Written and researched by Chad Zumock (Comedian, Former radio host, host of “The Sit Down Zumock: A Bunch of B.S. Podcast)
After a very memorable on air chat between Gregg “Opie” Hughes and his former long time partner, Anthony Cumia last week for the first time in two years, I began thinking about how radio has been so important to so many comedians throughout history. The very brief Opie and Anthony reunion was a nostalgic trip and reminder of what once was one of the top 5 successful shows ever in the history of radio. That show alone made me familiar with some of the greatest comedians working today. The Opie and Anthony Show introduced me to Jim Norton, Rich Vos, Bill Burr, the late, great Patrice O’Neal and I heard about Louis C.K. not from the legendary “Pootie Tang”, but from the Opie and Anthony Show.
They weren’t the only show to change the careers of comedians. I pretty much started stand up comedy because I loved Artie Lange so much on the Howard Stern Show. I identified with him being a lovable loser and the fact he embraced being a screw-up made me want to pursue radio and stand up comedy even more.
The marriage between radio and comedians goes way back to the 20’s. In the early days of radio, comedians like vaudevillians Eddie Cantor and Ed Wynn did classic bits and over the years and decades, comedy and comedians in radio would continue to grow and evolve.
It’s now 2016 and the game is changing again in radio and in how we get our entertainment in general. We are at the point where a guy can talk directly to 5K people on his iPhone while it streams live on Facebook. Radio is still effective, but I wanted to look at the great radio shows broadcasting today? Are there still radio shows out there that are changing the lives of comedians like some have in the past? What market out there is the best radio market for comedians?
To open this up for discussion, I reached out to some of my working comedian friends and friends that work in the radio industry to get their thoughts. A lot of the comedians I asked are true road warriors who put in the work and have paid their dues. These are the comedians that are flying from Los Angeles to Hartford, Connecticut with an eight hour and 25 minute connecting flight. Add in early arrival, TSA screening and baggage pick-up and they just burned through the entire day for travel just so they can get there a day early to wake-up at 6am to be funny on air for a 7 o’clock drive time radio show to promote their shows for that weekend in that market.
We all know there are God-awful-bad-hack radio shows all over the country, but there are some great ones that “Get It” and embrace the union of comedians with radio better than anyone. It can be a harmonious relationship or it can be the ultimate disaster. So I asked two simple questions, what are your favorite radio shows in the country and what are your thoughts on radio and comedians.
I also did a survey with 50 headliners asking them what radio show was the most helpful to them promoting their stand up. Scroll down to see the results.
Here’s what they had to say:
Kevin & Bean obviously, when you walk in, it’s obvious they’re in no rush, clocked be damned. What I mean by that, is they have a very strict corporate clock because they are a giant corporate cog of a machine, but during the time of that 8 min segment, they give their undivided attention to you and go in any direction you want to go in. Love Kevin & Bean segment. They have a tight clock.
Paul & Young Ron in Florida are really great! Rick Lewis in Denver is great! Opie & Jimmy (And Anthony), Ron Bennington!!
Jim Rome was great to me. Nothing sold more tickets to my shows like Jim Rome. I never seen anything like it!
There are people I’m forgetting and they’re probably like, “How come you didn’t mention us?” but you know who you are.
You can’t do comedy without doing radio, it’s never going away! You can go on any podcast on God’s green earth and that’s a finite piece of the wedge. There are die-hard podcast listeners that will follow you all over the place, but there are towns, creatures of habit, get into their car, first thing they do? TURN ON THE RADIO!
I’ll go to a town like Denver, I’ll do Rick Lewis and I’m there for an hour. Here’s the thing about radio – You can do 6 demographics in two hours when you come to town. You can do the rock station, the hip hop station, the news station, you can go over to AM and do sports talk, you go over to Rick Lewis and do Rock N Roll. That’s a lot of different people, man. The podcast listeners, especially mine, are die-hards and they will never not come see me, but radio still helps in a lot of markets. I have my own radio show also, so that helps out a lot.
When it comes to radio personalities though, Ron Bennington is the best! Ron Bennington any day, all day! Ron is my favorite by far!”
I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for popular radio shows around the country. Even though I despise getting up at 6am on the road to do morning radio, it puts asses in the seats and helps you build a following especially people listening that have no idea who you are. Far too many good ones to name, but a lot of my fans know me from the good ones.
A radio show is like a second family to a listener. This is why the endorsement of a radio DJ can do so much for a comedian. If these guys like you then their fans will fall in line and surely come to love you too. Radio DJs are the bridge between comedians finding new fans. And in return, the DJ gets great entertainers that will forever be loyal to them long into their career. Here are some of my favs.
Randy & Bill on WDVE in Pittsburgh, PA: “They’ve always been very good to me”
The Bob & Tom Show, Flagship Affiliate: WFBQ out of Indianapolis, Indiana. The Bob & Tom Show did wonders for me, almost overnight! No show has done more for more comedians. with Tom Joyner a close second. My appearance on Bob & Tom did as much if not more for me than my appearance on David Letterman”
Two others just off the top of my head: Rickey Smiley Morning Show, Flagship Affiliate: WHTA “Hot 107.9” and Tom Joyner Morning Show, Various Urban AC/R&B station affiliates (based in Dallas, Texas). Both shows have been good to me.
I don’t want to leave anybody out because there are some great ones in the country but off the top of my head, here are a few that should be recognized.
Paul and Young Ron, BIG 105.9 owning it in South Florida: These guys are my hometown station so I’m pretty biased here- The show is very conversational, not hacky, they’re not interrupting the conversation to announce the time and you never hear any of those awful “Two for Tuesday” segments or any wacky sound affects. In my opinion, what makes a good morning show is make it conversational and engaging. You also need to keep a comic on for more than 20 mins – a good comic can help the show and vice versa. Most radio personalities understand this”
The Chaz and AJ Show, WPLR 99.1 PLR in Connecticut: They keep you on all morning- they make you feel welcome and make you feel a part of the show. I sell a ton of tickets when I’m in that market and I really like them as people. I actually look forward to waking up to do their show.
Randy Baumann and the DVE Morning Show, 102.5 FM WDVE in Pittsburgh: They are great to comedians and Bill Crawford is a comedian himself on the air that is extremely well-liked by everyone. Always an enjoyable experience in that market”
The Tom Barnard Show (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota), 92 KQRS & 105 The Vibe: There are more shows, but these are the ones that pop out of the top of my head. There are A LOT comics that complain about doing radio and that boggles my mind? I think it’s only because they are lazy, they don’t want to get up, they don’t want to do press. What some comedians don’t get is if you’re on the #1 radio show in that particular hometown, there is nothing better that sells tickets and gets you fans. I am truly grateful for the radio shows that embrace comedians and a lot of them have become my friends over the years. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”
I feel the FCC censors comedy so much, that podcasting has become more appealing to everyone. Podcasting is the new form of radio, and there’s GREAT podcasting out there. Podcasting is just like radio, but it’s appointment listening. Going on Joe Rogan’s podcast has helped my career immensely however there are a few shows I enjoy as well.
Kevin & Bean (Los Angeles), Home Station- KROQ-FM: I absolutely love Kevin & Bean!
Johnny Dare (Kansas City), 98.9 The Rock
Chill With Alice “Originally known as “The Sarah & Vinnie Show” (San Francisco) KLLC 97.3 FM: This show is great! Because of them, I got to headline San Francisco! They brought me on before I was a headliner and it made all the difference. Comics don’t forget people giving them breaks, well at least good people don’t”
“Let’s break down the 9th wall, we need the funny, comics need to sell tickets. It’s really a symbiotic relationship isn’t it – morning radio shows & comics.
Both bring a great piece of the puzzle that the other needs to the table. When I think about how great Nick DiPaolo sounds on Tom Barnard’s show at KQRS in Minneapolis, or how Jim Breuer absolutely kills it when he goes on Opie’s show, it’s the way a naturally funny conversation happens. When I hear a show have a comic on that just wants the comic to rifle through several canned bits or stock lines that are set up in advance, it’s so uncomfortable to listen to at this stage with how technology has now allowed us to be more real versus clown shoes, bells & whistles. In this day & age of camera phones & social media, looking for stock lines is a fail – and that’s the morning shows fault by the way, not the comics. The best shows weave a comic into a conversation or topic of the moment/day already in progress when they enter the studio. There is so much more comedy gold found in a natural conversation with a comic and a crafty plug for their set that night.
If you are in LA, you need to be doing the Heidi & Frank show at KLOS/LA, they are a great comic friendly show, Dave Attell, who might be one of the funniest human beings on the planet always crushes on that show.
I’m always quick to point out to people who love listening to comics on the radio how amazing Ron Bennington is with comics. In particular, it’s impressive how Ron is helping nurture the next phase of up & coming comics. Listening first hand several years ago when he first started bringing Big Jay Oakerson onto the former Ron & Fez Show, listening to where Jay started to where he is now both in how he does radio and where he is in his stand up career has been satisfying to watch.”
“Radio is my bread and butter when I’m on the road! I know if I push it on the radio I can pack the house and everyone is happy, the club, the staff my fragile psyche! A radio show like Mike Calta in Tampa can help a comic hit their bonuses! Some of my favorites are Dave, Shelly & Chainsaw (The DSC) on 100.7FM and The Show on Rock 105.3FM in San Diego, The K-97 morning show in Edmonton and Gooch on KOMP 92.3 in Las Vegas all love comics and help them sell tickets! Super thankful for them giving me an opportunity to rock!”
“Comedy talk radio has been in the background of my life since I was 12 years old. Starting, of course, with the godfather Howard Stern on my way to school in my Sony Sports yellow Walkman. The Ron & Fez Show replays on WNEW kept me company on long late night rides back home to Philadelphia when I first started doing comedy in New York and was driving back and forth daily. The fact that that show, and now Bennington, has embraced me and made me part of their world is one of the main reasons my career has progressed over the last few years. Preston and Steve in Philadelphia have also been a major source of support for me in my hometown. Not only do they let me shine when I’m on the show, but several members of the crew come out to shows whenever I’m in town.
My admiration for these people and my love of the medium is what drove me to eventually fulfill one of my comedy dreams of having my own national radio show with Dan Soder, The Bonfire. I owe so much of that to all these people. I hope The Bonfire will become as much a part of people’s lives as these shows have been to mine.”
“We’ve been featuring comedians on the Bob and Tom Show for over thirty years. Some of them have been funny… others… not so much… .
We’ve seen comedians arrive in our studios drunk, stoned, naked, pissy, exhausted, hostile, and humorless. For the record, the naked one was Daniel Tosh — he was also brilliant and hilarious.
Which comedian is going to be a good radio guest? … figuring that out can be a bit tricky.
Most of the really good comics are also good on the air but sometimes great stand-ups (even very famous ones) don’t make for great radio and you never know if any given comedian is any good ’til they’re on-the-air.
The best guests are (usually) those that are conversational and naturally funny… the comics that can ad-lib and go with the flow of any given moment of the show. The better comedians also tend to arrive with some material that is radio-friendly… not too blue… too political… or too visual… .
What’s the most important ingredient to being a good radio guest? The desire for the guest to actually want to be on the show to have some fun and be funny.
As a host it’s also important that we understand this simple fact: everybody has bad days. Sometimes a comic is terrible on the air and the next time they show up, they’re great… so, we try to give everybody a little slack and, by the way, the same thing is true about radio hosts. There isn’t a shortage of ass-bags in broadcast booths world wide.”
There’s a trend that’s been developing in morning radio in markets where the PPM has arrived where they believe that less talk will keep your audience around, because the meter has shown the longer you talk, the more your audience will tune out…
But what’s NOT being included in that dissuasion is WHAT it is that you’re talking about that actually makes them tune out. And comedians know when a subject is done, it’s something you know from being in front of an audience for decades that some (and only some) radio people don’t have an instinct for. The comedian will feel the audience tuning out, because they know from years of being on stage to stay ahead of the audience, and a good comedian will know how to keep the conversation compelling, but the program director won’t realize that until a couple weeks later when they look at the PPM.
There’s a ton of great radio shows out there that are comic friendly, but there’s one called The Stan and Haney Show in Fort Myers that the main host, Stan, gets genuinely worked up all day long, on air and off, about things that are so real to him that I stop caring about what shows I’m promoting, and I just want to listen to him vent until the room gets uncomfortable.
Waking up early in the morning for radio makes me want to murder myself. I usually haven’t gone to bed more than two or three hours before I have to get up for it. I have never understood why it can’t be effective to do afternoon radio. But I can’t change the way most people live so I just go with it. I always have a great time when I’m in studio unless the host is super cheesy and doesn’t listen to the comedian, or they have a format where you literally talk for 10 seconds and then they play some sound effect or go to a song and you’re there just to be like a sound bite monkey.
That said, there are some that are amazing to do, and make you feel like family. My favorite of these are Kevin and Bean in my hometown of LA. This is my favorite show to do because I grew up listening to these guys and always hoped I’d be on their show one day. So it’s pretty cool to be a regular with them and get to riff with such funny guys.
Same goes for the Bob and Tom Show. I had seen them on TV for years and of course always knew about how respected and important their show is, so I was a little intimidated my first time going in. But they were so fun to riff with and were great laughers and I ended up staying on for like the whole show. Then Tom came to see my show that night which I thought was really cool. I’ve had a ton of fun on there ever since.
Another one of my favorites is the Tom Barnard Show, and podcast both. He’s just the consummate professional while also being the nicest guy and making me feel like part of the family. He tells me I’m always welcome on the show if I have something to promote, even if it’s to call in from home which I really appreciate.
And one I’ve been doing recently that has been amazing is the Jason Ellis show on Sirius. He’s a really, really nice guy and he’s an amazing riffer. I love going in there and just bouncing back and forth in insane hour long conversations with Ellis. And his fans are really loyal and have been coming out to my shows in pretty big numbers.
Plus his show used to be in the afternoon which was fantastic. But now they are early morning as well so, fuck my life.”
Clubs drop the ball. Not only do we have to create, we have to be publicists….we have to push, and be promoters. Radio does help. There are certain radio shows I absolutely love doing, I love doing the Sports Junkies in D.C. They’re funny! I just did Todd -N- Tyler in Omaha, they’re fucking great! A show like that, you don’t go in with topics, you just go in and talk! Kidd Chris in Cincinnati, Brother Wease in Rochester, Shredd and Ragan, Paul and Young Ron in Florida. There’s tons of radio that I love doing however, Tom Barnard in Minneapolis. There’s a lot of radio that gets it. Opie & Anthony has always been at another level. And Ron Bennington, he’s the quickest, probably funniest guy in radio….throughout….I mean quick….just so fucking good. He used to be a comic, I worked with him years ago. He’s great. He’s fucking the best.
I had a chance to sit down with Rich Vos to talk about Anthony Cumia calling into Opie’s new show last week and what the Opie and Anthony show did for his career. Rich also talks about some of the best radio shows around the country and some of the best comics working today. You can hear the whole conversation here.
After talking with everyone, I conducted a short survey with 50 headlining comedians on the Top 10 radio shows in the country based on 3 things: a) Comic friendly radio shows that , b) sells tickets & gets people to the comedy club and c) has helped and boosted comedians careers. I just chopped it down to those 3 things so it has nothing to do with with “The Best Radio Show” or “The Funniest Radio Show.”
(High honorable mentions)
Comedians and radio will forever be important to each other no matter where technology takes us. A lot of comedians have took audio into their own hands bypassing the radio frequency and doing their own podcasts. Comics like Marc Maron, Bill Burr, Joe Rogan, and Chris Hardwick have built mini-empires with their podcasts and fan base. Much like television, radio will always be there but won’t be the only game in town. Let’s hope for more radio corporations embracing comedians like a lot of these shows mentioned.
Chad Zumock (Comedian, Former radio host, host of “The Sit Down Zumock: A Bunch of B.S. Podcast)