In March, radio station BEN-FM announced its arrival in Philadelphia with the battle cry, “Playing anything we feel like.” BEN promised fewer commercials, an absence of chatty DJs, and a huge playlist highlighted by train-wreck segues between songs (for instance, Nelly followed by Pat Benatar). Did local radio have a mutiny on its hands?
BEN may sound like a revolutionary concept, but it’s not. The idea originated in Canada with BOB-FM — a station operating with a similar slogan and vein of irreverence. Since BOB’s debut in 2002, the concept has expanded across the U.S. Stations with the monikers ABE, JACK, MIKE, DAVE, DOUG, JOE and even HANK (a country version) now broadcast their “no rules” style of radio from Illinois to L.A. But there are natural limits to musical taste. Will BEN, in fact, play anything?
“The songs BEN and these other formats play are proven hits, and not really album cuts. They’re going for something that’s familiar,” says Bob Burke, VP of radio journal FMQB. “Listening to BEN is like tuning into the music at a wedding reception,” adds Mike Sommers, BEN’s program director.
So for all BEN’s college-radio packaging (it has likened itself to an iPod on shuffle), the station draws on a well-researched format: huge playlists pulled heavily from Top 40 ’80s hits, presented with a swagger it somehow doesn’t find to be tongue–in-cheek. “Is this just the flavor of the month?” asks Burke. “We’ll see what happens.”