radio days

Listening to Comedy 102.7, Austin's new round-the-clock-funny radio station

Listening to Comedy 102.7, Austin's new round-the-clock-funny radio station

Austin Photo Set: News_Brendan K O'Grady_comedy 102.7_Oct 2011_logo

Austin is a town that loves to laugh. The city is home to a vibrant local comedy scene that supports numerous improv, stand-up, sketch and variety events every week, and now it even has something new to listen to in the car on your way to the open mic or stage show. Comedy 102.7 has launched in Austin, bringing 24/7 comedy to your FM radio dial. Since the station went live late last week, I’ve stayed tuned-in for a borderline-embarrassing amount of their airtime. What have I observed?

Listening to Comedy 102.7 over its first few days, the most immediately noteworthy thing about it is the sheer breadth of comedic styles and sensibilities on display. By all accounts there are thousands of bits and routines in active rotation, so many in fact that I have yet to hear the same comic tell the same joke twice. That means that in any given half hour, you’ll hear stand up spanning as many as five decades of humor, and performers ranging from all-time greats like Bill Cosby and George Carlin to some of the hottest names and breaking talents in modern comedy, such as Daniel Tosh and Anthony Jeselnik.

And Comedy 102.7 isn’t just relying on proven classics or stars that audiences will instantly recognize, either. In addition to showcasing newer material from favorites like Patton Oswalt (his newest album was released a scant few weeks ago), the station seems dedicated to exposing audiences to proven comics who might not be household names. That means both tested veterans who deserve to be heard by bigger audiences and even a few locally-based Austin comedians. Comedy 102.7 is truly indiscriminate in its tastes, careening in one minute from cutting-edge experimental acts like Reggie Watts to the definitively-mainstream voice of Jeff Foxworthy the next. And although it does mean that you’re apt to hear some jokes and styles and sensibilities that don’t tickle your particular funny bone, it also means that you’re never more than a minute or two away from something new to (hopefully) make you laugh again.

With so much airtime to fill ever week, one begins to wonder if perhaps the station could benefit from a more traditional radio programming structure, scheduling shows that present comics with loosely similar styles or otherwise related in some way. Imagine hearing the “Best of Mr. Show and Friends,” with stand up from associated acts like David Cross, Paul F. Tompkins and Brian Posehn. Or how about “Comedy Store Classics”, featuring all of the most famous names from the golden era of L.A.’s most storied club? The possibilities are endless.

Still, while there might not seem to be much rhyme or reason to Comedy 102.7’s apparently random playlist order, there’s also something abstractly pleasing about it. Hearing many comedians in the alternate context of a "comedy mega-mix” often reveals things about their humor to the keen listener that they might not have noticed before. For example, when following the acerbic bite of a satirist like Richard Belzer, a classic Seinfeld bit might seem to underscore his own darker, more sarcastic undercurrents. Yet the same bit, when preceded by somebody like a Mitch Hedberg or a Demetri Martin, might highlight Seinfeld’s more fanciful, absurdist tendencies. It becomes a fascinating and very rewarding way to engage with comedy that you might not have expected you’d enjoy before.

Comedy 102.7 seems confident that the popularity of similarly-programmed stations available in most satellite radio packages will translate to the commercial audience of terrestrial FM. And in this day and age, with seemingly every comedian with Garage Band and an extra hour a week to kill starting podcasts as a means of delivering material to the masses, it’s nice to hear stand-up comedy presented to listeners in something close to its natural form. And that’s pretty much what Comedy 102.7 promises: A comic, a microphone, and their audience, live-to-tape and coming through your stereo’s speakers.