Struthers homeowner spreads holiday joy via 21,000-bulb light display
By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Ron Benzenhoefer isn’t entirely sure why he spent a week decking out his home with 21,000 bulbs that appear to blink in time with tunes by artists such as AC/DC and Van Halen, and, roughly every third song, Christmas music.
He’s also not sure why he spent almost four months building a controller that more perfectly matches lights to music, when the store-bought one wasn’t up to his standards.
“It’s crazy, actually,” he acknowledged, standing in his driveway as neon-green lasers flitted about in the tree branches above. “It makes absolutely no sense.”
But for the past 10 years, Benzenhoefer has ignored his better judgment, and allowed his “Lights Over Lincoln” display — aptly named, as his 644 Lincoln Ave. residence sits at the very top of the street’s hill — to grow.
It started small, he insisted, but this year is his biggest yet.
“Before you know it, you end up with this,” said Benzenhoefer, a self-proclaimed “lighting lunatic.” “But it’s worth it to see all the little kids smiling or to see an adult singing some stupid song from the ’80s, as they drive by. It’s spreading Christmas joy.”
He’s a diesel mechanic but said electronics has always been a hobby. Benzenhoefer’s system, including the controller he built, is a complicated one, though that’s not immediately apparent by the nonchalant way he explains its construction. If he had problems or questions while working on it, he said, he just consulted the Internet.
The controller, for example, consists of a spectrum analyzer through which the preselected music travels. Certain notes in those songs — such as highs and lows — then trip relays, or switches, that turn designated lights on and off in conjunction with the music.
Visitors can tune in to Benzenhoefer’s playlist consisting of hundreds of songs by simply turning their car’s radio dial to 107.7 FM — an open frequency over which the music is streamed via transmitter. Those radio signals don’t travel too far beyond Benzenhoefer’s property, though those who stop by now have the ability to skip and pick songs.
Skipping songs requires only the dialing of the phone number on a sign in Benzenhoefer’s front yard. Choosing a song is just as simple: Visitors just connect to the “Lights Over Lincoln” Wi-Fi, then are automatically sent to the playlist to choose a tune.
There’s something in the playlist to appeal to everyone, Benzenhoefer said.
Benzenhoefer is partial to Whitesnake’s “Slow An’ Easy,” but understands that not everyone who drives past his house is in the mood for rock ‘n’ roll — even though Christmas songs can get boring after a while. He does play them exclusively on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, however.
His wife, Debbie Rolland, noted that she’s one of the people who prefers to hear Christmas music accompanying the light show, but, overall, loves the display.
“I’m all for it. I just like Christmas lights,” Rolland said. “You don’t see them like you used to.”
And though “Lights Over Lincoln” doesn’t draw huge crowds as some of the other, similar stops on the “Tour of Lights,” the average of three or four cars parked outside is enough to make Benzenhoefer want to continue the display year after year.
Not knowing just how much the December electric bill costs — a minute detail Rolland keeps from him — helps too, as do all of the positive comments from friends, neighbors and strangers alike.
“Most people today are too selfish. Nobody wants to go out of their way to make other people happy anymore,” Benzenhoefer said. “I just want to make people smile.”
“Lights Over Lincoln” runs from about 6:30 to 11 p.m. each night from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Eve.