The RBS Ad Report Card:
Certain voices are instantly recognizable. Think Bob Dylan, James Earl Jones and John O’Hurley. That last guy isn’t particularly famous, but his voice is. He played the catalog honcho J. Peterman on Seinfeld. Perhaps you’ve also heard him on local radio station 98.9 Liberty, spouting 5-second tidbits about Richmond and how the station “plays anything.” I first heard the ads several months ago and immediately thought they were – as Kenny Bania would say – gold, Jerry, gold.
Here’s a guy who’s not really that well known, surely not like Jerry Seinfeld or George Costanza, but who instantly makes the listener think of Seinfeld. And that makes the listener smile even if he’s stuck in traffic at Short Pump.
John O’Hurley has been doing the spots since August.
You can listen here, here and here.
Mike Murphy, the station manger with 98.9’s parent, Main Line Broadcasting, told me that most people hear it and say, “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that the guy from Seinfeld?”
“We were looking for a distinctive station voice. Something to lend some depth, some humor and a different feel to the radio station,” Murphy said.
The station’s Richmond staff wrote all the lines. Some are simple. Others are a little confusing. Murphy told me that O’Hurley read hundreds in the four hours the station hired him for at more than $1,000 an hour.
Murphy said: “We wanted to make sure we had a local appeal. So we sent him lines and talked to him about different places here and the way people talk here. We wanted to make it as homey as possible. … He sounds local and national.”
I’m not so sure about that, but his distinctive voice is a pleasant surprise, like a letter from an old friend. And that’s a new twist on an old standard. For ages, it seems, radio stations have had musicians holler out the call letters. Think of Garth Brooks coming on the radio to say, “This is 93.3 Country.”
I’m guessing 98.9 Liberty, which claims to play anything, is going for a pretty large swath of listeners. And that’s why J. Peterman is such a good play. Seinfeld was popular. You can’t really get any more popular. And the station is happy with the response. Murphy gets three or four emails a week about the ads. “The investment we made with this gentleman has not only paid off organically in the way the radio station sounds, but also in the way the audience has grown,” he said.
Richmond BizSense grade: A-. This is flawless strategy for a station that’s trying for a broad reach, but some of the spots are just too confusing. It’ll also be important for the station to know when the campaign has exhausted its natural life span.