Life After Radio: Former PD Ken Boesen Now Flying High as a Commercial Pilot

Courtesy Photo
Ken Boesen

Country radio veteran Ken Boesen has enjoyed flying as a hobby for two decades, but after getting merged out of a job at WKIS Miami last summer following a station swap that transferred ownership from Beasley Broadcasting to CBS Radio, he decided to make his hobby a profession. Boesen is now a full-time pilot for the regional carrier partner of a major airline.

After departing WKIS, which he had programmed for nearly eight years, Boesen was giving flying lessons to keep himself busy, continuing something he had done for fun for about 15 years. “I started looking at aviation as a career and discovered that the airlines are in a huge growth period right now,” he says. “A huge number of airlines are hiring a huge number of pilots. So as far as the time to break into aviation as a career, it’s a fantastic time to do that.”

He began three months of training in February, including working in simulators and on real planes. During that time he also earned his Air Transport Pilot Certificate and joined the Air Line Pilots Association union, noting with a laugh that he’s probably one of the few people in the world who is a member of both ALPA and the Country Music Association.

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In May, he started his job as a first officer for the airline. While Boesen still lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his flight base is New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport. He jokes, “Handy, right? Anybody who complains about, ‘Oh, I’ve got a 40 minute commute,’ stop it.” He hops other flights as a passenger to get to work.

As a newcomer to the profession, says Boesen, “I’m breaking into somebody else’s business. I wasn’t the low man on the totem pole anymore in radio, but in aviation, yep, I’m a junior pilot.” So while others were enjoying the long Memorial Day weekend, Boesen’s schedule included “flying around here or there and stop and go again, stop and go again, all weekend long.” His current schedule involves five or six days a week on duty, flying four to six flights a day on a Dash 8 turboprop aircraft that seats between 37 and 50 people.

He’s also the owner of a Mooney 231 aircraft, but says flying for a living has, unfortunately, somewhat dampened his longtime interest in flying recreationally, at least for now.

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Prior to his surprising career change, Boesen had worked in the radio business for more than 25 years, landing his first full-time job in the industry in 1988. He left WKIS in June 2015. And while he loves flying, calling the career change “an exciting, new thing to me,” there’s still plenty he misses about radio, most notably the relationships and camaraderie. “It’s no secret radio folks can be a colorful bunch, and I have dozens and dozens of lifelong friends,” he says, noting that he misses those vibrant characters “on a daily basis,” along with the relationships with country artists.

Unsurprisingly, he says flying for a living bears no resemblance whatsoever to Dierks Bentley’s party-on-board “Drunk on a Plane” music video. “You climb up in the cockpit, and you close the door,” he says. “You talk to the passengers, but there’s not much two-way communication unless the flight attendant calls. You are in a state of concentration up there. There’s very specific rules that you’ve got to follow from before you start the engine to the moment you pull into the gate: how you fly, exactly what path and how fast, and how everything works is exact every time.”

From his new perspective in the cockpit, Boesen also offers some advice for nervous fliers. “When you get in turbulence [and are] bouncing around a bit and people start wincing and grabbing onto the arms of the seats and getting scared, [remember that] it’s a roller coaster. It’s not going to break, so smile and enjoy the ride. If you feel so inclined, put both arms in the air and go, ‘Whoo.’ Aviation in the United States, especially, is so safe. There’s double and triple redundancy on the systems, the airplanes are so well-maintained, the training is so good, and we practice every contingency over and over until every person gets it down exactly right every time. So it’s safe. It’s really safe.”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.