Monday, August 21, 2006

RANDOM STUFF FROM THE XM HALLS

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 it...to 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 on...so 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 either...no 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: http://www.beforethemusicdies.com/index.html I really hope XM can make a difference. Trying to make a difference is the difference.
There's nothing wrong with disposable pop...it'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 because....it 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 .

24 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee-
Just discovered your blog . . . once a year enough for some songs . . . yes it is, I guess, but it never hurts to hear them two or three times a year. That's the beauty of the decades channels and the beauty of IT. If I were trying to improve IT, I would put more narration and explication in the mix. I like what was done with the 40's and giving the context of the musicians strike, but honestly, there are so many more back stories that you can get, that I have gotten, simply by listening to IT online and screwing around on google or wikipedia on each song. Maybe that's possible, maybe not, but you guys have a wealth of information.

Since I'm on here, I will ask whether or not anyone at XM ever considered the possiblity of sponsoring or partnering with Richard Irwin's Reelradio site for airchecks for the Friday show on the 1960's. While Terry Young has always done a nice job of doing recreations, there is such a wealth of content and knowledge available on the reelradio website (and a need to keep the site going for posterity), that it seems to me that it would make sense to do that.

Thanks for all your hard work and providing a forum for feedback.

woodrowhayes@yahoo.com

 
At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Bob Olhsson said...

Lee,

We moved to Nashville from San Francisco five years ago. When we left the #1 music station in the market was playing classical elevator music, an amazing indictment of both music radio and of the music biz.

The embers of American music are still warm here unlike too much of the rest of our country. A few of us are blowin' on 'em like a !@#$%^&*()_+| as Nashville reinvents its self once again. I haven't been as excited about what I'm doing since I left Detroit and Motown in in 1972.

Your son couldn't have picked a better time or place. I'd love to let him sit in on one of our recording sessions. My email is olh@hyperback.com

 
At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

XMU needs some fresh blood that comes from the indie community. The channel did not work for several years, and the person responsible is still on the job, in drive time no less. You're limiting its potential unless you get a real indie music fanatic engaged with XMU.

 
At 7:13 PM, Blogger Billy Roberts said...

I really enjoyed your latest entry.

You mentioned that the Decade channels should not be playing all the minor hits except maybe once a year. I have to disagree. There are songs that made the top 20 that the Decade channels are not playing! These songs should get airplay at least a couple times a month or even just once a month - but they should be played. The 70's channel is currently not playing "Calypso" by John Denver, which hit number 2 in 1975! That song should be played on the 70's about 2-3 times a week. How sad that it will take IT for this song to get airplay once again.

I am glad that you have admitted that XMU has been neglected. Thank goodness XM woke up and realized that this channel needs help. It's great that Billy Zero is working on XMU as PD; I felt Tobi, while doing the best she could, was not the right person to be the PD.

My main problem with XMU is that it is trying to be both an indie rock/rap channel as well as a place to hear "new" music. I would make XMU 100% indie and move the non-idie music to Ethel. I'm not familiar with indie music and it's hard to get into XMU when I'm hearing artists like Beck, Snow Patrol and Keane - all well established acts. Please move the well known artists over to Ethel and let XMU play acts that AREN'T well known.

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

Lee,
Do you have an e-mail address for Sonny Fox? I want to send him a VERY funny audio.
Regards,
C. Greenwell

 
At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Bobarino said...

Once a year is fine for some less-than -great songs, even if they were popular in their time. Playing John Denver's Calypso doesn't make me feel good; it makes me wonder, "What the hell were we thinking?" Which is good, if it's only a few times a year; more than that, and it's just depressing.

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger Steve K. said...

IT is simply the greatest thing I've ever heard on the radio! I really enjoyed the '20s special too. The only negatives are A) too many promos. B) the promos do a very inadequate job of describing what IT actually is C) as stated by somebody above, there's not enough background info given about the music or the mood of the country at the time (60s is especially guilty of this). Think about it. If somebody is really listening to IT intently (as I am) they actually care about all that stuff and are listening for education as well as entertainment. Anyway I love IT and look forward to it every time. Thank you for bringing IT to us!

 
At 9:11 PM, Blogger B.J. said...

To the previous comment about XMU. I disagree.

XMU is supposed to be a college radio station like Lee said.

Thats what XMU sounds like. college radio is not 100% indie, nor 100% rap, nor 100% rock. It's random college DJs spinnin what they like and throwing in locals, indie and unknowns into the mix. Every college station I've ever heard is like that.

Who cares if you hear a established artist? Like I stated, this is college radio, I've heard a lot of college radio stations, and yes, god forbid, each one of them has play established artists..

P.S. Sound Quality a concern for nate! Thank god!

 
At 7:09 AM, Anonymous MikeV said...

Wow... where to start... so much in one post! Glad to hear that sound quality might be getting some attention from the top. Quantity only gets one so far, especially if the quality of that quantity sucks (in XM's case, sounds like crap).

Building up the talent - something FM hasn't been doing (they'd rather syndicate people nationwide) - is definitely important, but ya need to SELL that content for it to get more ears. And don't just sell it to those of us that already have XM... sell it to the rest of the world too! Hopefully some of the recent changes in Marketing will produce some good results in this area.

Glad to see IT returning to the Decades!! Also glad to see that it's actually spanning beyond the traditional Decades programming, now running from the 1920's through 2006!

Also glad to see the effort XM has made in LA regarding their upcoming Country music event. With XM now sponsoring that big event, you guys are keeping alive a genre of music in a part of the country that has nowhere else to turn for that kind of music. Make sure to take advantage of the event too, and get lots of live programming from it!

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger Al said...

Lee-
As a second generation broadcast guy, I really love sat. radio (although, I use the competition).
I, like my father before me, got into radio because of the music. Now, I think it's business that is running so many of the creative types out of terrestrial radio creating the self-fufilling prophecy of the decline of the medium.
The one thing that also bothered me about working in broadcasting is that everyone from your doctor to your gardener thought they could do your job. It always amazed me that most people who have ridden in a plane, don't think they could fly one, most people who have changed a light bulb, don't think they can re-wire their house, but if they've listened to a radio, they are positive they could program one.
Sorry, personal gripe.
The two things Jerry Clifton told me when I first got into the business. If you want a great radio station, play the hits and if you only play your favorite songs, you'll be the only person listening to your station.
Lee, always been a fan of yours - thanks

 
At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill:

Should XMU never play established artists? Nope, playing some is fine as long as they're added intelligently to a mix of songs that flow well together.

Should XMU's artist list overlap 50% with Ethel? A big no in my opinion. Especially when it comes to soccer mom music like Keane.

 
At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point shouldn't be to limit XMU, but for it to be well-programmed with a coherent vision and interesting flow. I think when Billy talks about hearing acts like Snow Patrol often, he is talking about the lack of this...

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee:

Since the rumblings about sound quality have apparently gotten loud enough that you and other execs are actually talking about the issue, what are the chances that XM will trim a number of channels -- music and talk -- to enhance sound quality on the survivors? The rock neighborhood goes down to nine channels, the classical to two, the country to five, etc. And when the agreement with Clear Channel ends, you get four more channels to drop, right? That should greatly enhance sound quality on the remaining music channels, and it would be a real selling point to use against Sirius, IMO.

Does this have a chance of happening, or is the risk of a Sirius ad blitz -- harping on the fact that XM now has fewer channels for the same price -- too great for the beancounters to accept?

It's getting bad here in listener-land, Lee. The oldies sound better on FM here than on any of the decades channels or -- especially -- Soul Street. Is any relief in sight?

 
At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, "IT" should have some more background... feeling.. and as far as some of the songs just being played once a year, someone had to buy it to make it be a historic relic of the decade it was from, otherwise don't play any disco (dico sucks!!) or rap or rock... it all has a place.. and as far as I'm concerned the obscure stuff should be played in the decades channels... top tracks & big tracks are so predictable anymore... as far as the crack about disco sucking, I've grown to like some of that era music... since I grew up in that time frame (sixties though the eighties radio, what a change)...

 
At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also don't believe that any song only deserves to be heard once a year, at least on the 60's and 70's channels, which are what I mostly listen to. I do believe in a rotation that out of every hundred songs played, 50 of those would be top five, 30 would be songs that reached six to 10 on the chart. 10 would be those that reached ten to twenty on the chart, and the other 10 would be all the rest.

You gotta know that IT is indirectly a boon to the record companies. . . went out this week and bought my first Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington recordings . . . as a response to an earlier IT broadcast I went out and bought the Shangri-Las greatest hits.

woodrowhayes@yahoo.com

 
At 11:42 PM, Anonymous Wes Derby said...

Lee.

Great entry, as always. Your blog is one of the few I make a point to read.

I think most of what's happening at XM is great...It does seem that sound quality has improved quite a bit since the launch of all the new channels...Sounds GREAT in my car on the SkyFi, pretty decent in my house on the MyFi.

For the LA country show XM's sponsoring, I don't know if the marketing dollars are there for this, but maybe XM should do like you guys did for the World Series and give everyone who attends a radio, and maybe a free month or 3-month trial; just a thought.

PLEASE tell me XM didn't drop the ball with Eddie Trunk...I see on his site that he says that news on his return to satellite is "coming soon", and I pray it's not the other company. It'd almost be enough to make me actually buy one of their radios and a subscription, though I'm sure the wife wouldn't go for that...Believe me, I don't want to buy anything Sirius-related and help line Stern's pockets. :)

Great blog...Keep up the great work.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Derek E said...

I love XMU as it is now, however I do have some college stations in the area that are big on 'Jam band shows', being with the abscence of Music Lab, and no real Jam prescence outside of the Phish phry that's on in the wee hours of the morning, it'd be nice to have a jam-centric show on XMU (or barring that XM Cafe or the Loft). At least until a split Music Lab (one prog channel, one Jam channel) makes its happy return.

 
At 11:01 PM, Anonymous john ford said...

hello old friend, just stumbled across your blog. Interesting to read about your son being a real musician living in Nashville. I remember trading an almost "firewood" Fender acoustic for a Princeton Reverb you had in your office because he wanted to learn how to play. (personally, I think I got the better end of the trade, bit it appears that we all did well) I think this bodes as very good karma for me. Glad to see you are well and stil navagating the 'radio' waves. Always all the best.

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee
I've been with XM from the very start, and I've noticed some troubling things lately. Of course, the #1 issue is poor audio quality. XM used to sound like a CD - now it's worse than my multi-pathed FM audio.

Second - way too much repetition on the playlists. You're sounding way too much like some bogus WKRP in Cincy PD - playing according to demographics instead of what you want.

Dylan's show is so amazing just because of this randomness. We have Howlin' Wolf followed by Carole King - where else can you hear that.

Perhaps you should hire an assistant from WXPN in Philly or KINK in Portland, OR. These are two FM stations that "get it".

 
At 2:15 AM, Blogger TOR Hershman said...

Mr. Abrams, there are two groups of people that
will fail utterly, they are: People that
want to keep the world from changin’
,
and
those that want to change it.

Stay on Groovin' Safari,
TOR Hershman

 
At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Bob Olhsson said...

To be fair, a team of people probably spend a week creating each 1 hour Dylan show.

A guy named Larry Miller did something very similar for a couple hour Saturday evening "folk" show on a Detroit classical music station during the '60s. It was by far the most compelling music radio I've ever heard. Miller's air-checks snagged him a regular slot on a San Francisco station, the station turned it into a format and "underground" FM radio was born.

A few years ago I ran across an air check of one of Miller's daily San Francisco shows. To put it mildly, this was a great disappointment. It became obvious why Miller hadn't lasted very long and the format never really lived up to its prototype.

What makes radio amazing is often the ratio of time put into preparing the show vs. its running time on the air. It's wonderful that XM can afford to do this some but I doubt that the numbers work for creating a whole channel of that quality.

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger An80sNut said...

I love the idea of IT. There are tons of hits out there that get glanced over for a rotating Top 10 for each year. (Let's take this to an area of expertise for me, 80's music.) For some reason, some programmers believe that people want to hear "Tainted Love," "I Melt With You" and "I Ran" every other hour. Sure, they were hits (ok, in truth "I Melt With You" didn't make the Billboard Top 40) but there were tons of hits and many of them don't get airplay at all. A channel that takes all the historically charted hits in a random assortment would be educational as entertaining. You've just renewed some of my faith in radio.

Martin
80's Music Central

 
At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if the audio complaints are more due to XM's Neural Audio processors than from the bitrates? I got a chance to audition the Neural Audio processors at NAB last April and found that they were loud and shrill yet still had no high end. Maybe that's the bigger part of the cause?

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Bob Olhsson said...

I just tuned into the Loft on the internet stream to catch Graham Nash and am listening to The Church while I wait.

My initial gut reaction was "wow, this sound quality is absolutely amazing!" Then I realized it was your own live production.

Whatever you folks are doing, please do keep it up!

 

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