Don Benson Headshot

Retired “Voice of America” Editor drew on his WOUB experience during 40+ year media career

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Don Benson graduated from Ohio University in 1973

ATHENS, OH – When Don Benson came to Ohio University in 1969 from Rhode Island, he thought he wanted to be a print journalist because it was in his DNA. But he had no idea that he would find his passion for broadcast journalism at WOUB.

“I had journalism in my blood. My parents worked at the newspaper in Providence,” said Benson. “My grandparents were both journalists. I was very good at English, and I always liked to write. So, a print journalism career made sense to me.”

Growing up in an urban community, Ohio University appealed to Benson because of its rural nature.

“I looked at prospective journalism schools in college reference books and liked what I read about Ohio University. Once I got to Athens, it took me a while. I had culture shock. But it ended up being an extremely rewarding experience. I miss the place every single day. I like the ruralness, and I met so many wonderful people.”

One of the people Benson met during his freshman year, a fellow student, told him about the hands-on opportunities available for students at WOUB. Benson decided to check it out.

“I went to the WOUB newsroom and met Doug Caldwell, who was the news director at the time. I didn’t realize it, but I had a really thick southern New England accent, so they didn’t put me on the air right away. But I got to report and use recording equipment to interview people,” said Benson. “Eventually I became a paid student staff member and developed my own program on WOUB AM called News Radio 134. It was patterned after NPR’s All Things Considered which was brand new at the time.”

Benson’s program was on the radio every morning from 6 to 8 a.m. He also filled in as a jazz host on WOUB FM and did a little TV work.

“At WOUB and because of the wonderful professors I had in class, I learned how to be a good broadcast journalist,” said Benson.

When Benson graduated in 1973, he didn’t get a job right away. But after a few months, he was hired by WSAZ in Charleston/Huntington, West Virginia as the reporter at their satellite bureau in Parkersburg. He was eventually moved down to Huntington and promoted to reporter and weekend anchor at the station. Benson worked at WSAZ for about five years. When he was ready to move on, he went back to the connections he made at WOUB.

“I was ready to get a TV job in a larger market, but couldn’t find anyone who would hire me,” said Benson. “Doug Caldwell from WOUB was now working at the Associated Press (AP) in Columbus. So, I gave Doug a call and asked if he knew of any openings at AP in Columbus. He told me they were looking for an assistant broadcast writer. I applied and got the job.”

Benson worked in both Columbus and Providence during his time at the AP. While in Providence, he got a graduate fellowship in journalism at Ohio State and took a year off to complete his master’s degree in public affairs reporting.

“After about five years, I was about to be married to a woman in Baltimore. So, I was looking to transfer with AP to Maryland. But I looked at the jobs section of the Washington Post one Sunday and saw a job at Voice of America. I applied and got a job as a broadcast writer. I started there in 1985 and was there for 32 years, retiring in 2017.”

Voice of America (VOA) is the largest U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 311 million people. VOA produces content for digital, television, and radio platforms. It is carried on a network of more than 3,500 affiliate stations.

“I drew on my WOUB experience to become successful at VOA,” said Benson. “There are two things I remember the most about my time at WOUB. First, it was the people. I got a chance to know and work with people of various backgrounds, talents and skills, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Doug Caldwell was an excellent news director and knew how to motivate us. The other thing was the range of opportunities. To this day, I can’t believe the opportunities that were available to all of us. It was just incredible. I have always valued the time I spent at WOUB and Ohio University.”