For comedy, perhaps a new era on radio
A handful of stations around the country are testing it
July 26, 2011
Why did the radio station cross the road?
To get better ratings.
Heard that one? Stayed tuned, you could be hearing a lot more jokes, hopefully better than that one.
Comedy may be returning to radio.
Over the last six months a handful of radio stations in cities like Kansas City, Tucson and Riverside, Calif., have been experimenting with new all-comedy formats, as has Pandora, the online radio service.
Early results are promising.
In Kansas City, the format is heard on FM, Funny 102.5, which has averaged a 3.4 share of the market’s total radio audience over the last three months, according to data from Arbitron’s Personal People Meter. That’s a ratings increase, and it puts Funny 102.5 right into competition with many more well-established, mainstream stations.
Some of the format’s early success may simply be good timing.
Comedy does well in dark times, it always has. In this day and age, we need it,” says George Gimarc, operations manager at 24/7 Comedy Radio, which delivers the humor content airing on Funny 102.5.
But there’s more to it than that. In the early days of radio, comedy was all over the dial, a staple of radio, especially in primetime, mixed in with dramas and variety shows and news. It was as common as sitcoms are today on television.
When TV came along, a number of the comedic stars, men such as Jack Benny, moved over to the new medium without missing a beat. Radio comedy never really recovered from that talent flight.
The new comedy is tailored to radio listening patterns of this era. Rather than airing extended sketches, stations air bits, much as a Top 40 station airs songs, rotating the bits so more popular performers come up more often than lesser-known comics.
There’s also a balance in the material across different generations of comedy, says Gimarc.
Newer performers like Dane Cook and Louis C.K. rotate with ’80s and ’90s mega-stars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Jeff Foxworthy as well as material from Richard Pryor, George Carlin and other early pioneers.
Blue humor, though a huge part of American comedy, is avoided. Says Gimarc: We’re well inside FCC guidelines. We draw our lines at safe for the workplace.
But broadcast radio isn’t the only place showing a new interest in comedy programming.
In May, Pandora added more than 10,000 comedy clips from over 700 performers to its database of material. It was the company’s first foray into spoken-word content.
The impetus to add the comedy came from the listeners, Pandora CEO Tim Westergren tells Media Life.
We keep very close track of what people are searching for to launch new stations and we saw people looking for the names of comedians, he says.
Much like Music Genome Project, where Pandora used musicians to catalog songs so that similar styles would play on listeners’ personalized stations, the company employed comedians to analyze the new material so the system can connect bits from comedians with similarities to create a personalized comedy experience.
It’s a complete parallel to music. We even call it the Comedy Genome project, says Westergren.
So far, both Westergren and Gimarc are finding that the comedy audience tends to be slightly more male than female.
Gimarc says the 24/7 Comedy Radio audience skews more toward adults 25-54 while Westergren says Pandora sees more use from 20- and 30-something listeners.
Regardless, both claim comedy makes an excellent vehicle for advertising.
Just like other spoken word formats, listeners are more engaged with comedy than with music, which can fade into the background. People tend to listen to our format at higher volume levels, says Gimarc.
He also points out that listeners are most likely in a good mood making them more receptive to advertising than they might be when their blood pressure is skyrocketing after listening to political talk.
For that matter, he adds that the station is doing well in drive time when listeners are stuck in traffic.
We’re a road-rage suppressant, he jokes.
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