Ben Ponzio resigned Tuesday as general sales manager of CBS Radio Top 40 WBBM FM 96.3 to pursue a full-time career as a professional poker player.
“It’s been a lifelong dream that I never thought I’d be able to do,” said Ponzio, 40, who’s been playing as a hobby since he was 10. “Now I have the opportunity to make it happen, and I'm excited about it.”
Turning pro is no lark for Ponzio, who scored a major win at the World Series of Poker in 2007 (he has the bracelet to prove it) and is a familiar figure at local and national tournaments. “If I can make enough money doing it and I like the lifestyle, then that will be my new career and I’ll be done with radio at least for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Ponzio described the decision to leave CBS Radio as mutual, coinciding with a companywide restructuring of sales management. His move followed the resignation last week of 32-year veteran Patty Reilly-Murphy as general sales manager of adult album alternative WXRT FM 93.1.
Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager of CBS Radio Chicago, confirmed the new sales hierarchy Tuesday, with Paul Agase serving as general sales manager of B96, classic hits WJMK FM 104.3 and country WUSN FM 99.5, Chad Feldman serving as general sales manager of WXRT and sports/talk WSCR AM 670, and Mark Day continuing as director of sales and general sales manager of Newsradio WBBM AM 780 and WCFS FM 105.9.
Ponzio, a lifelong Chicagoan and graduate of Fenwick High School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, joined CBS Radio in 2006 after nine years at alternative rock WKQX FM 101.1 under Emmis Communications.
As the single father of a 9-year-old daughter, Ponzio said his first priority will always be her well-being. “I’m not worried about being successful at making the money," he said. "I’m worried about whether I’ll like going to work so many weekend nights. My work hours are going to be 5 or 6 p.m. to 3 or 4 a.m. It may not be for me.
“My daughter is going to come first in all of it. If [playing poker] gives me problems with that, then I will go back to the media world, whether it’s in radio or something else.”