KDNK’s ‘DJ Phathead’ dies at 48; friends, fans stunned
The tight-knit KDNK community radio family is reeling after receiving word that longtime hip-hop show host and rapper Greg Benson — aka DJ Phathead — died unexpectedly at his Glenwood Springs apartment over the weekend.
“I can’t think of Greg without smiling,” said Luke Nestler, KDNK program and music director. “He was probably the most irrepressible DJ on the air, and people loved it. He just bubbled forth, and was unfettered in that way.”
Benson, 48, apparently died in his sleep at some point before his scheduled Saturday night show, as Nestler said he was always responsible about letting him know if he couldn’t make it for some reason.
A cause of death has not been determined, but Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said there was no reason to believe foul play or drugs were involved.
Nestler and other longtime KDNK associates recalled that Benson was part of a young, enthusiastic group of new DJs who “blossomed forth” on the Roaring Fork Valley’s public radio airwaves in the mid-1990s.
“He immediately had his own style and was instantly recognizable on air,” former music director Skip Naft said. “Many people used to say I don’t like hip hop, but I love Phathead’s show. He was a great DJ and friend.”
Friend and local hip-hop recording artist Izm White noted in a post on Benson’s Facebook page that his was the first dedicated hip-hop show on the local airwaves. Benson would often take the opportunity to rap a rhyme or two on the air himself.
“He was a humble, hard-working man with a heart of gold … a true aficionado and ambassador of the culture,” he wrote.
Benson, who hailed from San Francisco and was an avid 49ers fan, didn’t stop at hip-hop, though. He would often spin his favorite jazz, R&B and reggae tunes as well.
“Music is almost like coffee in the morning,” Benson said in a 2006 DJ profile that appeared in the Post Independent. “If you don’t have it, then something’s going to go wrong that day.”
He also explained in that interview how his nickname came about.
“I was out playing football in the street in high school, and someone yelled, ‘Get out of the street, fathead.’ Then people just started calling me that,” he said, adding he began using “ph” when the name stuck.
Recently, Benson had been working as a ride operator at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and he also worked part time at the Daily Bread restaurant.
“I will always remember Greg for his big-hearted greetings,” fellow longtime DJ Drea Marsh said. “He had huge passion for KDNK and music that was contagious.
“He was always courteous and kind in his rhymes about the human family, and he also was a lover of the four-legged furry friends,” she said.
A pair of on-air tributes to DJ Phathead are in the works, including during what would have been Benson’s next scheduled show from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. July 1. In addition, Marsh is planning a tribute during her show from 7-10 p.m. July 2.
A memorial account has been established at Alpine Bank to help Benson’s family and friends with the cost of his unexpected passing. Donations can be made at any Alpine Bank location to The Greg Benson Memorial Fund.
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