Don’t Pay the Ransom, I’ve Escaped. Beginning right with the title you know this isn’t going to be a “serious” book — which is to say that the author, WHUD radio personality Mike Bennett, has the gift of not taking himself too seriously. This is a valuable asset when you live your life as a highly exposed local celebrity, and Mike has a hilarious take on what it’s like to be recognized when you’re trying to enjoy a meal in a local restaurant.
For those of you who don’t know, Mike Bennett is the co-host, with Kacey Morabito, of Mike and Kacey in the Morning on the Hudson Valley radio station WHUD. This award-winning duo is about to celebrate 14 years together playing “one great song after another,” presenting the news, traffic, and weather, and running contests with prizes ranging from New York State lottery tickets to vacations in the Bahamas.
As the book’s subtitle explains, Mike’s book recounts his Memories of a Life on the Radio. But that’s not all. It includes his brief but brilliant stint as a freshman at Orange County Community College — from which it ought to have emerged right then and there that Mike had the gift of gab–, his lightning career (that’s how fast it went) as a real estate salesperson, and, told with his delightfully self-deprecating humor, his brush with formal training as a broadcasting professional.
Someone like Mike Bennett doesn’t emerge suddenly and unexpectedly like Venus springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, and so we also learn about the important things that went on at his alma mater, Monroe-Woodbury High School. Here the lens widens to give us a broader context of life in the Hudson Valley as Mike recounts how the students would sprint across Route 32 to a cow pasture in which there stood a large tree — large enough for the students to hide behind and smoke without being caught by the school authorities. Where that cow pasture and that tree once is now Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, one of the world’s largest shopping centers, the presence of which makes for (in Mike’s words) some “truly awful traffic jams.” I dare say I speak not only for myself when I say I fervently wish it had remained a cow pasture.
We also get several insights into what goes on behind the scenes during the WHUD morning show, including the grueling task (!) of interviewing famous celebrities.
My personal favorite is about the brief exchanges with the contest winners. Here I learned that they actually tape and edit the segment while the music is playing — we’re not hearing it live. Good to know. I always wondered how they avoided some infiltrator yelling out “WXYZ!” to Mike’s closing question, “What station makes you a winner?”
You can’t claim to be the Voice of the Hudson Valley without putting in your fair share of community service. Mike and Kacey each make valuable contributions here,
both on and off the air. Outstanding is their annual stint broadcasting from the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital as a fundraiser for this incredibly competent and compassionate facility. Mike also partners with meteorologist Jim Witt, whose long-range weather calendars are sold to raise money for the Hope for Youth Foundation. In the closing weeks of the year Jim appears at various venues to personally sign and sell the calendars, and I recently caught up with Jim and Mike together, signing their calendar and book respectively, at Fran’s Hallmark in Monroe. By the way, it’s not too late to buy this lovely calendar — you get not only Jim’s long-range weather forecasts but also a year’s worth of great Hudson Valley photos.
Closing question: Kacey, when are you going to write your radio memoirs?