Almost four years ago, the great George Gimarc introduced us to his then-latest rock and roll alternative: a would-be syndicated format called Radio SASS, which stood for "Short Attention Span System" -- as in, no song lasted lasted longer than two minutes. Said one commenter at the time, the whittled-down hits played like "Jack on steroids"; Wired dug it too. But nobody bit.
"It's still lingering," says George. "We're still waiting for that one person to get brave and do it."
Since then, George has been engaged in a few other enterprises, none more successful than his involvement in Mike Huckabee's radio show, created with partner business partner Bill Bungeroth, a former president and CEO of Cumulus. And then there's his brand-new venture: The Donkey Comedy Network, an all-comedy format Gimarc and Bungeroth are pitching to radio stations at this very moment. (And, heads up: That link may go password-protected pronto, so if you're interested in a sample, you'd best hustle.)
The format's simple: It's all stand-up all the time, and, again, no bit runs longer than a couple of minutes. And it runs the comedic gamut -- from Woody Allen to Jerry Seinfeld to Richard Pryor to Simon King to Mitch Hedberg to Sarah Silverman ("when we can find stuff we can run -- we've got the FCC to consider, ya know") to ... well, you name it. George figures the playlist will span at least the last 50 years.
It was Bungeroth's brainchild: Recounts George, "He said, 'I've got an idea: How about a comedy radio station?' and I went, 'Hey, that sounds like a good idea.'" But the former KZEW jock and KDGE co-founder and Johnny Rotten producer is serving as operations manager. "That means I'm in charge of the width and the breadth of it," he says. "I pick the cuts, how they're edited, take care of the staff -- all those bits. I direct how this thing sounds and what hits the air."
But when does it hit the air? Depends.
Dave Van Dyke, out of Donkey Comedy Networks' Dallas offices, is currently lining up stations nationwide interested in going all-yuks. I've left a message for Van Dyke, but George said there are "tentative agreements with several stations, and they'll be firmed up in the next week or two. Or three." None are in Dallas.
Update: Van Dyke says it's still too early to talk affiliates: "We're still not out from under the cloak of silence." But, he says, "in general, I think this thing has potential. There needs to be one of these in every market. And in mid-June, that's when it'll take flight as we build an early affiliate list over the next few weeks. And I'd love to have one here. ... But it comes down to whether or not broadcasters have courage."
"We still have to find out who's interested," George says. "And there certainly are a lot of vulnerable radio stations out there that could use a chuckle."
At the same time, Gimarc and Bungeroth have partnered with some respectable heavy hitters to create the Comedy Exchange Association, a performing rights organization that'll do for comedy what ASCAP and BMI do for music. Meaning: The comics whose work is featured on the network will actually get paid. It "takes the business of being funny seriously," its unofficial motto.
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"The stuff needs to be dealt with, so instead of letting someone else deal with it, we just said, 'Let's get it done,'" Gimarc says of the CEA.
And, sure, satellite radio has its comedy networks. But there's not one on terrestrial radio -- hasn't really ever been one. And George, bless him. remains a true believer in over-the-air radio.
"I dance with who brung me, ya know?" says George, who reminds that he just celebrated his 35th anniversary in radio (he started at WRR-AM, 1310, when he was in high school.
"I believed in the promise of satellite radio, but it's been unfulfilled," he says. "Satellite radio has yet to invent a new format -- something really new. All they've basically done is louder, bigger versions of what college radio is doing or what KERA and public radio is doing. When they tell me they have a Bob Dylan channel, well, show up! Otherwise, I could say, 'This is the Thomas Jefferson channel.' You're just as likely to hear him as Dylan. I've been misled. If they can solve the problems with Internet radio, then it'll push satellite radio and terrestrial radio into being creative again. But there are far more ears available over the air. And I go where the crowds are."