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Seattle On Radio: Seldom is heard a comedic word
Published 10:00 pm, Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Not radio, these days.
The passing last week of Robert "Madman Moskowitz" Baron, who for years hosted a program of spoken and music comedy, is an unhappy reminder of how little comedy remains on the radio.
To be sure, some would argue that there's plenty of humor still there, particularly in morning drive-time shows, and hosts such as Garrison Keillor on NPR.
But comedy used to have a much greater presence throughout the broadcast day. Comedy songs and novelty records from performers such as Ray Stevens and Dickie Goodman (he did records in a Q&A format, with cuts from songs providing the responses) regularly appeared on the charts. Nationally syndicated shows such as "Dr. Demento" and the "National Lampoon Radio Hour" were regular features of radio schedules.
Stations even ran comedy serials, "Chickenman" and "Secret Adventures of the Toothfairy," produced by legendary ad man Dick Orkin (you can hear his voice on a current series of ads for PugetSoundHelpWanted .com). Longtime listeners remember signature bits and recurring characters done by radio personalities ranging from Lan Roberts to Robin & Maynard.
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Pat Cashman, one of the last practitioners of radio comedy, says character-driven bits and sketches and nuanced humor have "definitely disappeared."
Michael O'Shea, onetime Seattle radio programmer and now head of All Comedy Radio, says that with the advent of morning drive-time teams, radio stations concentrated the time they devoted to humor or comedy in that segment. But while listeners may want the information-and-conversation orientation of those shows for their morning commute, the rest of the day they use radio as a "mood button," he says. "After 9 a.m. (stations) had to become music-intensive."
The homogenization of radio gets much of the blame from critics like Jef Jaisun, a professional photographer who achieved his bit of music-comedy fame with his song "Friendly Neighborhood Narco Agent" (written 40 years ago and a major hit on "Dr. Demento"). "People like to laugh, they like to hear (new) stuff and have it presented in a creative fashion," he says. But "most program directors, station managers and bean counters don't want to take chances," particularly when it involves social commentary that may irritate someone, as musical satire and spoken-word comedy often do.
O'Shea, whose network offers long-form comedy formats and short-form segments, said he's seen a revival of interest in comedy with some stations offering a short comedy selection in afternoon drive. But that's not the same as devoting considerable time to producing two-minute segments that could run throughout the day, as Orkin did with serials heard on stations coast to coast.
While radio may have moved away from comedy, Cashman wonders if listeners have: "I don't know that the percentage of people who want or don't want a good laugh from the radio has changed."
In other radio notes:
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