Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Ferris O’Brien: DJ, “Spy” Master

Talking about OKC’s champion of the radio waves



Ferris O’Brien

 

For many people, music is a coping mechanism, or at least a way of integrating our experiences with our emotions. For nearly three decades, Ferris O’Brien has been helping Oklahomans do exactly that, as well as shaping the musical tastes of thousands of people around the state.

“My first experience with Ferris was the same as a lot of people,” says Jonathan Fowler, Fowler Auto VP and community arts advocate. “I listened to him on radio in the ’90s. I had started a new school in Oklahoma City and was living in Norman. It wasn’t smooth at first, but eventually got better. Ferris was a big part of that transition for me.”

O’Brien, a Houston native, came to Oklahoma to attend OU, but his first radio job was at KDGE (The Edge) in Dallas. For anyone who loved alternative music – especially punk, post-punk and grunge – The Edge was the brass ring that eluded the Oklahoma City market. It was the music that was exploding all over the U.S., but not in Oklahoma.

“I learned everything I think I know at The Edge,” O’Brien says. “Everything The Spy is – format, additions, rotations – all came from Edge procedures.”

The Spy (KSPI) falls off the tongues of under 40s – and some under 50s – with a sincere affection, as if they are speaking of a good friend. For people like Fowler, The Spy was that friend who helped with life’s transitions and disappointments, as well as provided the musical backdrop to good times and milestones. The friendly voice behind it, and the guru who chose the music, was Ferris O’Brien.

Ryan LaCroix, who hosts the Oklahoma Rock Show on KSPI, met Ferris in 2009, but he had been listening to the voice for many years. “I listened to 93.7 KSPI when I was in high school in Yukon. You could only pick up the signal after the sun went down, but I vividly remember writing down bits of lyrics in my car to find out what song that was I just heard.”

Consolidation of media following the Telecommunications Act of 1996 made it difficult for independent or alternative bands to gain airtime. Around the country, DJs such as O’Brien – shaped in the heyday of ’70s FM radio – continued to fight for independent music. In fact, O’Brien is widely known for championing bands long before they made it big.

“The Spy undoubtedly has the largest collections of songs from The Flaming Lips in the world,” LaCroix says. “Hits, deep album cuts, b-sides, remixes, live versions. It’s incredible. Before All-American Rejects broke big in Stillwater, they used to send him their demo tapes and unreleased material.”

Stillwater was the locus of O’Brien’s kingdom through the ’90s. After 95X in Oklahoma City switched formats (away from alternative to adult easy listening), he accepted an offer to remake Stillwater’s KSPI here. In an incredibly unusual move, he was given creative control.

That transition would lead to The Spy, although the result was not as long-lived as it should have been. O’Brien spent nearly five years retooling KSPI, but in the end, industry consultants recommended a format change – to Britney Spears and other teen-pop icons.

He would spend the next several years playing specialty shows on radio around central Oklahoma, and in 2009, he purchased 105.3 FM. To do so, he had to enter into agreements with Citadel Communications, one of the largest media companies in the world. When the relationship crumbled, Citadel attempted to keep all the branding materials associated with The Spy. O’Brien said one of his proudest accomplishments is besting Citadel and retaining The Spy brand.

From August 2009 through most of 2010, he focused on developing programs, retooling the station, and solidifying The Spy brand. At the same time, O’Brien’s influence continued to shape the music scene in central Oklahoma, both in choices of programming and in helping artists and promoters get non-mainstream music into venues around the state.

Kerry Myers promotes independent artists around the state, and in some cases, even after they relocate. She counts O’Brien as one of her principal mentors. “Ferris has always offered support and guidance to me and my endeavors,” she says. “He’s a true mentor to me and others around the state.”

Singer-songwriter and Elms vocalist/guitarist Chelsea Cope moved to Oklahoma City seven years ago. She is a creative, smart songwriter with an indie rock sound that departs from the mainstream in the best ways possible. In terms of her career since coming to Oklahoma City, Cope gives O’Brien a good deal of credit for providing a showcase for her talent.

“Coming from a state that lacks in the arts compared to other larger cities, he has really broadened the way people think about music,” Cope says. “It’s not just Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood.”

The final major shift came in late 2010 when O’Brien looked at the station’s ratings. “We figured out that nine of 10 listeners accessed The Spy by means other than radio,” he says. “We decided to try the format online. In December 2010, we went exclusively online.”

Taking an audience – at that time – of nearly 20,000 listeners to an online platform would be a risk for traditional radio, but O’Brien had carved out a non-traditional brand, so the listeners followed. The format worked through all of 2011, and then KOSU called and asked him to bring The Spy back on a part-time basis. O’Brien agreed, and so you can catch those specialty programs on 91.7 FM again from 7 p.m. - 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and during morning and evening slots on Sunday – in addition to the virtual airwaves.

“This would never have worked in Dallas,” O’Brien says. “It’s this city, the people – everyone got behind it.”

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »You Might Like

The Festival of the Arts’ Legacy

Arts Council OKC director Peter Dolese retraces the origins and expansion of the week-long celebration of creativity that is the Festival of the Arts.

The Natural Touch for Self-Care

Natural products from lotions to fragrances in conscientious self-care that are perfect for a season of renewal.

An Oklahoma Story in Stone

Nearly 150 years after Sophia Pitchlynn died in what was then Indian Territory, her gravestone still stands silent vigil in Garland Cemetery.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

April 2019

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Celebrate Easter with a trip to Andy Alligator’s Fun Park! On Saturday and Sunday, get $5 off an All-Day Pass with our Eggcellent Easter Special. All-Day Passes include Go-Karts,...

Cost: $23.95

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
View map »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The OSU Symphony Orchestra will conclude the 2018-19 season with Schubert's monumental and majestic Symphony No. 9 in C ("The Great"). The concert opens with The European Anthem,...

Cost: General Admission: $10; Students & Seniors: $7

Where:
Oklahoma State University Department of Music
132 Seretean Ctr
Stillwater, OK  74078
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma State University Department of Music
Telephone: 405.744.6133
Contact Name: Dr. Thomas Dickey
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Potbelly Sandwich Shop is giving back to the local neighborhood with Feed Your Smile, a fundraiser supporting Concordia Life Care Community.  Show this flyer on your smartphone or...

Cost: Free

Where:
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
8500 N Rockwell Ave
OKC, OK  73132
View map »


Sponsor: Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Telephone: 405-792-5112
Contact Name: Katy Fabrie
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

"Deliberately silencing the internal chatter and not overthinking. Conscious, but not over-trying. With this approach, things just seem to happen—it’s where all the substance is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Individual Artists of Oklahoma
706 W. Sheridan Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Individual Artists of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405.412.2541
Contact Name: David Smith

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Shop over 200 vendors at this indoor event with everything from vintage furniture, retro and mid-century decor to handmade goods, antiques, industrial finds and architectural salvage!

Cost: $5 at the door, 13 and under free

Where:
Heritage Place
2829 S. MacArthur
Oklahoma City, OK  73128
View map »


Sponsor: Junk Hippy
Contact Name: Kristen Grandi
Website »

More information

A Sporting Chance will host the 25th annual Track and Field Meet at Branson Junior High in Branson, Missouri. A Sporting Chance provides year-round sports and recreation programs designed for those...

Where:
Branson Junior High
263 Buccaneer Boulevard
Branson, MO  65616
View map »


Sponsor: A Sporting Chance
Telephone: 404-314-2188
Contact Name: Hannah Schachinger

More information

RexFest will feature an interactive art exhibit called a luminarium created by Architects of Air. From April 25-28, visitors can walk through the inflatable sculpture, which disperses light and...

Cost: $8 for kids; $10 for adults; $30 for families of four

Where:
Together Square
400 W Sheridan Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Delta Dental

More information

This one-day festival is rooted in the printing of large-scale woodblocks carved by local Oklahoma artists. We bring in a 5-ton steamroller and print pre-carved blocks throughout the day on Tyvek...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Evan
Website »

More information

Men and women from across the American West played critical roles - both “over there” and on the home front - in helping the Allies win World War I. The National Cowboy & Western...

Cost: $12.50

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
Contact Name: Jenni
Website »

More information

The Annual Mentorship Exhibition features pieces from Oklahoma City high school students that visit the Artspace studio each month. Throughout the duration of the program, the students engage with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: Artspace at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Andy Alligator's is celebrating teachers! On Saturday and Sunday, teachers with a valid ID will receive a FREE All-Day Pass and $5 off for each family member! An All-Day Pass includes...

Cost: Teachers receive a FREE All-Day Pass; family members get $5 off

Where:
Andy Alligator's Fun Park & Water Park
3300 Market Pl
Norman, OK  73072
View map »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

Get a sample of the nightlife of Spain at Tulsa Botanic Garden's "Viva La Vida." The Garden is bringing star chef Jamie Bissonnette (Toro restaurants in Boston, NYC, Bangkok and...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tulsa Botanic Garden
3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr
Tulsa, OK  74127
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Botanic Garden
Telephone: 918-289-0330
Contact Name: Lori Hutson
Website »

More information

2nd annual gathering of "The Big Lebowksi" fans at The Dude Abides OKC All Oklahoma City Urban Achievers, Abiders and Coen Brothers fans are invited to join us at Fassler Hall OKC and...

Cost: Free, contests have entry fee

Where:
Fassler Hall
421 NW 10th
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Revolve Productions
Telephone: 405.810.6977
Contact Name: Tobi Coleman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags