Alex Bennett (broadcaster)
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December 18, 1939
San Francisco, California, United States
Bennett Gordon Schwarzmann (born December 18, 1939), better known by his on-air name, Alex Bennett, is an American talk radio host, known for his mix of left-wing politics and humor. In the 1970s he made his mark in New York City where he was dubbed "The Youth Guru" by the press for his work on WMCA and WPLJ.
In the 1980s and 1990s he moved back to his home town of San Francisco where this time the press dubbed him "The King of Comedy" for his influence on the local comedy scene first at KMEL, then on KQAK ("The Quake") and ultimately at Live 105. He then went on to create a live Internet TV network with Play Inc. called "PlayTV", and later a one-year stint as the host of a technology show on CNET Radio.
Eventually he moved back to New York City where he hosted a weekday radio show on SiriusXM channel "SIRIUS Left" until June 28, 2013. He now hosts a live podcast GABNet.net Tues-Fri from 10:00 until midnight Eastern.
During the 1960s, Bennett worked at several radio stations around the country, including KILT in Houston, where he used the on-air moniker James Bond and did his show using an English accent, and WLOL in Minneapolis before moving on to other large markets.
In Chicago, he hosted a nightly music program on 560 WIND wher his newscaster was Don Cornelius (who later hosted television's Soul Train). It was in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots that he became radicalized.
In 1969 he was recruited by WMCA in New York, where he worked with Murray the K, Barry Gray (who became a mentor) and where one of his engineers was comedian Jimmie Walker. Bennett was an overnight talk show host during the station's transition from its Top 40 "Good Guys" music format to the pioneering "Dial-Log" all-talk era. Bennett brought a progressive rock radio sensibility to the teenage-oriented station, still playing album cuts of music as his talk show evolved, and openly discussing topics ranging from his love life to his participation in various countercultural events, before giving his yogic sign-off "Namaste" (sometimes rendered in English as "the God within me sees the God within you"). In 1969, Bennett flew to London to investigate the rumor of Paul McCartney's death. He later became friends with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who in 1970 heard Bennett introduce her debut album on the air by saying, "I think in 1980 music will probably sound like this." Lennon and Ono subsequently appeared on Bennett's show.
In 1970 Bennett was fired when WMCA signed the New York Yankees and felt there was no place for him. The dismissal was protested by over a thousand people in front of the radio station. The story made headlines in the New York newspapers and was featured in Variety with four articles on the same page, and Bennett was described in The New Yorker as "martyr of the cultural revolution."
Bennett and his wife-producer Ronni moved their show to 95.5 WABC-FM, which soon became WPLJ, an FM station in the city, after the station recruited him at first for mornings and then for overnights. By late 1971 the couple had split. Guests on Bennett's WPLJ show included rock stars such as John Lennon, comedians like George Carlin and left-wing, anti-war activists such as Abbie Hoffman (who would call him from the "Chicago 7" trial), Timothy Leary and Jerry Rubin.
While at WPLJ as an early video pioneer (a lifelong hobby), Bennett created and produced Midnight Blue with Bruce David (who went on to be the editor for "Hustler Magazine") for a New York public-access cable TV channel.
Bennett was asked to do a tryout week at a radio station in his native San Francisco. With the tryout a success, he was signed to host a morning show for album-oriented rock station 106.1 KMEL teaming up with newsman Joe Regelski. While at KMEL, Bennett's mother, Ruth, achieved fame as the world's oldest album-oriented rock disk jockey when she hosted a Sunday night countdown show on KMEL from 1982 to 1983. After Bennett's departure Ruth continued at KMEL for a year. Ruth died in 2005 at the age of 100.
The Alex Bennett Show changed stations from KMEL when he was offered a lucrative deal and unprecedented creative freedom at a competitor station. Bennett and Regelski signed to do the morning show on KQAK The Quake (now KSOL) where they remained for 2 years. He finally left KQAK after a few years for KITS ("Live 105"), where he did two stints.
As a regular staple, the shows in San Francisco featured local and national comedians in front of a live studio audience. Performers Bob Goldthwait, Whoopi Goldberg, Dana Carvey, Ray Romano, Margaret Cho, and Jay Leno were among the guests on Bennett's program, which influenced the next generation of Bay Area comedians. Bennett also would do road shows such as "Breakfast with Bennett" and "Supper with Schwarzmann" which featured live stand-up comedy stars, musical acts and a live house band. Bennett also produced a number of sold out live comedy shows. Bennett was fired after a few years at Live 105, but was back after nine months. During that time he moved to Miami and hosted a talk show on local AM talk station 610 WIOD. He considered that move a sour experience due to it being an AM station and with considerable restrictions on his freedom to talk.
CBS Radio then bought Live 105 and had a desire to get the station's own Howard Stern (whose show was heard in San Francisco from a nearby San Jose affiliate). CBS paid off the remainder of Alex's contract with WIOD Miami so Bennett could return to Live 105. Bennett remained at Live 105 until July 1997.
A technology aficionado, Bennett took advantage of the early growth of the World Wide Web. After leaving FM rock radio in the late 1990s, Bennett created an Internet Television show for Play TV that ended when the company went out of business. He also developed an early website, The Surfing Monkey (along with Chuck Farnham, David Biedny and Jesse Montrose), which featured, among other things, a series of articles written by an inmate on Death Row at San Quentin. Bennett is personally opposed to the death penalty. The prisoner, identified by the pseudonym Dean, reported on daily prison life in a series called "Dead Man Talking." Bennett also voiced the Starbase Commander character in the 1994 release of Star Control 2 by 3DO.
Bennett briefly returned to radio in 2001 to host a technology-oriented midday talk show for CNET Radio at its San Francisco flagship affiliate, 960 KNEW. Bennett's attempt to return to general AM talk radio was hampered by his outspoken left-leaning political views (though he temporarily hosted a morning show on KNEW when it changed its format to talk in 2003). Station managers at the time only wanted to hire right-wing talk show hosts.
In 2003, Bennett returned to New York. He began hosting a show from 7am to 10am ET show on Sirius Left (now known as "SiriusXM Progress") on April 19, 2004. On his weekday show, he talked about politics, entertainment, and personal matters. He has also served as a substitute host for syndicated talk show host Lionel on several occasions.
On March 27, 2012, Alex married his longtime girlfriend Marjorie Miller (known as "Girlfriend" on his program). They currently reside in the Harlem district of New York City.
Bennett was told in late June 2013 that his last show on SiriusXM would be Friday, June 28, 2013.
In January 2014 Alex started "GABNet" at gabnet.net which he calls "the first real innovation in phone-in talk radio since the format's invention," featuring group discussions with the listeners called "Citizen Panels."
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