THE GOOD, THE BAD AND WHY PHONERS SUCK
It's been an interesting week at XM. After years of pounding, someone comes up with some production that is absolutely horrible. Depressingly average. Man in the box filtered voice bullshit lies. The best music, circa 1980 st-st-stuttering sampled effects. Textbook crap. The person was pretty new so we realize it takes time to de-cliche---but it underscores the importance of liberating people from the FM baggage. It happens to everyone who comes to XM from FM. Takes time. We fixed the production and got it cool but the fact that it actually got cut scares me. Radio production is stuck in 1980. US Army ads have cooler sound than radio and car companies are on the cutting edge of sound in their ads---this is not the way it's supposed to be. I kinda think Radio should be leading the sonic charge. Orson Welles is rolling over in his grave.
Then another channel wrote some copy for their production. Damn! It was worse than the other stuff. SEVEN PD's came to me and told me about it. Thank god we have a staff of quality police. This stuff was all of the trite Best of the 70s and 80's with no heavy metal or rap style garbage that helps in radio's quest to have zero cred. Writing is a lost art. There's this FCC law it seems that all promo writing must come from this pre-approved lame-o book written in 1980.
Our Ethel channel is coming together. It got unglued. It got "over-radio'd"--subscribing to the FM playbook for Alt radio which I think is painfully out of date and out of sync with the fans. Ethel started believing in things like playing ONE track off an important release. Most artists and releases that are important are so because there's depth there. Take Red Hot Chili Peppers. CD comes out--and they played one song. The single. Huh??? A reason RHCP is what they are is because they make great songs...alot of them. Not one cut.
If that thinking was around in 1971, Stairway to Heaven would have never gotten played because it wasn't "the single". Anyways, Ethel is back after a short trip to the dark side. Listeners let us know. Hell, I got a call from Cliff Burnstein all freaked out about how we're killing Ethel. He was absolutely right. How did it get there? that's another blog---but this shit AIN'T going to happen again. The best thing we did was brought in Erik Range to be PD. Erik's experience is deliveries for Lido Pizza...and a burning understanding of the street. He could give a shit about the single, or what the trades say because he cares about whats good and right. In FM I was always amazed by the "blind leading the blind" thing. Label takes out ads for the "radio cut", Station X adds it, trades report it, and the sheep follow. Does the PD LISTEN to the CD? Rarely. Just follow the label leads and the trades. Anyways--Ethel is back on course after a brief excursion. Ethel is trying to actually BE an Alternative instead of simply hanging it's hat on the "Alternative Radio" thing which is about as Alternative as Burger King. I strongly believe that the problem with Rock Radio is about the stations doing it not the music itself. The rap on the streets is that "Rock Radio is on Life Support"---other than a few stations doing well with it, it's going away fast. Look at NYC--No current Rock station...but again, you'd THINK that the station operators would look at WHY their numbers have been crumbling---It ain't because of the music. It's available...it's because the stations' programming is SO out of sync with 2006. It's got 'radio-ized'--playing to the industry and each other instead of the street.
Some channels need to play JUST the hits. CD cuts on 20on20 one of our CHR's doesn't make a lot of sense...but then again, maybe it does. The point is that thinking our people thining STREET not INDUSTRY .
The whole idea of musical exploration literally DEFINES POP CULTURE 2006. It wasn't a factor 15 years ago...but today I strongly believe the "musical exploration" thing is critical. It's cool for an 18 year old to know about Ella Fitzgerald or Ray Charles. And exposing these artists is something WE do But FM DOESN'T....but I don't think that message is getting out there to the masses quite yet. When two young people trade I-Pods, the cool person is the one with Tom Waits and Frank Zappa...along with some indie bands. The point being some exploration beyond the obvious.
I certanly realize that Mariah Carey and the obvious hitmakers are still the big volume players, but I also sense that there's an underground "explore music" kind of thinking that is quickly becoming mainstream and we will miss the boat if we don't play to it...and play to it is an Eccentric of way...eccentric all the way to the bank.
Eric Logan is concerned about not having enough young and pop bands in our mix of original programming. OK---He's right in that XM is all about balance. Balancing Unsigned with Blues with Pop, etc...But there's something in my DNA that is very uncomfortable about having some disposable pop star that won't be here in a year featured as if they actually have anything going beyond a face. You can get that in any tabloid or FM CHR. Some if not most of these artists can't play a note, can't talk intelligently and aren't what XM needs to be. Of course there are some amazing new artists emerging...but it seems alot of the high profile newer artists are driven by fashion and look---which is something that is fleeting. BUT, can't get too cool for the room. Can't get into this whole self importance routine---It forces me to re-think myself a bit. I've been doing this since 1965, advised a ton of classic artists, owned label that had Johnny Winter, Eric Johnson & Dave Mason. I grew up in a different era. I DO know how to win in any demographic...or at least how to inspire the people who are in the trenches to win. Hell, I ran Z-Rock when I was 40-something and had to appeal to pimply 20 year old earth dogs. No problem, It was fun. Especially with a staff that "got" this generation. But I also remember my parents ragging on me about how Hendrix was a weirdo and his music was noise. Can't get TOO caught up in where I come from. Classic error. But still I'm of the mind set that Quality lasts. Been through the endless cycle of momentary success stories built on fashion rather than substance. That 35+ is the #1 music demo (it is). Still, He's right. XM does have to have a better balance. Support ALL music.The solution was simple---We got Jon Zellner, Steve Kingston and a ton of talented programmers who LIVE in the Pop world. It's a challenge for Steve & Jon and anyone focused on Pop to live on the STREETS of the Pop World, as it is for all of our pop people. It's SOOO easy to get reeled into the whole "Industry Scene" which has nothing to do with the streets. In fact, I think EVERYONE in the Industry should spend a week in a place like Rockford Illinois and move in with a family of Pop fans to see how the real word. NO trades...NO industry contact...just get the feel for reality. Anyways...I live in the heritage world. Let's divide and conquer. That's the mental diversity that makes XM work. I DO still believe that great music is timeless. We DON'T necessarily live in the 1956 James Dean world. I remember the manager of a major rock band telling me "the kids are really enjoying the show tonight" while at a big arena gig. Looking into the crowd there wasn't a face younger than 40. The Kids? To think of contemporary music as reaching only the kids is right out of 1956. I guess the point is that the spirituality of music touches all lives and the more we understand it without prejudice or hanging on to our roots, the better we'll understand and deliver. Diverse thinking rules. When I get to hang with Quincy Jones,that really shines through. The reason he's STILL relevant is because he "gets" all generations. I guess I need to pick up more on Quincy's vibe. He gets it. It's important for ME to get the timeless all-generation thing along with everyone here. Musical empathy. Serving everyone ain't easy, but it needs to be done.
I remember the damning I Got for supporting Led Zeppelin instead of the Snivelling Shits. It was all about hanging in Rockford. If the Sniveling Shits could make it in reality land--then no sweat.
OK, we finally got our "Blistering licks" release ready. It's a joint venture with Concord Records. This one will be distributed at Starbucks. It's all about "jaw dropping virtuosity", the kind of playing that will make a fan of any guitar speedster take note. It's jazz but the idea is to illustrate the chops of jazz players to OTHER genres. The playing is SO impressive. It'll be a bit much for some but for others it is a trip to musical nirvana.
Oh yeah---then I see high fives because we got "a phoner" with Mariah Carey. Big fucking deal. The fry cook at Wendy's could get a phoner with Mariah. How lame. Being part of a cattle call. Slammed in between K-109.5 and Hits 92 in Biloxi. Mariah is bored, our DJ's are forced into lame phoner land and listeners would rather hear music,and she's talking about absolutely nothing. Nothing against her. It's the idea of lowering ourselves to a phoner. 12 million listeners and we do "phoners"???? Just say NO! I approached McCartney a year ago. Got offered a phoner. NO! In HIS and his fans best interest we NEED to do something bigger. Took a year, but we got an ARTIST CONFIDENTIAL with Paul live here at XM. How depressing to think we can't do better than a phoner. Classic case of thinking old line FM. Sometime ya gotta say NO for the sake of what we deliver to listeners. Phoners suck.
Now there's the issue of all these new channels on XM. With every new channel there's the exercise to make sure the guys running it "get" how to do it. I'm not talking mechanics. I'm talking soul. When we put THE LOOP on in Chicago, Cecil Heftel called me as he'd just bought the station, and said "Just make it work" Love that! With the attitude of a manager at spring training we combed through the staff, found the keepers, then hired a team of potential all-stars. BUT---instead of looking at the demo target and slapping together another Rock station, we looked into the soul of the target. What are they all about and constructed the station from there. These listeners were Rockers. Hated disco. Disco was 180 degrees from Rock. Instead of sweating drummers, festival seating, guitars and long hair it was drum machines, elitist clubs, synths and greased back short hair. A threat to Rock. So the Loop took a firm anti-disco stance. It helped when Steve Dahl grabbed the idea and maxed it out and made baseball history. Disco Demolition wasn't a promotion, it was a call to action. Then, Chicago Rockers viewed themselves as tough, so we came up with the first graffiti logo, Chicagoans talked Chicago speak, so it was Da Loop,16-30 male rockers were pretty horny, so we got a gorgeous blonde as the mascot, made the competitors chicken look kinda lame, These guys were TV freaks so we played TV themes, and the list goes on...The point is we looked into the soul of the audience and created a station that touched it. Screw the demos, targets, numbers, etc..We wanted to touch NERVES. It worked. Went from a 2 to a 7 for #1 12+ in 90 days. THAT is the kind of programming that is what we preach today. I aint always getting that at XM, but we're always working toward it! One day!.....
But----Despite all the challenges and re-learning taht we ALL gotta do, All of this is FAR better than boredom. Kinda like my feeling about the people I Work with. Outrageous is always more fun than boring.