Longtime listeners of Philly’s 95.7 BEN-FM know all too well the familiar voice during music breaks, but do you need a reminder of to whom it belongs?
It might be after Matt Cord wraps up Queen, Kristen Herrmann puts down Blondie, or while sneaking BEN at work and just heard your favorite throwback from Run DMC. It’s the sound of John O’Hurley’s voice crisscrossing the airwaves – you know the voice because you’ve heard it a thousand times.
O’Hurley has been a mainstay with Ben FM since its inception in 2005. Philadelphia’s BEN-FM (95.7-FM), the sister station of WMMR (93.3-FM), is the city’s adult hits variety station. Fifteen years ago, when the station first launched, Greater Media (now Beasley Media Group) sought a name that would resonate with listeners. It became “Ben.”
“It’s not necessarily after Ben Franklin, but it’s also not honoring Ben Franklin – or shying away from any association,” said Chuck Damico, program director for BEN-FM.
“We were looking for a standout character that could carry a really fun attitude – maybe slightly sarcastic, but relatable – and an actor like John O’Hurley and a character like Mr. Peterman from ‘Seinfeld’ was very popular at the time.”
Damico said that O’Hurley had been enjoying success doing this kind of work at stations across the country for years, so BEN-FM lassoed him in, too. He’s been with the station its whole life.
Maybe you’ve heard some of these BEN-FM classics while listening on your way to work, school, or play:
“Your wingman and your thigh master.”
“Never sure if we should say thanks…or sorry.”
“How high is the mountain? How wet is the ocean? How BEN is BEN FM?!”
Damico said that, for the most part, O’Hurley is given a script from the station for these one-liners you hear in between songs on the radio. With anyone permitted to submit one-liners to the station and from what BEN-FM can independently source, the inspiration behind them can come from anywhere.
“One of my favorites came from a counter at a café; it [read], ‘Did you know that stressed spelled backward is desserts?,” Damico recalled. “I ask people, ‘What’s your favorite 80s movie line? What’s your favorite song lyric? What’s a funny thing your kid said? What did you read on the bus? They can come from anywhere.”
In regards to how he feels about his BEN persona, O’Hurley had plenty to say.
“Ben is a legend in his own mind,” he starts. “Much like [Seinfeld’s] J. Peterman, but without the frequent flyer miles. Ben inhabits the world of music, year after year, trying to understand every new style, but ultimately is clueless. He is still trying to ‘get jiggy with it’ while the world is now ‘ju-ju on that beat.’ He is not a DJ, but the occasional commentator on the world as he sees it – not as it really is. He is the morning drive mock-wisdom that you listen to, chuckle at, and then arrive at work grateful that you don’t have to be him for the rest of your day.”
Today, O’Hurley owns part of the J. Peterman Company with entrepreneur John Peterman. The retailer declared bankruptcy in 1999 after “Seinfeld” went off the air. The actor told Chicago’s “the U,” “I guess you could say I liked the role so much, I bought the company.”
Those who tune in regularly to Philly’s No. 1 station playing the best mix of the 1970s, 80s and 90s hits probably know O’Hurley’s voice as part of the daily drumbeat. That’s not by design, says Damico, but he’s the guy who helps bring “Ben’s” personality to the station – the one who helps give it an identity.
“John has been a huge part of our rating success over the years,” he said, “And like every company, we survey the audience, and year after year, it comes back that they love hearing him on the radio.”
“He is still trying to ‘get jiggy with it’ while the world is now ‘ju-ju on that beat.’ He is not a DJ, but the occasional commentator on the world as he sees it – not as it really is.”
– Actor John O’Hurley describing his BEN-FM persona and voice
Tony Maddox, (aka “Shoes”), is the imaging director for BEN-FM. He’s the guy who sits down with O’Hurley and records the scripts for various station spots. Maddox shared an “awkward” story about how, one time, O’Hurley was scheduled to do a Ben FM recording after an on-air appearance promoting the National Dog Show. En route to the studio, hunger pangs set in, and someone fetched O’Hurley a pizza slice.
“I escorted John to the studio, which, after the frantic post-show scene, was almost palpably silent – these are, after all, acoustically treated recording studios,” said Maddox. “I got him settled at his microphone, and just as I was about to start our recording session, someone [arrived] with John’s pizza…So, for the next five minutes, I sat in silence in a virtually sound-proof room, pretending not to listen to John O’Hurley eat a slice of pizza while waiting for him to read a script for the station. I guess I could have excused myself from the booth, but I didn’t want to leave in case he needed anything. He’s a very efficient, and mostly quiet eater. So, yeah, awkward pizza. That’s my story.”
And in the words of O’Hurley: “With 95.7 on the menu, who needs dessert?”