WMFM job came after he won a disc jockey contest that required putting together a 15-minute show. Benedetti programmed three of the big band songs he�d loved since high school, telling stories in between. He won the contest, got a regular show, and for the next six decades, Benedetti�s personal format never really wavered: a mix of big bands, Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and the stories behind the artists and music that Benedetti accumulated over a lifetime in the business.

There was, until the mid-1980s, a �day� job too, at Meuer Art and Picture Frame Co., as an art buyer and custom framer. Benedetti was at Meuer for decades but his radio home changed with some frequency.

One memorable stop, in the 1970s and �80s, was at WIBA-AM, where Benedetti not only did his weekend show but also pinch-hit for Madison radio legends Jim Mader (mornings) and George �Papa Hambone� Vukelich (nights).

Recalling Mader, an enormously popular radio storyteller, Benedetti said, �He was, without a doubt, the best. He was too big for this market, but he loved it. There wasn�t any subject he didn�t know something about.�

Benedetti�s contribution to the local music scene was officially recognized in 2001 with an award from the Madison Jazz Society. His 57 years on the air may never be bettered, and I can�t help but point out that Joe DiMaggio�s hitting streak actually ended at 56 games.

So, Ben, there you have it. Like it or not, you beat DiMaggio.

(Wisconsin State Journal)

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