Ben Thompson was well on his way to a successful career working for a hedge fund company in Chicago, when he made a startling discovery: he really missed the radio business.
“Radio is a mix between entertainment and information,” says Ben, general manager of WGEZ-AM and the Janesville/Beloit market manager for the station’s parent company, Big Radio. “I like the urgency and immediacy aspect of the news side. But there’s also the entertainment side that gives us creative freedom. We can tell stories and make people laugh. Radio strikes every single emotion that connects with listeners. And they’re fiercely loyal to the personalities and the station themselves.”
Father and son team are making a splash in local radio
Ben’s father, Scott, is the owner of Big Radio, a Monroe-based radio group that owns stations in Freeport, Lena, Monroe, Janesville and Beloit. Earlier this year, Big Radio purchased The Hog 105.9 FM in Janesville and WBEL-AM (The Big AM 1380) in Beloit and now owns eight stations in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Big Radio broadcasts both WBEL and WGEZ, an oldies format, from their studios in downtown Beloit.
Bringing back the glory days
Longtime radio listeners may recall that WBEL were the call letters of the original Beloit station in 1948. These days, the lineup on The Big AM 1380 consists of local hosts Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nights and weekends include local specialty programming, local sports and ESPN Radio programming. “For years, it was the powerhouse radio station not only for Beloit, but for the entire Rock River Valley in both Wisconsin and Illinois,” says Ben. “We intend to bring it back to its glory days.”
Scott, who is a full-time lawyer, started in radio by broadcasting high school football games, before buying his first radio stations. By age 7, his son was on the air, lending a hand to his father’s morning show. “Every day my dad called me at 7 a.m. when I was getting ready for school,” Ben says, “and I would deliver the riddle of the day.” As he got older, Ben started hanging around the station, answering telephones and emptying trash cans. Ben got his first crack at hosting a morning show on the Freeport country station, WFPS-FM, during his senior year in high school. “I had a late pass for school every day,” he says, laughing.
Ben graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, where he majored in finance and accounting. For 3 ½ years, he worked as an operations specialist at Magnetar Capital, an Evanston, Illinois-based hedge fund. But he missed the family business and moved to Beloit late last year.
The possibilities in radio are much more exciting
“My goal was always to get back into local radio,” Ben says. “If I wanted to make more money, I never would have left my job. But the possibilities in radio are much more exciting. It wasn’t an easy decision, but sometimes the right decision is also the hardest. I’m excited about what we can do for the Beloit market.”Back To The Beloit Experience