In three weeks it attracted an audience of 235,000. It’s now ranked fourth 25-54 and sixth 18-49, on an HD2 channel and 250 watt translator, no less.
Is it a flash in the pan, or do we have a new format?
It doesn’t matter. One successful format launch can spawn many copy-cats. But before rushing out and buying a bunch of used comedy CDs and launching your own comedy format, read on.
Harker Research worked with Donkey Comedy Network in the development and fine-tuning of the format. Before that we had worked with other radio groups in exploring the potential for a comedy format.
After years of research and testing many approaches we learned that done well, done correctly, comedy has legs. However, creating a successful comedy format is not all laughs.
There are many more ways to do the format poorly than to do it right.
Looking at past failures, we found that earlier efforts were not well thought out. Many basic programming rules were ignored.
Fundamentally, a comedy format has be programmed like a music format. Think of it as spoken-word CHR.
The first stations that tried comedy tended to throw on the air whatever comedy albums they could find. The “playlist” tended to be a little of everything.
You were as likely to hear Jonathan Winters or Bill Cosby as Robin Williams or Eddy Murphy.
It isn’t possible to generalize about the appeal of comedians. We found just like with music artists, there are hit comedians and stiff comedians, not always related to their era. For example, a few comedians from the 1970s are more popular than many contemporary comedians.
But you can’t generalize about any particular era. It’s like syndicated television comedies. Some hold up decade after decade, while others fade quickly. Same with stand-up comedy.
The bottom line is that comedy is just like a music format. You can’t win by guessing about the hits. Comedians have to be tested, and then the cuts have to be tested.
Unfortunately, when it comes to comedy, finding the hits is just the start.
Recorded comedy routines tend to be long, wandering streams-of-consciousness monologues recorded live. Comedians want to recreate the live experience for their devoted fans.
We found that most recorded cuts are too long, hard to follow, and often with a weak kicker or punch line. Today’s listener doesn’t have the time or patience to sit through an eight minute meandering monologue, even a good one.
To keep listeners engaged, each cut has to be ruthlessly edited. The key is to turn every cut into a fast-paced well-focused bit that builds to a funny pay-off.
Once you’ve got a library, there’s the question of how to rotate the cuts.
There are cuts that hold up to repeated listening (the powers). There are also cuts that wear out quickly (the secondaries). Rotations have to be keyed to how well each cut holds up to repeated play.
The sequencing has to be right, too. The format has to flow to hold listeners. Mixing up topics, performers, and tempo all go into creating a format that hangs together.
Hosting is also critical. Early attempts at comedy were little more than comedic jukeboxes that played one cut after another.
A host threads the hour together helping in transitions. The host’s other task is to keep a person listening with teases that give a sense of what hilarity will ensue if she keeps listening.
As digital competitors grow, creating unique content will be critically important in keeping broadcast groups competitive. Comedy along with other spoken-word formats provide the greatest opportunities for creating unique formats.
Comedy: Good for a laugh, but no laughing matter.