Longtime Omaha radio talk-show host Tom Becka is a man open to new
possibilities. Becka was born in Cleveland, Ohio but has lived in Omaha,
Nebraska for years. Most recently he was the host of the Tom Becka Show
on 1290 KOIL. Best known for his gravelly voice, and libertarian political views, for a number of years he was heard on KFAB in Omaha, leaving there in 2011.
Becka hosted shows on KMBZ in Kansas City, and spent a number of years on the road as a stand up comic, working with acts including Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Kinnison and Lewis Black. He has written a book called There’s No Business Without The Show, a book which outlines sales techniques, using his experiences as a stand-up comedian, radio host, teacher, sales manager, and columnist.
Becka explains his beginnings: “As a kid on Cleveland’s west side my dad was the only person on the block with a white collar job. At the age of 11, Dad got a major
promotion and the family moved to the suburbs. It was this move that forced me into a different world than what I was used to. Instead of pick up games of baseball in the playground, I was going to organized soccer matches at the field. It was here where I first discovered that I could talk to anybody about anything no matter what their background.”
I had the opportunity to work with Tom throughout my years in radio, and
found him to be in life exactly as he is on the radio. No BS. Tom has a passion
for radio, and worked his craft everyday, bringing newsmakers and entertainers to the microphone, and asking them the tough and the fun questions. He’s done everything for the show.
Above, SpiderBecka® repels a tall building for ratings. Becka is a radio professional. Like other Omaha radio listeners, I look forward to his next move.
Tom was kind to answer FIVE QUESTIONS via email.
1) When did you first know that radio was the thing for you? Did you do radio in college? Did you always listen to radio? Who were some of your faves to listen to growing up?
TB – I grew up in the golden age of Top 40 radio. As a child the Beatles
were hitting the airwaves and there was excitement coming out of this
old black tube radio I had on my dresser. Back then of course there was
no internet of cable TV so radio was a much bigger part of your life. As
a child I used to play records and pretend I was a DJ. My favorite DJ
back then was a guy in Cleveland named Jerry G. He went on to Chicago
for a big career there and eventually moved to San Diego where he owned
a couple of restaurants. I got a hold of his email address about 10
years ago and sent him a letter thanking him and cursing him for getting
me so addicted to radio. 🙂 He sent me a nice response back. It was
I always wanted a career in broadcasting but when I went to college,I
didn’t know what I wanted to do. I assumed it would be something behind
the scenes. A friend of mine was a part of the campus radio station and
he invited me to take a shift. The second I walked into the studio and
sat behind the mike I was hooked. Although I know I had to really suck
at it. I would love to hear some of those early air checks I did to
hear what I sounded like back then.
2) What’s your take on the radio game now vs. back when you began your
trek? How have the changes in technology changed the way people consume media? Did you notice substantial changes in your numbers now compared to at the beginning of your career? What did radio management do to help you, as talent, compensate for these shifts and changes?
TB – I think the problem with radio is the problem with most American
businesses. These companies are being run by lawyers and accountants
and not by people that have a love for their product or service. I
think that will eventually change as many of these smaller radio
companies are still in love with the medium and they can sell that to
their customers. Radio, should do more to embrace the new media. It
still is about putting a quality product over the airwaves no matter how
they listen to it. Whether it’s over the radio or over your smart phone
it’s about putting out a product people want and super serving their
audience. Compared to television and newspapers, radio is best suited
to thrive with the new technology. Historically radio has had to adapt
to changing trends and tastes. It is my hope and belief that it can
continue to adapt and thrive.
3) You are historically good at staying somewhere in the middle
politically. Do you think the fact that you weren’t really ultra
conservative hurt you in talk radio? Can you speak to the appeal of the
‘lunatic fringe’ instead of the ‘moderate middle’?
TB – I know it hurt me in Kansas City. And at KFAB they never told me what I
had to think but it was suggested that if I had two topics go with the
one where I had the more traditionally conservative views. But I have
always said I would rather fail on my own terms than succeed on someone
As far as the appeal of the fringe goes I think we all like to watch a
train wreck. Look at the success of the Kardashians. The problem is
people began taking the train wreck seriously. Glenn Beck addressed
this a year ago. He apologized for his part in creating the divide we
now see in Washington.
4) What are some of your favorite memories in radio? Greatest
interviews? Biggest stars? Favorite all-access? Top memory on-air? Most
shocking? What philanthropic endeavor are you most proud of, and did the most good?
TB – Too many to name.. Broadcasting from Florida during the recount. Doing
my show from the White House. The Presidential debates, the week long
power outage in Omaha. Interviewing Presidential hopefuls, Ebola
doctors, and movie stars. I will always remember the story of the man
who was in a truck and had a loaded gun ready to commit suicide. I was
on the radio and I said something that made him laugh. And he realized
if he could laugh he couldn’t kill himself. When he told me that story
I couldn’t believe it. There was also a woman that had 7 hours of
surgery ahead of her and when the doctor asked what music she wanted to
hear she said she wanted to listen to my show. I made her seven hours
of tapes to listen to. I don’t think my career in radio is over but if
it is it was a helluva ride.
5) Look into the future, short-term and long-term? As you have an
opportunity to re-invent your work circumstance again, what are you most looking forward to? What scares you the most about the unknown future?
TB – One of the things I loved most about my job was every day I took 4 hours
of “air” and turned it into a product that people wanted to spend their
time and money on. Every day was a challenge and I loved it. Now I’m
experimenting with podcasting and the new media. I do daily podcasts at
tombecka.com I’m looking at new ways to take my skills and utilize
them in the new media. I look back to the old vaudeville performers who
had to adapt when radio came in the picture. Then the old radio stars
that had to adapt when TV became the thing. This is no different. it
still boils down to the talent and if they can make a connection with
the audience. I have been able to do that for all these years. I look
forward to continuing this in the future.