Hall of Fame: 2007
Paul Benzaquin brought the skills of a veteran print journalist to the electronic media. Though he is primarily remembered for more than twenty years as a talk radio host, including stints with each of Boston’s major news / talk stations, he also pioneered the idea of broadcast journalism, delivered pungent on-air commentaries, conducted probing interviews, and enlightened his audience with cogent analyses of the issues of the day. He was one of the original radio provocateurs – always fair, but with flair!
Paul Benzaquin was born and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts. He began his media career in 1948 as a newspaper reporter for the Boston Globe, and shortly became a columnist for the paper, where he was read regularly until 1960. After he established himself as a personality in the electronic media, he returned to newspaper writing as a columnist for the Boston Herald (1964 – 1969). In his columns for the Globe and the Herald, Benzaquin was a stellar example of the journalist-at-large, commenting on everything from politics to the arts to everyday life. By turns, his pieces were biting, witty, tough, and sentimental. His work in print provided a literate and seasoned foundation for his work on the air.
While working for the Globe, Benzaquin wrote the bestselling book Holocaust, which was published in November 1959 and also serialized in the paper. It still stands as the definitive history of the 1942 fire that destroyed Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub.
His radio career began on WEEI in September 1960, where he worked for three years as the co-host (with the late Howard Nelson) of Listen!, a news and interview program heard weekdays from 3 – 6 PM. Benzaquin contributed interviews, “columns of the air” under the title “Fiery Diary,” and daily commentaries. To describe what he brought to radio, WEEI Program Director Ken Ovenden coined the term “broadcast journalism.” Benzaquin was one of the first people in the US to recognize that journalism of quality could be presented through the electronic media and he himself began using Ovenden’s words to describe his work.
Listen! ended its run in 1963, and WEEI moved Benzaquin to the new genre of controversial telephone talk. He hosted Conversation Piece from 2 – 6 PM on weekday afternoons (and simultaneously wrote columns for the Herald) until December 1969. In June 1968, he achieved the dubious distinction of being one of the first hosts to be suspended by a broadcast employer for using a four-letter word as a comment on a caller’s opinions; the word got on the air when a WEEI engineer failed to activate the station’s delay system in time.
Like his friend and talk-show inspiration Jerry Williams (Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame inductee 2008), Benzaquin moved to Chicago to take the next major step in his career. From late 1969 until late 1970, he hosted a midnight interview program there on the ABC affiliate, WLS-TV.
In January 1971, Benzaquin returned to the Boston area for good. Channel 7 gave him a weekday morning television show (9 – 10 AM), after which he hosted four hours of telephone talk on WEEI (noon – 4 PM). In 1973, in conjunction with academic work at the Harvard-Lilly Program of Parent Education, he produced a series for WEEI called The Business of Being a Baby. In April 1974, when WEEI debuted its all-news format, Benzaquin’s radio work went on the back burner. His television show continued until July 1975.
From November 1976, he had a nearly unbroken run of thirteen years in Boston talk radio – first with WBZ (November 1976 – December 1978), then as a fill-in on WITS, then overnight on WHDH (beginning in September 1983), then on weekends with WRKO (beginning in August 1987). He “retired” in 1989, but returned for another run on WRKO from 1992 until May 1993.
Throughout his broadcast career, Benzaquin was admired by his peers and his listeners as a perceptive observer of issues on the national and local scene, a no-nonsense moderator of phone calls, and a perceptive interviewer who strove to shed light on a subject rather than to generate heat alone.
Today, Benzaquin lives with his wife Grace, an indefatigable supporter of his life and work, at their home in Marshfield.