In the Spotlight

DELANA -Change is my middle name - BENNETT

It's a good thing for radio listeners, and for the engaging woman who has been loved by her co-workers and audiences in San Diego for more than ten years, that Delana Bennett expects change in her life and actually does a lot better with it than do most people in the world.   In the past year, she's dealt with myriad changes that would likely have thrown a less adaptable person into a well-deserved tizzy.  But by all accounts, Bennett goes about her day seemingly unfazed, and greets everyone she encounters with a vivacious smile that instantly gives a clue into her personality - on the air and off. 

 "That is where I thrive - with change," she explains on a recent morning in a quiet Clear Channel Media + Entertainment studio in Kearny Mesa. "I really am comfortable with it. I've learned if you accept change and understand it's always going to be there, you can deal with it more gracefully and ride the waves rather than sink.  Flexibility and adaptability are the keys to survival in this business."

Since 2006, Bennett has comfortably performed in "supporting" on-air roles at Star 94.1 - first with Jeff and Jer, later, with A.J. Machado, and now, with Jesse Lozano on the station's morning show.  She also hosts the afternoon show from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m., and recently took on additional responsibilities, recording shows for Clear Channel stations in other cities. Now listeners in Chicago and other markets throughout the country have the opportunity to hear her friendly and appealing voice.  But for all of her accomplishments, she hasn't been picked for the number one microphone in the morning drive slot here in San Diego.  Does she feel slighted?

AJ Machado - Fighting the Good Fight

His name is AJ Machado, but his fans and followers simply call him AJ. He is also known as the guy who each year, for the past ten Christmas seasons, has sat atop a crane in Mission Valley, raising awareness and money, in addition to collecting toys, for the young patients of Rady Children's Hospital.

Machado didn't always dream of being a radio personality and never imagined he'd find himself spending so many of his days with his feet off the ground. The Petaluma, California native tried work as a stand-up comic first and realized he didn't like the travel or instability that comes with show business. But he did enjoy giving interviews to the radio people who would promote his shows when he was in town to perform. The dee-jay's job started looking better and better to him. One day when passing through Santa Rosa, California, Machado stopped at a radio station and asked for an on-air job and got it.

A few employers later, he says he experienced the power of radio and became hooked on the unique benefits his "second choice" career offered.

Darren Smith - Scoring Big in Sports Radio

When XX1090's Darren Smith looks back on his childhood, he understands very clearly why he chose a career that involves sports.

"I grew up playing stickball and parking lot football in New Rochelle and Pelham, New York. And I was surrounded by professional sports because my father and my uncles were big sports gamblers. Every Sunday morning they would be calling each other, comparing point spreads.  My dad gambled a ton of money on the Steelers and I grew up loving the team."

And he knows why he gravitated toward radio. 

"It's a powerful medium. I got hooked on talk radio while I was a communications student at St. John's University (in Queens, New York.)  I remember listening to radio while driving over Whitestone Bridge, very much wanting to hear what the political analysts or sports guys were talking about.  When you're driving anywhere, it's good to have someone to connect to.  And when the information is presented intelligently, plenty of people can listen." 

Chris Cantore - Losing the Fiery Edge, But Finding So Much More

"There is always going to be wackiness and weirdness out there. Some days won't be the best days. But you know what? Tomorrow is another day. There is plenty of opportunity for you to go out and conquer and do whatever you want in life."
Chris Cantore

The five sentences above could be the credo for Chris Cantore. They seem to sum up his adult life and his long-time career in radio - especially the more recent years when he lost a job he loved, and in the process discovered some very important things about himself and life in general.

Actually, the 41-year old dee jay that now holds the 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. spot at KPRI FM spoke those words to a group of fifth grade students at Fay Elementary School in early 2010. He has the video posted on his website. At the time, he was summing up the meaning of the book he read to them, Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss, as part of a "Read Across America" event. That piece of community work took place during the two and a half year time frame that he was off the radio airwaves.

"When I was let go, I was scared and stunned," admits Cantore. "But I wasn't going to let the industry chase me out of San Diego. I was going to go down swinging."

On the Air, On the Wagon, On a Mission: Life According to Mikey

Meet Mike Esparza...the guy behind the microphone at KBZT 94.9 early weekday mornings, leading his on-air team of five through four hours of banter, social commentary, jokes and discussion. This smooth-headed man with the appealing voice and easy laugh is definitely a paradox.  With his tattooed arms, and steely gaze, he embraces the "tough guy" look in his publicity photos, appearing very capable of ripping a limb from your body.  But in reality, Esparza is a man with a big heart who readily admits his frailties; who rises to professional and personal challenges; who leads an organized campaign against cruelty; and who is far more likely to try to save your soul than hurt a hair on your head.

"I've been in love with radio since I was a kid in Yuma, Arizona and then Gilroy, California," says Esparza on a recent morning at the Lincoln Financial Media studio in Mission Valley, in a suite that he's occupied for nearly a year.  "When I was 13, I would listen to Casey Kasem and make lists of the top 40 songs, and I didn't even know why. I loved using my CB radio, and I loved deejays.  I would call their shows and try out the voices I created.  I knew I had to have a job in radio."

SAM BASS: Defying The Odds

Sam Bass has made it a habit to defy the odds.  Thirty-seven years into his on-air radio career, he says he is at the top of his game, still successfully satisfying the soft-rock needs of women between 35 and 44 years old with that rich, inimitable voice.  And he's still broadcasting from the KYXY station in Linda Vista where he heralded the beginning of a new "eclectic" format in 1978.

What's even more impressive and more important, the mellow-toned mid-day personality refused to let throat cancer rob him of his career or his life.  He battled that beast in 1997, re-training his on-air voice after radiation, and never losing ground in his work, never giving up his iconic role at the station.

To some listeners, Sam Bass is KYXY radio, which makes the New York state native proud and very grateful.

"There are a lot more talented and hard-working people than I who are no longer in the business," says Bass.  "I credit my long career to luck!  I found the perfect fit - this station and myself."

Luck may be a factor, but Bass is also devoted to his craft. After years on the air, he joined Toastmasters for a decade, determined to improve his already-proficient delivery. And rather than resist change, he has always happily flowed with it, embracing new technology in the business and staying in touch with the trends his audience loves.  Perhaps what is most telling is that the radio veteran spends time each week with his program director Charlie Quinn, who expertly reviews his air checks.

"He keeps me sharp," explains Bass.

Mery Lopez-Gallo's Affairs of the Heart

Her title is Community Affairs Director for KLNV, La Nueva106.5 and KLQV, Recuerdo 102.9, but "Goodwill Ambassador" more accurately describes the role that Mery Lopez-Gallo has carved out for herself at Univision's two San Diego radio stations. What started out as a job translating and writing copy has grown into a phenomenal link with the public, turning radio listeners into loyal fans and giving the stations undeniable credibility among the local Hispanic population.

Putting it very simply, Lopez-Gallo takes her job to heart, and reaches out to community members any way she can.  In her popular thirty-minute Sunday morning program, "De Viva Voz", she presents timely and important topics that affect the well-being of her listeners. It's a platform where the vivacious producer and host discusses issues with Hispanic leaders from both sides of the border - topics ranging from legal aid and bi-national health week to alcoholism among single moms, domestic violence, and the significance of the 2010 census. Past interviewees include Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, former Secretary of the U.S. Army Louis Caldera, and first Latina to be appointed 41st Treasurer Rosario Marin.

Off the air, Lopez-Gallo, a former president of the Tourist Bureau in Rosarito Beach, becomes even more involved with the stations' fans, attending countless community events each year, speaking to students at high schools and colleges and often helping to raise money for worthy causes including St. Jude's Research Hospital.  Since 2000, she has seen Univision's San Diego audiences donate more than $1.3-million dollars for research in annual radiothons aired on the sister stations.

"Yes, Latinos do donate money to an organization in Memphis!" she laughs. "They understand that what happens at St. Jude's could one day benefit their own children here at Rady Children's Hospital."

Nobody's Toy... Jesse Lozano

When Jesse Lozano walks into the Clear Channel Radio office in San Diego on a January morning, he is greeted with hugs, handshakes and smiles. His radio family genuinely misses him now that he divides his air time between San Diego's Channel 93.3 and Los Angeles' KIIS FM 102.7. He holds down the afternoon drive slot at the California stations and one in Phoenix, too. It's a career the Escondido native could only dream of in 1999, when he was a 19-year-old intern at 93.3, sorting CD's, stapling papers and washing and driving the company van. He had a gift for speaking in front of crowds and entertaining throughout his school years. When he arrived at the station while a student at Palomar College, he knew he had found what he wanted to do.

"I feel lucky to have started when I did," says the now thirty-year-old deejay. "Radio was just transitioning to multi-media and my first real job here was a voice track shift. I wasn't spoiled by the awesome aspects of old school radio where on-air personalities ruled the day. I accepted and learned the technology and knew what I was going to be doing in my career." At 22-years-old, Lozano's life changed in mind-boggling ways. His bosses placed him on the popular morning show, AJ's Playhouse - a time Lozano describes as one of the best in his life. And he would do the mid-day show himself. Two weeks after the impressive promotion, the Orange Glen High School graduate received news that had an even bigger impact on his life. A young woman he met while working part-time in retail was pregnant with his child. He was going to be a father.

Jesse with his daughter Savannah at Wango Tango in Los Angeles, KIIS-FM's annual day-long concert event

Jesse with his daughter Savannah at Wango Tango in Los Angeles, KIIS-FM's annual day-long concert event

MAGIC Mornings (And Afternoons And Evenings) with Jagger & Kristi

On the back of Mark Jagger's laptop in the studio at MAGIC 92.5 is a sticky note that says "I love you."  He doesn't remember when he put it there, but it's intended to be read by the woman at the microphone across from him.  That would be Kristi, his wife, friend and radio-partner on the station's MAGIC Mornings with Jagger & Kristi show.  The duo is obviously good together because according to Arbitron PPM surveys, they are consistently rated one of the top morning shows in San Diego. But what's even more important to the couple is the fact that they're still very happy to spend almost every day of their career and private lives together after a fifteen year relationship and twelve years of marriage.

"We have an unspoken agreement," says Kristi.  "Mark gets up at 3:00 in the morning and after he's showered, he wakes me up.  Then we both do what we have to do to get out of the house by 4:30.  We drive here (to the Finest City Broadcasting studios near Mission Valley) walk into the station and at 5:00 go on the air.  We don't speak until we get into the studio.  It's how we've learned to cope with this schedule."

But once they're on the air, it's a much different story. The two radio veterans glide through their four-hour show with enthusiasm, finesse and genuine warmth that has earned them the devotion of a growing radio audience. 

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