UNO student dishes out on-air laughs

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By Jessican Andreasen, Contributor

Age is no barrier to success. Perform in a band, write field guides, attend college and perform an on-air comedy show are just a few items on Ben Tompkins’ list of daily activities; items most people would only find on their bucket list. Tompkins seems to be a real-life Energizer bunny.

The 25-year-old Nebraska native is a self-proclaimed funny man. Tompkins, a University of Nebraska Omaha student, and his brother, Matt, who’s six years older, used to perform an acoustic comedy show at places like the Funny Bone and hotel conventions.

Now Tompkins is bringing his comedy to radio. He is currently working at Clear Channel Communications where he and Matt have an on-air comedy show, “The Matt and Ben Show.” Tompkins describes their show as an “entire on-air blooper.” Their unscripted back-and-forth banter created a good following. The show started on Twister 93.3 before currently moving to 96.1 The Brew.

“I never had any intention to get into radio,” Tompkins said. “I always had respect for the talent it takes to get into radio, but had no interest. Now that I’ve been working in it for four years, it’s kind of grown on me.”

When Tompkins graduated high school, he wanted to study acting, but it didn’t work out because the comedy show took over. At UNO, he was interested in screenwriting, like sitcoms and sketch comedy. Unfortunately, UNO offers very little screenwriting classes, but Tompkins knew his biggest strength was writing funny things.

When a Sunday night show opened up on Twister, his brother asked him if he wanted to put together a demo of their comedy show. Tompkins responded, “Sure. Why not? I got nothing else to do on a Sunday night.”

When an afternoon disc jockey was let go, it opened up a spot for their show to move to weekday afternoons. Tompkins was hired on at the station part-time, then a year later full-time, and now he is on salary. It “snowballed” after that. He was promoted to program director in November.

“I totally tripped and fell right into it,” Tompkins said.

When Tompkins’ boss told him Twister 93.3 was flipping over to 93.3 The Wolf, he assured him they would still have a show on one of the stations in the building. When Tompkins found out it was going to be The Brew, he was elated.

“It’s a great fit, and opportunity, as The Brew is a much bigger station.” Tompkins said. “It was sort of like going from the minors to the majors…that’s a baseball analogy.”

The change only happened a few months ago and Tompkins is still adjusting to the difference.

“On Twister, we had free rein in our comedy and humor to express ourselves,” Tompkins said. “It was a great outlet. It didn’t make much sense to a lot of people listening, but we thought it was hilarious.”

Tompkins said the move has enabled him to better himself and create a more compact show.

“Brew is a much bigger station and the quality is a little higher so we can’t really do stupid nonsense,” he said. “Now, Matt and I prepare punch lines instead of rambling on for five minutes talking about nothing.”

Tompkins finds it ironic he works in radio because his degree is in general studies, with a primary focus in creative writing and secondary focus in religion. He said he considered journalism, but he didn’t really like it. He prefers the creative side of writing, which helps with his current job writing commercials and ad copy.

Tompkins hopes to graduate from UNO this May with a general studies degree, after seven years of college. He admits it’s a long time to be in school, but it’s difficult to be a full-time student when he works full-time, so he only takes two or three classes a semester. He says the experience he is gaining in the field prepares him more than what a classroom setting offers. He feels lucky to be able to have both school and a job in the field.

“The knowledge you gain in school is valuable, but I’ve learned so much being in a real-life scenario,” Tompkins said. “The situations you get put in at the studio mold the way you think and operate.”

Tompkins is surprised he even got the job. If it weren’t for his brother working at the station, he knows he wouldn’t have had this opportunity, or even thought about working in radio. He admits he never took broadcasting classes, so Matt gave him broadcasting terminology to say when he went in for his interview.

“I threw out words like ‘cool editing’ and ‘adobe audition,'” Tompkins said. “I had no idea how to use any of it, so when I got the job, I had to stay at the station non-stop and follow Matt around. I acted the part hoping no one said anything.”

Tompkins said the biggest asset about this job is getting to work with his brother.

“We have so much fun together that I can tolerate the downsides of the job, like the long days and hours,” he said.

Another fun aspect of working in radio is the fans. Tompkins said he doesn’t have any followers in his classes at UNO because he is so quiet and doesn’t like to brag.

“There isn’t anything to brag about, it’s not like I’m some great radio star,” he said. “I could lose my job, it’s fickle and not much job security.”

Tompkins’ friends make fun of him, though. Some might describe his on-air personality as ditzy or stupid.

“I have a really high-pitched voice, so listeners think I sound feminine,” he said. “Matt has a typical deep radio voice.”

Fans are surprised at their appearance when they come to remotes (where DJ’s broadcast live from an event) because they are a lot younger than the majority in radio.

“We don’t fit the typical image like Todd and Tyler, who have the goatees and are in their 40s,” the lanky DJ said.

For now, Tompkins is enjoying the experience many people his age don’t acquire. He hopes to continue at the station after he graduates college, for as long as they want him. “I could see myself staying in this genre, as far as entertainment,” he said.

It’s easy to be enamored by Tompkins’ charm; he doesn’t take himself too seriously. When he’s not plugging away hours at work or school, he finds time for various hobbies.

“In my free time I like to tap-dance,” Tompkins said. “I also enjoy riding motorcycles, writing field guides, riding horses, inventing words, high-fiving people, hiding things, drinking alcohol, burying time capsules and climbing trees.” He is currently writing a field guide about whales.

Although some of Tompkins hobbies are slightly bizarre, it’s questionable how he’s managed to accomplish as much as he has thus far. With his charisma, Tompkins won’t be exiting the spotlight anytime soon.

“My age isn’t that big of a setback,” he said. “As long as my job gets done, and I do it well, my age isn’t really a factor. Now if I was to start messing up and loosing my cool, then they may say, ‘He’s too young or inexperienced for this,’ but that hasn’t happened yet…that I know of anyway.”

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