1966,2006 and THE NEXT GENERATION
I'll never forget the magic of listening to the AM radio, circa 1966 at 2am. Just quiet enough so I wouldn't wake my parents. There is no feeling like it. It is timeless...majestic...an American experience that I wish everyone could have felt. You were reaching over the horizon listening to well tuned AM transmitters beaming the tale of their city with a homegrown DJ, homegrown ads and a music mix that is poles away from the typical over engineered play lists of the 21st Century. I remember those cold Winter nights especially well, where the signals beamed crisply into my bedroom in the South Side of Chicago from stations like KSL/Salt Lake City; KAAY/Little Rock; CFOR and CHUM up in Ontario; KOA/Denver and of course the big guns like WABC/New York and WBZ/Boston. Even the little guys like WILS in Lansing that faded in and out had their own sense of romance. The joy of hearing a new song that may or may not hit the Chicago charts...the strange accents from distant quadrants of the Nation. The excitement of a stations production which tended to ooze the flavor of the burgh they served. An AM radio on a Cold Winter Night---spanning the continent. Electronic poetry......on those nights--all was well with the World.
And now it's 2006...and there are some issues out there relating to the newest generation of Satellite radios and the Record labels. There's legislation on the Hill taking aim at Satellite radio. I can only relate to this as sort of an outsider and there's a legal side to all of this that programmers like myself need to and should stay clear of as my legal training is to say the least...limited. To check out more about it goto www.xmradio.com/grassroots
Nonetheless, we're all about playing music so I can't help wonder about all of this. So much of this impasse is old news. I remember in the 70's when cassette players also had FM radios. Any softening of record sales was because people were supposedly taping off FM instead of buying the Album. Funny thing though---when the quality of the music improved, sales were mysteriously back. I guess people only wanted to tape crap.
The frustrating thing for XM programmers is that there are several labels holding back from doing things with Satellite Radio because of these "issues". No doubt they'll be resolved, but in the meantime, once again artists are getting screwed. An example is that last month we wanted to do something with a pretty major classic artists' new CD. We've done a ton with him, he's an XM fan, and while he may not be on the cutting edge, there are a lot of people who worshipped his albums as the soundtrack of Suburban America in the mid 70's. Much of the Rock press and modern music aficionados may wish he'd go into hibernation, we think there are a lot of his fans who'd like to hear what he's up to. His music was beaten into the ground and his follow-up Albums may have been less than stellar, but the point is that he IS a great musician and his fans deserve to hear what he's up to. So--we wanted to create some programming around his latest CD. Ain't gonna happen. Label won't LET it happen, despite his management and publicists offering full cooperation. Who does this hurt? It hurts this artist and his fans. It's not like FM is going to roll out the carpet for him. THIS is what I don't get! What are these labels thinking? Then--last week, a "major label" nixed the Classical Confidentials with two important Classical artists. As if ANYONE is going to gve these artists the intense love that Paul Bachmann, Martin Goldsmith and our Classical channes will give these artists. It's insane what they are doing to THEIR artists. I think the relationship between XM and The Record Labels is a partnership in exposing music. Yes--There are these legal issues, but you'd think that those could be dealt with on a legal level while the music side works together until a legal resolution is found. Painting XM as "bad" to the Hill is in my opinion, criminal in itself.
Funny thing is that most people we deal with AT the label level think this whole thing is absurd...of course they'd get fired if they spoke up.
The fact that these issues affect the music is what's wrong with the world. To me, the satellite radio thing is yet another convenient excuse for blaming something on a soft market and changing world. IF XM was breaking the law and not paying artists, that's one thing, but XM pays a fortune to artists...as well as songwriters thorough BMI, ASCAP and SESAC. XM is going over-the top to embrace music, break artists and solidify careers AND we are paying. FM is grandfathered in and doesn't pay a dime to artists.
The key to the thing is that our new radios record. So did Walkmans and VCR's and Tivos . You can't transfer that recording to another device...it's for personal listening only....and we PAY artists already.
XM is the only place that the very new, the very old, the eccentric and the forgotten geniuses can be heard. The fact that there's a bad attitude about this is whacked. I collect old Billboard Magazines. Gives you a good perspective on the history. The more you understand the past the better you can design the future. These magazines are loaded with other examples of The "industry" trying to stifle the inevitable technology advances. It's whacked.
OK...back to the positive----Ludacris did an Artist Confidential. Man, that thing was HOT. Mz. Kitti from XM's RAW (uncensored Hip Hop) was the host. This lady was on fire. She was over-the-top. Talkin about tittes and shit. Ludacris was REAL. The man is super intelligent, and has that pure un corrupted sense of what he's all about. An old White guy like me needed a translator like in Airplane (Barbra Billingsly: "Excuse me, but I speak Jive"). But I didn't NEED to "get it"--I got it. The vibe was intense and pure. REAL. I'll never be part of the Hip Hop Nation, but man, I was inspired by this. The line of questions was from a street POV. There was NOTHING "radio" about this. It is un-syndicatable. It is pure XM.
Speaking of intelligent. A personal mission is to help our staff evolve ourselves from the "I read R&R and do lunches with the record guys" types or the 'programming by code' thing where it's all "P-1 listening patterns can redirect a TSL and therefore an AQH, put industry code word_____here" to a different style of thinking. Reading R&R and having lunch with record guys is fine, it's part of the turf on the traditional format side, and knowing the science part is cool, but in my opinion, radio programming people need to seek a different level that changes the style of programming and managing channels to the 2006 reality.. Tone down the Hollywood Bullshit and Jive factor, or ease off on the rocket stuff and start thinking and operating on a more human/person to person plane. That doesn't mean going corporate, data driven or boring, it means re-evaluating ourselves and recognizing that the bullshit part of the "business" is just that--bullshit. The code words have a place, but can further alienate you from the real world...And you know the whole--"Hey--lookin'good...whendya get in?...Love ya babe" stuff that is often superficial to the point of being comedic. actually I think SNL has done a few routines like this. Sometimes we are a parody of ourselves. I hope we all have intense fun, but tone down the Bullshit and code and focus on the revolution at hand. A Style of thinking that impresses listeners not each other. I suppose I'm full of Bullshit and Code too...but I'm trying....
Sometimes programmers are their own worst enemies by talking in code, being TOO self important and living in the "Hey I'm in "the industry" thing or allowing the jive and code to get in the way of what REALLY counts---turning on listeners. WE aren't stars OR Rocket Scientists.
Katie Courics ratings slipped after the big circus opening day. Good. I'm sure she's a nice competent person, but the kickoff was way over the top for the wrong reasons. William Paley must be rolling over in his grave. I REALLY think these people will suffocate in their own hype. I really believe that North America will see a drastic hype overkill effect this decade. There's SO much sell, and so little substance out there that it's going to swallow some companies. Enough already with the "sell"--time for substance. What a concept. It's all lies. On the surface that may sound bitter. Hey--no bitterness--it's the truth. Cyclical I suppose...late 60's were TOO devoid of "sell, now it's 180 degrees from that. The truth is powerful. I predict truth will become a marketing tool in itself. Imagine a company that admitted they used to suck, but now they figured it out...and apologize to the public and promise a great new product. That'll NEVER happen, but it might just be effective.
Lou Brutus did a great three hour rap with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. Lou is quite a talent interacting with artists. He's kind of a sicko--in a very positive way. That sickness is wonderful. I'm sure Lou and Nick talked about some real sick stuff that'll be really cool on the air.
...I just got back from USC to talk to the NEXT generation... and HEAR whta they are about...I NEEDED that reality check today. THEY represent the future and hearing their input was incredibly powerful...I'm STILL taking it in. there is hope...these people have NO baggage. I talked a lot, but LISTENED more. There IS hope!