Are You Havin' A Laugh?
February 24, 2012
Election years are great for talk radio, for obvious reasons, and most of America's talk stations will try to take advantage of that by focusing their content on the horse race, on the wonky machinations of the political system, on the polls and the gotchas and the October Surprises and all of that red meat stuff. And that's fine.
That's not what I want to talk about this week. Instead, I want to note something else that's happening in talk radio and why it's significant. If you pay attention to radio ratings, you may have noticed something happening in a few markets that's kind of remarkable. In markets like Kansas City and Austin, little 250-watt FM translators are getting surprising ratings with all-Comedy formats fed from sister stations' HD3 channels.
Surprising, that is, if you didn't know how successful, relative to other channels on the services, all-Comedy channels are on satellite radio. Or if you haven't noticed that many of the most popular podcasts are comedy shows. It's a trend that nobody's paying attention to, and in a year that "talk radio" will be synonymous with "election talk," it's proof that no matter what's happening in the news -- maybe BECAUSE of what's happening in the news -- there's a sizeable audience available to stations that take advantage of one simple fact:
People want to laugh. People NEED to laugh.
Before we go on, I'm not trying to suggest that existing, successful talk stations ditch the politics and start airing comedy clips, or hire comedians to talk about airplane food and mothers-in-law. What I AM suggesting is that it's part of the larger issue of serving people who aren't being reached by political or issues talk, and that there's a hunger for quality spoken-word entertainment on the radio that isn't traditional talk radio. The all-Comedy stations, even with signals that aren't all that robust and don't cover all of the market, are seeing that there's a market for what they do. Sports radio falls into the same category. They're not replacements for "real" talk, they're complimentary. People can't live by politics alone.
I know, I've said this before. Music radio has all sorts of flavors, and even the flavors have flavors (Adult Contemporary, Hot Adult Contemporary, Modern Adult Contemporary, Urban Adult Contemporary, Spanish Adult Contemporary, Soft Adult Contemporary, Hard Adult Contemporary, Smooth Adult Contemporary, Rpugh Adult Contemporary, Adult Adult Contemporary, Adult Contemporary Contemporary). But we tend to think of talk as guys-in-suits-talking-about-politics, period, and forget that there are other ways to do it. Or, worse, we point at past failures like some of the "guy talk" outlets and say, well, there's proof, it can't work. Or we jeer stations that try something different and cheer their demise.
But now there's evidence that there's a market for comedy. Even "guy talk" is making something of a small resurgence in some Florida markets. The same concerns that fuel the success of political talk -- a struggling economy, conflict over social issues, overseas tensions -- create an ideal atmosphere for stations and shows that aren't about any of that. Life's stressful enough for a lot of people. When they've had enough and hit the button on the car radio to find something that isn't so stressful, there ought to be talk for that moment, too, whether it's standup comedy clips or entertaining local or national hosts who put politics on the back burner.
Red meat's fine, but sometimes you want something else to eat.
A little housekeeping here: By the time you read this, I'll be away for an extended weekend, with no updates to Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, until Tuesday. There are a lot of evergreens there, though, so you can still find stuff for your show here, and all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics, so check it out while I take a short break, and there'll be new material soon enough. This week, you'll also find "10 Questions With..." SuperTalk 99.7 WTN/Nashville's Dr. Josh Axe, who's growing a strong health and wellness talk show, and, as always, you'll find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Okay, I gotta hit the road. Someone water the plants while I'm gone. See you shortly.