Tuesday afternoon doesn't usually feel like a party. But Beyonce helps.
Still in gray slacks and an office-ready cardigan, Amy Pannell pulls up “Ring the Alarm” on her phone. The singer’s growling pulls up “Ring the Alarm” on her phone. The singer’s growling power anthem cuts the steadily pounding rain outside the studio.
“Ring the alarm, I’ve been through this too long/But I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm,” the track blares.
Pannell fades the music and launches into another week. The PowWow is on.
If the show sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. Pannell originally started PowWow with Amy Pannell in February 2011 on the KABF 88.3 FM, but went on hiatus in September 2012. She runs the show during a lunch break from her day job at UALR, but Pannell’s first love is comedy. Stand-up is her mainstay, and the show came as a natural extension of her on-stage sets. Now that the show’s back, Pannell has some long-term plans.
“I’d love to eventually have a billboard that says something like ‘Funny bitches on KABF!’” Pannell says.
The plural in Pannell’s dream ad is for new co-host Laura Beam. Beam and Pannell had often run into each other at shows around Little Rock. As two of the only female stand-up artists in Arkansas, they have plenty to discuss. There’s the discrimination at comedy clubs — people assuming they’re dating the headliner or the club owner — and stereotypes to overcome.
“Women have a reputation for being too dirty,” Pannell said. “You can be clean and be clever too … although I don’t like people that are clean that much.”
Pannell admits that she sometimes has no filter. She likes to push the envelope and see what comes back. It comes through in the rapid fire questions she’ll ask each guest at the end of the show. The closing shot this week — “Does size matter?”
“All comedians now seem to have a podcast where they can say whatever they want,” Pannell says. “I wasn’t tech-savvy enough for that, so I thought a radio show would do the same thing.”
As Pannell kicks off the show, Beam leans back in her chair, relaxed. The two settle into an easy banter about celebrities and singers. One defends Justin Bieber, the other dismisses a Nicki Minaj on-stage lapdance. They both get a little raunchy without pushing too far. This is radio, after all.
“The hardest thing about combining comedy and radio for me would be the need for instant gratification,” Pannell said. “When I’m on stage, I know if a joke is working or not by audience reaction.”
But at KABF things are a little different. Feedback doesn’t come from an in-studio audience or even callers (they take them, but don’t seem to get many). Pannell doesn’t even have listener data to tell her if more people are tuning in. Pledge drive totals give an overall idea of how many people are listening to KABF, but if Pannell wants serious feedback, it’s on Facebook. On her show page, she interacts with listeners and fans of her stand-up, asking weekly questions that become part of the next week’s show. The social media page has become so essential to her process that Pannell isn’t sure she’d have as many listeners without it. Like stand-up, hosting the show is all about networking.
“Comedy is a business,” Pannell says. “You can be as talented as you want, but it’s about networking, the Internet and being a salesman. I had to sell myself to KABF to get a show, you have to sell yourself to a club to book you and to an audience to listen.”
The studio at KABF is basic and a little run-down, but Pannell doesn’t seem to mind. It’s the one spot in the city she knows local people and bands can go to be heard. When she left in 2011, she says the studio was incredibly unorganized. She wasn’t sure she wanted to come back. But in May, KABF saw a programming and staff shift that changed her mind. While the station is still pumping out blues, jazz and gospel tracks, new programming means a more local and diverse feel for the station.
“We’re really trying to focus on local programming with more popular and modern rock shows and a big focus on local music,” says station assistant manager Bryan Frazier, who started with the station in March.
To Frazier, Pannell’s show seemed like a perfect fit for the station, bringing in her stand-up fanbase along with support from comedy club The Loony Bin.
“She’s so organized and focused,” Frazier says. “She’ll play local hip-hop occasionally as well. It’s a great fit.”
Pannell pitches the show as simply a comedy talk show run by women. But the way Beam and Pannell mix jokes with music with guests with talks on things like domestic violence is anything but simple. It’s completely unique.
“There’s nothing else in this format going on in Arkansas, or for all I know, in the country,” Pannell says. “I came back in May because I missed this.”
The PowWow with Amy Pannell airs Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. on KABF Community Radio 88.3 FM.
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