In Memoriam: Paul Benzaquin (1922-2013)
Paul Benzaquin was a giant of Boston talk radio, bringing the skills of a veteran print journalist to the electronic media. 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!
He began his media career in 1948 as a newspaper reporter and feature writer for the Boston Globe, where he wrote for 12 years. While working for the Globe, Benzaquin wrote the definitive history of the 1942 fire that destroyed Boston's Cocoanut Grove nightclub, HOLOCAUST! Fire in Boston's Cocoanut Grove, published in November 1959.
As a result of radio and television appearances in publicizing his book, he was invited to join the staff of WEEI. He went on air during the hurricane of September 1960 with the late Howard Nelson on a program called "LISTEN!" Benzaquin wrote the equivalent of five columns of news and features each day for this program, which stayed on the air for three years. During Mr. Benzaquin's unusual stint as an on-air writer/reporter, WEEI program director Ken Ovenden searched for a phrase to describe Benzaquin's unique combination of covering, writing, and broadcasting a variety of material each day. Ovenden created the term "Broadcast Journalist," which was first applied to Benzaquin, which has since become a standard reference of the industry.
Benzaquin replaced the late Haywood Vincent on an afternoon talk show when Vincent left WEEI to go to the old WNAC. The two went head-to-head for nearly a year. The ratings clearly gave Benzaquin dominance of the afternoon drive time audience, staying in that position until 1969. He simultaneously wrote columns for the Boston Herald from 1964 to 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 profanity as a comment on a caller's opinions. He went to Chicago for a year as host of a late night television show for the ABC network, returning to Boston to host a show for Channel 7 and resume his afternoon radio talk show on WEEI.
In 1973 he joined Dr. Burton L. White at Harvard Graduate School of Education to become a public educator for the Harvard-Lilly Program for Parent Education, an endeavor to teach parents how their children learn during the first three years of life. For this work Benzaquin recruited a "stable" of babies in Marshfield. He wrote 172 radio broadcasts on child-raising as a result of watching these babies grow and learn.
From November 1976, he had a nearly unbroken run of thirteen years in Boston talk radio on WBZ, WITS, WHDH, and WRKO. He "retired" in 1989, but returned for another run on WRKO from 1992 until May 1996, then turning his talents to free-lance writing. He was also a pioneer in the field of classified personnel broadcasting. As the host for "The Classified Express" and "Hi-Tech News" on television he assisted people seeking employment. Benzaquin's last major effort was his book The Gifted Grandparent, a guide for first-time grandparents to help them understand, motivate and stimulate their grandchildren to reach their highest potential. In 2007, Mr. Benzaquin was among the first to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Mr. Benzaquin was a graduate of Quincy High School and a candidate at the Unitarian Ministry at Bangor Theological Seminary. He served with the 37th Infantry Division during World War II, saw combat on the island of Bougainville, and was a part of the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
Paul was a man who talked through most of his life; he ended the conversation on February 13, 2013, at the age of 90. He died peacefully, with his family at his side, in Duxbury Massachusetts.