Monday, August 28, 2006

COOPERSTOWN, COUNTRY & O.T.T.

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 Classmates.com 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.

7 Comments:

At 6:12 PM, Blogger charlespoet said...

Lee I'd really like to talk to you about an interesting idea I have for a channel for XM. It's about poetry but not just poetry. Consider it a goulash of poetry and dada and anything else that ticks, pops, gurgles and wishes to be free. charlespoet@adelphia.net

 
At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee,

I always enjoy your blog and your non-mainstream perspectives on what alternative radio (like XM) should be about. Being a long time non-commercial public radio fan, I agree with nearly everything you say.

I do ponder the difference between your intentions and the reality of what seems to be pretty ho-hum mainstream sounding radio on too many XM channels. I also ponder why the predominate investigative journalism news program (Pacifica's "Democracy Now!) is not on XMPR or any XM news channel.

Keep up your efforts in leading XM the way you philosophize about. I realize XM is a work in process.

Todd

 
At 4:07 PM, Blogger An80sNut said...

I love the EarthSounds idea but yes, sometimes having such relaxing sounds (like while driving cross-country) may not be so safe. Thank you for expanding upon the why's and why not's for some channels. Now if only you had a weekly 80's music news segment for your 80's channel.

Martin
80's Music Central

 
At 11:27 PM, Blogger Ken said...

Sometimes visits to those Motel 6's in towns like Cooperstown can be refreshing.

It's interesting to see how some of the channels evolved. The old radio cartoons would have been way cool. Sort of like listening to some of the Star Wars radio operas or listening to a baseball game on the radio.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger Billy Roberts said...

Another great entry in your blog!

Those ideas that did not pan out were interesting and could work out well on radio. I especially like the idea of listeners sending in their own songs.

In fact, I think it would be cool if XM listeners could have an opportunity to program a channel the way they want to for a short amount of time (either a day or even a week). I remember last year when XM had a contest to let someone have their own channel for 8 hours (I think it was called Me 103); the music he played was unique and I enjoyed it. How cool would it be for some listener to be able to play whatever he/she wanted to!

I hope in the future XM can add more music channels. World music is severely lacking. A free-form channel would also be great (I don't consider Fine Tuning a free-form channel). Hopefully XM can find a way to add more niche programming in the future.

 
At 10:25 AM, Blogger Peter said...

I am still beating the drum for the return of LUNA to the mainstream XM channels. That mix of jazzy Latin tunes is sorely missed. I can't tell you how many times I have been driving and needed the help to get me through that only LUNA can do. Please return that music choice to the subscription paying public.

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger dexxx said...

Dear Mr.Abrams,
I am (one of the very few) an african american folk artist. On my album entitled "literature" the last song is a tribute song (nothing new under the sun) to Mr.Dylan. It would be my pleasure to have you guys actually play it on air in the near future. I am requesting permission to send an mp3.
Thank you for your time,
DEXXX
www.myspace.com/dexxxrockstar

 

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