Monday, August 28, 2006


I'm pretty excited about next Saturday. Going on a field trip/sleepover that involves four of my favorite things: Music, Flying, Baseball and Hangin' out. Dan Turner and Jim Mc Bean and I are flying to see Bob Dylan who is playing at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Dan found us three rooms at an off brand Motel 6 outide of Cooperstown. The rate is something like $28 dollars a night--roughly the equivalent of a room service muffin at a standard New York City Hotel. This will be an interesting trip.

Dan Turner runs our Production Department and I refer to him as Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction fame. Dan cleans shit up just as Mr. Wolf did. We'll come up with an idea and Dan will say it's a stupid idea that can't work...then he'll figure out a way to make it work and it'll turn out fantastic. I'm as guilty as anyone with the "sure we can pull it off..." thing and then Dan will grimace, but make it work. Then there's JimMc Bean, our ace Producer who just got his VP Stripes...not sure what he's a VP of, but he deserves it. Met Jim in a cheese factory back in '76. I was consultant and he was PD of this 3kw FM in Madison Wisconsin that WAS in a cheese factory. Stunk like high hell but station sounded great.

Now Dan and Jim are among my favorite people at XM. They're as out there as I am. In Dan's office you'll find things like a picture of little Timmy Goldfarb's Bar Mitzvah from 1966 that he found at some flea market I assume. Of course he never met Little Timmy, but goes on and other Internet sites to find out where he is today. hen there's Jim Mc Beans office. He collects photos of English Breakfasts. Somewhere between tasty looking and disgusting, he has these photos of English Breakfasts on his wall. Somehow this bizarre behavior not only talks to what XM strives to be, but is symbolic of the kinds of playfully warped minds it takes to contribute to XM..and they DEFINITELY contribute.

Speaking of contributors, I KNEW this would happen: I wrote about some of the great contributors to our sound. The key word is "some"...Within moments, Sonny Fox chimes in--Hey what about Comedy...then the legendary Jonathan Schwartz emails me--Hey what about Me & Buddy Ladd and Franks Place. Then Bobby Bennett from Soul Street walks by my office and I'm shrouded in guilt. Damn--I think I forgot to mention HIM too. well--the point remains, there are a ton of amazing people at XM that need to be recognized...and do such outstanding work that they ARE recognized by what really matters--listeners. I remain true to the idea that along with the Baseball and Dylan" kinda things, it's these people making magic 24/7 that make XM go and grow.

In the go and growing area, we just brought in Jesus Salas to oversee our Latin Channels. He'll add a strong presence to this cluster of channels. He's a ball of electricity. Young...hungry and intensely passionate. He's got that firery Cuban thing, and it's focused on making some big noise in the Latin music scene .

Young and firey is good. I''ve been asked to speak at USC by Jerry Del Colliano who used to run INSIDE RADIO (the daily newsletter) and now teaches there. I love going to these things. It's unfortunate that a lot of students in media type classes end up with other careers. Media and music desperately needs new thinkers. Some of the thoughts that come out of these people are profound. They usually have no "baggage" and are closely united with the streets. I usually find that out of 100 ideas that come from these encounters : 20 will be idealistic but not practical; 50 will be "interesting" thoughts that make ya think--and rattle the brain a bit--these are the kind of thoughts that we "professionals" are often in denial on and too often say "We're in this business and you're not--so you don't understand". Those are just the kind of subtly obvious ideas that put veterans out of business.; 20 are 'Damn--why didn't we think of that??!! and 10 will be ideas so different that while they may not be ready for prime time, they should be incubated and dvelpoed nonetheless. Some of the best "next generation" thinkers aren't even in college--they're bypassing higher education to get in the trenches. I just hope the next generation doesn't get too discouraged by the limited entry potential and general malaise that's out there--now is the time they need to make a stand....just like me and my cohorts made stands. Forcing change through new ideas and new thinking is what drives greatness...and sinks mediocrity to the level it deserves.

Many of us read Bob Lefsetz' blogs. He drives me nuts because I can't figure out if he likes or hates us. Actually I think he likes our programming but not the marketing. In any case, he's always interesting because he totally tells it like he sees it. He asked me to post a "presentation" I do regarding the XM Programming Sound. I gave it to him a few months ago so he could get a feel for what we aim to do. He liked it so we've going to video it and post it here in a few weeks. The history of the presentation is that early on, NO-ONE had any idea of what XM's programming mission was outside of the building, so created this chart that illustrates where we want it to be. Bob was all over the whole KZLA/No Country in LA thing. I gotta hand it to Eric Logan, our resident Hillbilly (as he calls himself). Eric loves Country...after all he's from Oklahoma. Within 9 minutes of the KZLA announcement he was all over getting the KZLA bash lined up with XM. It worked. It's going to be an XM Show. I hope to attend, though I still can't figure out why REO Speedwagon is on the bill...unless they secretly traded their Midwest Arena Rock sound for Nashville--unlikely.

The I.T. department at XM has major issues with my email account. I don't erase emails. So--I went back to 1998. Figured I could get rid of some of those. In scanning though them I found one that's kinda interesting. It was to Hugh Panero and a few others in response to "so, what's this thing going to sound like?" question over dinner the prior evening. At that time all we had were dreams and a need to find money to finance the thing. Here are a few channel ideas that didn't quite make it at the time:

EARTH SOUNDS: All nature Sound Effects. I still kinda like this one, but all crickets and pounding waves was a tough one to sell through, though it was the blueprint for "Audiovisions".

GAME SHOW CHANNEL: Game show reruns, contests, giveaways, 24/7. Looked good on paper but would cost more than the satellites.

MAKE YOUR OWN TAPE: Send in your tape and we'll play it. Early Podcasting I guess.

CARTOONS: All cartoons. The early Disney and Warner Brothers stuff in particular was completely theater of the mind and brilliant for radio---but those rights fees weren't too brilliant.

...there were A LOT more. Hopefully as technology improves we'll have room and resources to do some like this--and beyond. We started with 50 channels, now over 160, so I think in time, we'll be able to stretch out a bit.

Mindy is now Program Director of XM Kids. That channel is way over-the top. At times it reminds me of a channel that's modeled after the EARLY Disney and Warner Brothers spirit where it was do dense with "stuff" that a whacky adult would et just as much out of it as a kid. Worth checking out.

Was at the NARM Convention a few weeks ago in Orlando. That's where Music retailers get together. It was kind of sad as they're certainly struggling to hang on as technology is rapidly changing. While there were plastic peddlers there, there were also a lot of people who really care abut music. My POV on the panel was that many retailers are missing the "Natural" audience they have. That 40+ that grew up with Albums and CD's...likes them, but hasn't been in a record store in years. Create a new environment for these "Natural" consumers of hard CD's. Starbucks does this pretty well. I believe there is a whole generation of people that would embrace purchasing music (vs. downloading) IF the environment was right. Using Starbucks again---they re-invented the Coffee Shop. Joe Adult who wouldn't get caught dead in a coffee shop now visits Starbucks. he point is DRASTIC re-invention rather than band aids. Adding a sushi bar at a Tower ain't gonna do it. Then there's the idea of Downloading to this older generation. They're just 'getting' E-mail. Takes education. I can go on and on, but personally it's all about dramatically revolutionizing. Big new ideas. Re-invention. That's how you save things that are savable. OTT also known as "Over-The-Top"--That's the only way a fading property that still has a pulse can survive and prosper.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Had lunch with Nate Davis, our new COO.---Actually there's nothing new about him since he's been on our board for years. He's a good guy and in my opinion will be enormously beneficial to many operational areas of XM--no small feat. When we started it was all pretty simple--but the bigger XM gets and the more competitive life is, the more demanding the nuts and bolts get. Forget the programming and marketing for a sec--there are all these business functions guys like me don't think a lot about but are essential to the success and future of XM. He'll be a good balance to the Hugh Panero and Gary Parsons senior senior management. One of the things that impressed me about Nate is that he is VERY integrity and quality focused. I overheard him talking with our retail guru Dan Murphy about various "things" and Nate kept talking about Sound Quality and other musical sorta things (He's a big R&B fan--I got him tickets to Al Jarreau and Benson show last week). He definitely "gets it"...

The relationship I have with Eric Logan is a lot about "balance" too. Eric is an extremely bright, mildly A.D.D. CEO in training. I'm not sure what I am, but it's a potent combination because we each have to offer is drastically different ... on just about everything. But together it works great. When XM is firing on all cylinders, it's that balance that makes it go. Kinda like great bands--it's the balance of different musical point of views that melds into one powerful sound.

Speaking of people, there's a lot of talk about "the future". I think that at the end of the day, whether it's satellite, terrestrial, internet or whatever new technology emerges, the best content wins. At XM, we GOTTA keep creating original series like Artist Confidential, Artist2Artist, etc....and we GOTTA grow our people. These are things that are our trademarks and will only become moreso as time and competition increases. Guys like Martin Goldsmith on Classical, Bill Wax on Blues, Mike Marrone on his stuff, Eddie Kilroy on Old line Country, Maxx Myrick , Trinity, Russ Davis and Jackson Brady on Jazz, George Taylor Morris and Earle Bailey on Rock, Lou Brutus on general insanity, Jessie Scott on Americana are incredible assets...and the list is A LOT longer than those guys (The point is not to list everyone--if you are an XM listener you know who they are--and there's no shortage of them). These are people who have burned the FM playbook and create radio for FANS not Arbitron numbers. People who take home stacks of CD's to figure out what to turn fans onto...tireless workers who are in the trenches to turn people on to NEW radio. They LIVE the genre and listeners KNOW that. Sure, things like Baseball, O&A, our News and Talk assets and Bob Dylan (among scores of others) are incredibly potent and absolutely critical to our success, but often I think even WE forget that at the end of the day, it's the people creating the magic day in and day out that are going to be our trademarks that regardless of the competitive landscape, will be XM's anchors in the wars for ears. Once again--Balancing the passion with the products.

IT has started. IT is pretty much every pop song ever charted since 1930. IT is completely over the top. The idea came from how lame the "Top 500" countdowns you hear on FM are. Hell, its simply the regular playlist but put in order of popularity. Big deal. There are people who will find IT too obscure, but I think they understand why we're doing create a place to really hear the complete story of pop music--song by song. Some say we should play all those songs anyways. Well, we play a lot of them, but quite a few are best played in the environment of IT. How many times can you hear Puddintain by the Alley Cats from 1963? Once a year is probably fine. In any case, enough with the scrath the surface "Top 500" inevitably on Memorial Day. We wanna display the complete heritage of Pop, even if it means playing some non hits.

Went to Nashville yesterday. My Son is a professional musician and got fed up with the New York scene. He's really a "pure" musician that is seeking a music friendly environment. His is music is more akin to Chet Atkins than the latest out of New York so we're hopeful that Nashville is the place. Jon Anthony from XM Country was our tour guide. After 2 hours with him, I am ready to move there! Speaking of Chet Atkins---If you like guitars, check Chet. This guy is amazing. I always kinda looked at him as a old line Country guy that I may not relate to...then my guitar hero Steve Howe told me that Chet is the guy he based a lot of his sound I got Chetized. When people ask me what I heard lately that's good---I tend to respond to something old that I'm FINALLY discovering. The music industry tends to teach us that discovery must be NEW music. Often it is of course, but there's hundreds of years of masterful music out there that is part of the discovery equation too.

No Country radio in LA any more. There are 2,782 Pop stations though. No Metal station there jazz (well "diet jazz" but nothing traditional at least among commercial stations...and is there any wonder that there's a NEED for other places than FM to experience music?? I don't blame KZLA for changing...I blame "the system". The whole system is screwed up. there's a video on a website--Check this out: I really hope XM can make a difference. Trying to make a difference is the difference.
There's nothing wrong with disposable's always been around and always will. But there needs to be a balance. Places where ALL music can thrive. If some alien music loving UFO's observed Earth in 2006, they'd probably be appalled.
As dysfunctional as so much in the World is today, you can add music and media to the list.

Dylan CD is amazing.

XMU is really coming around. It's been ignored for a few years, and that's a problem. By ignored, I mean it hasn't been embraced internally like it should be. OK---It was a mistake. We're we stupid to make that mistake? Yeah? But we've seen the light. Billy Zero with Tobi is getting that thing back where it needs to be. Not there yet--but on its way. We don't believe in the old "Fix the lists and change the promos and everything is fine" thing. It takes time and focus...but I know we are on track to make that thing what it should be. XMU stands for XM UNDERGROUND..then it meant XM UNIVERSITY...All I know is that its supposed to be a great college station that has a staff that doesn't change every semester and has some discipline to it. The idea is a home for emerging, usually Indie and unsigned artists. A place for discovery. When something becomes popular it should migrate to another channel that focus on popular music. XMU is about popular music before it becomes popular...or simply a place to hear what is happening below the public radar.

Someone asked me if I feel the same way about XM as I did in 1998 when I got here. The answer is of course Yes...better in fact...but different. It's a dramtically changed place and there are hourly challenges to keep the vision alive. Not everything is optimistally rosy as it was when we launched. It was all about hopes and dreams. Now it's the hard crunch of reality. we have over 12 million listeners since the average subscriber has a few people that actually listen to the subscription. Then again we have 700+ employees. Among listeners the vast majority think XM is a godsend, some are indifferent, and some think we suck. I KNOW this! I can only tell you that I and most of us here at XM are doing everything we can to create a Suck-free XM. It'll never completely happen just ain't gonna happen. It's a mission, not a job for most of us. It's a place where we can actually change things positively if we let ourselves and do it right. At the end of the day, the best content will win....and yes we need to get that message out there...and we gotta AFDI it...and it's an ever changing media landscape that we gotta react correctly and with pinpoint accuracy. If we blow the opportunity to change world, we should all be shot---but I think we will succeed whe it's all said and done .

Monday, August 14, 2006


It was a remarkably nice morning in Washington. Clear with a respite from the paralyzing heat. Got in the plane for a short trip to Baltimore to pick up Paul Bachmann who is our Senior Programmer of the XM Classical cluster. He brought his Wife and very young daughter for a flight up to the Berkshires in Massachusetts to visit Tanglewood, a magical venue nestled in the woodsy and hilly region of the Northeast.

The flight was painless as our routing took us directly over JFK Airport with a magnificent view of Manhattan. We landed at Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A small airport you wouldn't want to deal with after dark as it's framed by hills, and offers a beautiful but hilly approach. After landing, we grabbed the car, got lost and ended up at the Jiminy Mountain Resort. I had trouble with the name since I'd never seen the word "Jiminy" used in any other way than referencing a cricket. I later found out that the resort is indeed named after that famous cricket. Why? I have no idea, but it's definitely the wackiest name for a resort in recent memory.

At 5pm we headed over to Tanglewood. As guests of the Boston Symphony, we got the "A" tour of the venue. I was pretty blown away. The show started at 8:30 but already the place was packed. Clearly the wine & brie crowd, but 17,000 of them! After decades of slogging through the beer and puke stained grounds of rock shows, this was the most polite and well manicured venue I've ever seen. Even the parking lots were turf, similar to a well manicured putting green. There was no cement...anywhere. Taking mental notes, the whole experience was very enlightening. I'd been to Classical shows before, but nothing quite like this. Woodstock for the well heeled.

I was hyped pretty well by both Paul and the Boston Symphony (BSO) people about the evening's performance. John Williams conducting the Boston Pops with guests including Yo Yo Ma and James Earl Jones. It was "Film Night" where they'd show clips of Star Wars and Memoirs of a Geisha on a giant screen as the orchestra played in sync with the film. OK...that sounds cool.

At 8:15 we crawled through the endless spreads of exotic food and wine and into the shed to our BSO provided front and center seats. There was a hushed excitement as the orchestra tuned up. Then the lights went down and John Williams appeared to a Metallica like roar of approval from the distinctly non Metallica crowd. A few opening remarks and the show began. I was blown away by the "sonics"..I forgot how powerful natural sound like this can be, especially when performed by such a large and virtuosic orchestra. It bowls you over. It is cinematic in quality. I'm pretty conditioned to "songs" at shows and these were clearly pieces rather than songs. It's easy to get bored if you let yourself. I fought that and tried to stay engaged in the pure majestic quality of the sound. For me, I had to put mental pictures to the music to stay engaged. It wasn't hard, and it was rewarding.

After about a half an hour, Yo Yo Ma joined in, the screen came down and he along with the orchestra played along with the visuals. Personally, I've always been a fan of brilliant musicianship. Early YES music among countless others did it for me. I was getting that same feeling tonight, but in a different way. Yo Yo Ma was transcendent. I knew he was a virtuoso but I couldn't help thinking "what is a cello player going to do"? Well..he did it. The sound he got from that instrument was every bit as powerful as the sound Jimi got out of his Strat. I've never heard anything like it. It was so inventive. I DID get bored at times because the pacing is SO different from non Classical styles. You have to work at listening to this. I worked, and once again I found it incredibly rewarding. But it takes least for me it did, but to say I was impressed, was an understatement.

After Yo Yo, there was an intermission. I was in one of those blissful "what the hell did I just witness" ? places. So we went backstage and saw Yo Yo's manager and witnessed Yo Yo clowning with some young kids. Here's this serious Classical icon playing around like an 8 year old. That was pretty cool. He was kinda goofy, in a fun way...a nice balance to the immaculate mind blowing playing, enhanced by an orchestra AND film. A tour de force on the senses.

I bought a root beer and headed back into the venue. Immediately greeted by two security agents chiding me for the audacity of bringing a soft drink into this temple of sound. problem, I swigged it and sat down. The BSO people introduced us to the head guy, but he was pretty busy hanging with the VIP's. And I'm talking VIP's. Steve Spielberg, Mia Farrow and the owners of pretty much every sports franchise were all on hand and sitting in our section.

Part two of the show begins. The booming Darth Vader aka James Earl Jones narrated the orchestra playing along to Star Wars film clips. He actually screwed up the first few lines which was pretty funny and actually took a bit of the tension out. The Star Wars segment was defiantly more ":accessible" but still had this powerful theater of the mind quality. In fact, the whole segment has an edge of humor to it including the orchestra playing the 2oth Century Fox theme as the performance began.

As the show concluded, 17,500 people started to calmly file out, buzzed by Chardonnay and a sense of serene musical intoxication. We headed to a tent to meet up with the BSO people and recount the night as the place thinned out.

I felt I had a musical education that night. I really wished more XMers could have been there. It was the other side of the coin. First off, there were 17,500 people there. That's huge and bigger than most traditional shows, and these events tend to be off the radar. Then there was the quality of the event....and the respect for the music. There was NO audience sound when the music started. Now of course this ISN'T rock n roll, about 180 degrees from it, but magical and significant in it's own right. Throughout the night I WAS wondering---what would a PInk Floyd show be like in this environment??!!

The ride back home was nice. Woke up freezing as he temperature was about 40. Something I haven't experienced in awhile. Paul's wife is a vet and I learned that to impersonate a dog bark you breathe in while barking not out. An interesting sound contrast to the prior evening's trip to another musical landscape.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Last week there was the announcement that I-pod would be in cars. Great.

I have three I-pods. Great devices. Other than the fact that I erased all 3,000 songs accidentally when I got a new lap top, they are a wonderful technology....

Then all of a sudden I got quite a few emails about this announcement as well as seeing a few blogs that spelled the death of radio both satellite and terrestrial due to I-Pods coming into cars.

Putting the denial radar on full, I have to think that the "death" comments are similar to the proclamation that North Korean ICBM's are poised to hit Los Angeles...soon.

In my opinion, it's a changing world in terms of how you receive audio entertainment. Not a brilliant revelation, but how you process that reality is the key. The new choices are GOOD! Bring it on. I can't wait to have an I-pod wired into my car. Put it right next Next to XM, next to terrestrial. More choice. Will I listen to my I-pod in the car? Hell yes. Will I listen to XM...of course...and I might even pop over to terrestrial too. I think it can EXPAND the time-spent-listening to audio entertainment. One day maybe Internet radio will be in the car too....great! I think ya gotta accept that this is all coming and embrace the competition and the new playing field. XM and I assume Sirius are going to continue to be aggressive in bringing satellite into as many ears as possible. It'll drive companies to become more inventive and re-think things. If you look at I-Pod, they too have challenges, namely attacking the upper-end who was born and raised on vinyl, cassettes and CD's and is confused by things they perceive as complex.

Of course ANY blanket statement is pretty useless today, especially when referencing music. 18 year olds are wired into the My Space world; 40+ luddites are clueless about downloading; Music freaks of any age will go ANYwhere the music is offered and there are traditionalists who continue to hear music on radio and buy CD's at the big box stores. And THAT's an over generalization with the point being that there are 300 million+ North Americans and any blanket statements are, in my opinion, far too general in 2006.

...and then there's radio. It's a different experience. The key to radio has been in evolving what comes out of the speakers as much as technology. In 1970, FM was a superior technology sound wise, but what made FM happen is the programming. FM had been around since 1940 but in the 70's FM attacked the vulnerabilities of AM which was still paying by the rules of 1956. Same thing now, FM is vulnerable because it's playing by the rules of 1980. When radio gets in sync with the era, it's an experience that I believe will always be a significant part of the listening pie.

Years ago, there was similar talk about when 8 Track, cassette and later CD players were integrated into cars. that same "radio is dead" talk. Radio is resilient. It was given it's last rites in 1955 when TV became mainstream. The emergence of these technologies certainly creates a challenge, but media ain't no cake walk.....I can't think of any business that changes as fast as media these days. IF we were to stay stuck in 1988 thinking or fail to address our shortcomings--THAT is a problem, but if we attack the areas we need to attack and actually deliver (AFDI) on what we promise, things will prosper. I can say that about ANY of the competing technologies, not just XM. The technology is sound, the challenge is to maximize it through the speakers and to the public. To say the idea of satellite radio is "dead" because of another excellent technology strikes me as absurd.

We're in an evolutionary world where music listening changing and expanding...not dying.

...and then we gotta realize that as much as music is key to audio entertainment, News/Talk is the #1 most listened to format in North America. Throw in Sports and it further illustrates the vastness of entertainment for the ears. As passionate about music as we are...that isn't the whole picture.

It's easy to get into denial and think we are invulnerable, and it's just as easy to take the sensationalist course and think it's all over. I'm in the middle. Gotta think realistically---put everything on the table--the good, bad and ugly and think reality. I believe we're in the 2nd Inning of a long "war for ears" game. There's a lot at XM we need to do to stay in sync with the battle. It changes almost daily. It would be nice if this were 1955 and we just had to fight TV by playing the hit parade of songs. A bit more complex now. Not only for XM--for everyone. Terrestrial has to worry about satellite...Apple is probably a bit concerned about Microsoft...Then there's Motorola and the phone companies...Satellite worries about marketing...the point being---It's a changing world and a time for EVERYONE to focus on the realities of their business and not "freaking out" or buying into the sensationalism.

It's also important to separate the intellectual from the mass market. For example, intellectually FM is dead. In the mass market, FM is very much alive. Practically everyone listens to FM. That doesn't make it good or intellectually stimulating. The goal of course is to have both the mass market and the intellectual stimulation going.

A major challenge, but a critical one. It's all part of the success equation, at least from the creative side.

The age of AM vs. FM is over...even Satellite vs. Terrestrial is over. It's infinitely more complex. It's an audio version of the political state of the World. It ain't the US vs. the USSR anymore. Simple statements about the state of affairs are too...simple. Be it World Order......or music. It's all too complex to throw around "____is dead" when discussing something that is vibrant and ever-changing.

Radio is a unique experience...a joyful one when done right....I-Pod is equally cool....Internet is a player....It's ALL good. at the end of the day, assuming you can receive everything with the same clarity, the best content will prevail. I am as confident now as in 1998. And for the music and sports fan: Let the games begin.