Monday, October 02, 2006



A few months ago Willie Nelson "bought" Hank's Place, and thus the channel is now "Willie's Place". While the channel hasn't changed one bit, Willie IS actively involved, so Dan Turner, "Jinx" (aka Jim Bonner) and Eddie Kilroy hopped in the Cirrus to head to the Philly area for Farm Aid to hang out with Willie in his famous bus. It's important that we took my plane since Eddie's spittoon and 75 pound belt buckle would have never passed through security. You see, Eddie is the real deal. A pro rodeo driver, Nashville legend and Cowboy. I'll bet it was mildly disturbing for him to go to the foreign country known as Camden, New Jersey for this meeting. Ray Knight who oversees our Country channels was supposed to come but had to anchor our broadcast of Farm Aid from DC, along with Jessie Scott and Bill Kates who were on-site.

The trip up was in the clouds and Kilroy kept asking if everything was OK. I think Eddie feels more comfortable on a horse than on a plane. In any case, we land at Philadelphia International and Dan gets us a car. A GPS was requested but never came through so we blindly departed for Tweeter Center in nearby Camden. We got lost. Ended up circling around THE most dangerous neighborhood south of Newark. Gunshots, crack houses and burned out buildings. Thank God it was daytime. For Kilroy, it was like Baghdad. I was only mildly terrified being from Chicago. Finally we found the general area of Farm Aid. It was kind of odd that an event aimed at the Farmer was held in an area where farms haven't existed...ever. Now the trick was to find Willie's bus. Dave Anderson his right hand man told us to go to the back gate and ask for Benny. Using our best "We're from XM" authoritative voices, the Officers blocking traffic at every corner we're unimpressed. We finally found a parking garage reasonably close o the venue and then hoofed around trying to find Benny. The "we're here to see Willie" got a few chuckles from the security forces, though we eventually found Benny and were escorted to the Bus.

Before we got on, it was like old home week for Kilroy--this guy knows EVERYONE in the traditional Country world. There were A LOT of "Kilroy--you ole dog--how ya doing partner??"
from people who I assume are big names in the Country world. I gotta say--between Kilroy, Eric Logan and the rest of our crack Country team, XM ahs infiltrated the Country World pretty well!

So we are on the Bus, and there's Willie. He is one incredible guy. With his resume, he could be a real jerk, but he is the mellowest kindest legend I've ever met. we dive into ideas he has, and some thought we have and it's a wonderful bonding session. He's pretty crazed with the whole Farm Aid thing about to get going, so we spend a nice hour and then respect his day and gracefully leave the bus with a real good feeling about things.

Enroute back to the Airport, we decide we MUST have a Cheesesteak. So we go to Tony Luke's. A joint I recall from 20 years consulting WMMR and WYSP. Kilroy declares his sandwich the best he's ever had This place is SO local. Once the server asked "What yoose guys want" we knew we were in the right place. After Tony Luke's we marvel at the rows of Mafia owned strip joints and the whole waterfront vibe. We saw the once proud SS UNITED STATES sitting in mothballs and fantasized that with 100 million we could probably turn that thing into one hell of a party boat. After getting hopelessly lost again, we made it back to the Airport. The car didn't have XM...or Sirius. None of us brought MP3 players or walkmans. We were stuck with local radio. Didn't bother listening though as sadly you just KNOW it's going to be the same crap you can hear in Washington, or just about anywhere. Sold an XM radio to the ramp fueling guy. The taxi to the runways was NUTS as every airline decided to launch its departures at precisely the time we did. It was SO busy, but we made it out, flew home and reveled in how magical a simple road trip can be

Last week we had one of our periodic offsite management meetings. Really intense stuff. A lot of the discussion was about really high level and complex initiatives. The ONE thing I wanted to remind the group of was that we need to remember the "Soul" of XM. We are in a fast paced tech driven World, but so much of it all boils down to what comes out of the speakers. I may have been a little Over-the-top as this was a pretty high level event and my style can be a little...whacked...but the point came across and I hope it was a good balance to the intense and intellectual discussions.

Speaking of what comes out of the speakers and the need to keep our eye on the musical ball and sweat in the content trenches...
Below are some thoughts from six years ago, right as we launched. The points below are highly condensed, but are a peek behind the curtains of our original music Point of View, that still holds true today. Again, it's extremely condensed and you really had to be there, but hopefully will shine some light on the general thinking in terms of music programming. Time will tell if it's the RIGHT direction, but it's OUR direction and while it's always evolving and hopefully improving, I DO know it's infinitely more in sync thinking than the circa 1980 playbook on FM and when combined with the human factor can be very satisfying to listeners.
Referring to the 10/25/00 XM MUSIC PLAYBOOK: (EXCEPTS)
SELECTIVITY! Treat your list as a GREAT band treats their set at a concert. The best shit. BE SELECTIVE but . At any given point in time you MUST be playing a better song than ANY terrestrial station in your format is playing at that same moment.
"HIT" DEFINITION: It is simply the most important songs for your format. The qualifiers can be charts as in "oldies/decades" type stations.....Artist History as in our AOR/Alternative type formats......incredible foresight with New Music Formats.....Common Sense in Sound Driven formats, etc....DON'T CONFUSE "HIT WITH THE TRADITIONAL TOP 40 DEFINITION
ENLIGHTEN: It's our job. Not a job description at most radio or other music discovery sources...but it IS CRITICAL at XM.
We need to get to the point where ANYONE can listen FIVE MINUTES to ANY XM CHANNEL, and get the DEFINITIVE MUSIC in that short listen. Then complete satisfaction in longer listens.
And please for God Sake: Don't use terrestrial as a reference point!!!!!. Don't think an oldies station needs to sound like "this" because of KXXX. Don't think a Sound Driven station needs to be ALL chart hit because that's how KYYY does it.....We are re-inventing the music rotation. The only rules are that you play by the XM Music Playbook. Now..... it's all spelled out for you here....unless you really know this stuff....READ THIS REVISIT OF OUR MUSIC BOOTCAMP PLEASE: (IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS..ASK NOW!!!!)

The following is an extremely abbreviated overview of the Camp. If anything needs further discussion or clarification...ask! It was a four hour session, so here are some of the points we focused on. OK, here goes: (to save computer space allot of this is in abbreviate....again, if it's too obscure, ask!)
Obviously, "Stationality" is critical. That's the magic between the songs and on the streets...the key there is AFDI (Actually Fucking Doing It). Whether you're all about The Three Stooges On Acid...or a cool, intellect sound....AFDI is critical to TRULY changing the way we sound between the songs... The magic of XM is distinctly different, totally brilliant stations.
We talked lets focus on Musicality. WHO YOU ARE to get there and how to max your position.

Coming from FM, we all probably fit into one of these groups listed below at one point. Well....let's try to lose these characteristics and put things on a higher level. Part of the reason a lot of FM PDs are self inflicted clueless musically is because ya got:
-Voodoo Types: Charts & Graphs and Physics...but no soul.
-Trade Whores: Screw the station...I want my pic in the trades so I can get another gig
-Uninformed (aka Dumb Shits): People who just dot get it
-Software Gods: Computer wizards whose stations stink but they're perfectly scheduled.
-Fake Experts: Experts who forgot how to learn and evolve.
-Sheep: Mindless followers
-Industry Prey: Followers of the industry rather than the listeners
-Corrupt: Adds for Trips

Hacks add records, Programmers program is a powerful weapon in our radio revolution arsenal. Gotta avoid the "simplification" pitfalls:

Example: We got a morning show..tested the a billboard up...we're cool Example: Check R&R Chart..see what the label is pushing...add & report...we're cool.
....not quite!
OK, enough with the bad examples. You are here. You are good (which is why you're here)
The purpose of this memo and bootcamp is to take you to the next music level of music understanding.... SmartER CleverER along with a balance of empathy, science and knowledge tucked into your head, you'll have the Tools to meet the XM Standard of excellence.
You need to be:

A MUSIC MANAGER...that's the science
A MUSIC Programmer...that's the art.

The end Goal: "MC" MUSICAL CONFIDENCE!!!!! Listeners to EVERY XM Format MUST feel CONFIDENT about the music on your station.


On FM Its literally gone....WE WILL BRING MC BACK to American listeners...

Now----gotta UNDERSTAND THE BIG PICTURE. There are lulls and intense periods. I think understanding the big time picture is important--
A Programmer who is in sync with 2000 but has no sense of history is reckless. A PD who is in sync with 2000 but understands history is DANGEROUS (in a good way)
During Intense periods: Stations & DJs have the opportunity to be as Hip as the Artists (Murray the K 64...Tom Donohue 70...KROQ 80, etc..)

GET READY. The times are a can bet on it. That Intense/Lull chart is the real deal in illustrating change. IF YOU ARE NOT READY TO GET IN SYNC WITH CHANGE YOU WILL BE LEFT BEHIND.

In an extreme oversimplification: (I will use 1964-65 as an example, but these periods happened in '55, 70, 80, 92 etc....). This is highly arguable stuff--but in this case is simply to illustrate the dynamics of change:
During Intense Periods: RADIO CHANGES -- Bill Drake's extreme modification of Top 40
OLD WAVE OF ARTIST HIT WALL -- The Bobby Rydells had a tough time once the English invasion hit TECHNOLOGY CHANGES MUSICALLY -- The "band" configuration...the birth of the Rock n Roller buying Albums THE LOOK CHANGES -- Brylcreem was NOT cool anymore LOVE/HATE EMERGES -- Ace Hardware successfully distributes "Stamp Out the Beatles" stickers to irate adults who didn't quite "get" the new look THE SOUND OF MUSIC RADICALLY CHANGES -- Listen to the Top 10 from 63 and compare to the Top 10 from 65

...Take the lull between 58 and 64 (and we are in one today!)
During Lulls: Dancing Comes Back The Twist ...No Love/Hate Mom and Dad thought Bobby Vee was perfectly respectable...Look is acceptable to masses Rock n Rollers were hardly scary...Labels and Producers are in control... Hit factories emergeMcDonalds Rock happens Hits have a remarkable similarity in sound...Rock is Apolitical It's all about boyfriends and girlfriends...Tech becomes cheaper EVERYbody could afford a hi-fi...Cuteness over-rides musicality Cant play a note? No problem as long as you're cute
Intense 55 64 70 80 92 2001?!! Lull 60 67 75 85 98--

(note: timeless styles like Jazz or Blues cut through all eras., as do renaissance artists --)

Each XM Channel is like a football player:
--A purpose --A Position
The XM music strategy, and these ideas are the Playbook/Game Plan
The XM system MUST be choreographed so our fans get maximum music muscle from the 50 Music Channels.
There are different types of XM Musicality:
Song Driven (the Hit SONGS)
Artist Familiarity Driven (Depth and History on Artists)
New Music Driven (Cutting edge factor--No--make that DEFINE the edge)
Sound Driven (Loft, Audio Visions--It's about the sound)
Experimental (,like Fine Tuning)
Genre Driven (Blues, Jazz and genres---it's about covering the genre more than playing the hits)

YOU must focus on the right type (s) of Musicality. Its like restaurants:

Pop McDonalds Hit Food No Spices Cheap n Quick

Blues A Funky BBQ joint. Smoky, Hot, Real

Fine Tuning French Nouvelle..experimental. Ultra Quality food and patrons

Deep Tracks Classic French...Escoffier..No new weird shit....Reverence toward the masters

XMU, XMLM: A Bar.....listeners are intoxicated by the new music

Oldies: A Classic Diner....reliable old fashioned Hit Food with lots of Specials

Watercolors: Pan Asian Fusion Ultra Hip Chardonnay and Lobster Sashimi hipness.

*New Music!!??? The music industry has poisoned us to think NEW is BEST In reality, it all depends on who you are.
For example,
*Older you get the longer a song stays Fresh Older you are, more important great old music is "Mama" line: (Todd Storz circa 1957) When DJs are picketing 'cause the song is still on the list, Mama is just learning to hum the verses
Old/New reference point: 15 year old: Old is last month 30 Year Old: Old is pre 1995 50 year old: Old is Pre 1980

*Play the Hits! But what is a hit?
a) Differs by format b) XM Definition: The most important songs to your listeners. Screw traditional definitions. A hit is YOUR most important songs....for your channel

Hits Vary, for example:

On Decades: Usually Top 10 songs...with exceptions

On New Age/Electronic: Jean Michelle Jarres' Oxygene or something cerebral from Ibiza

On Folk: A Chieftains tune.

On Real Jazz: Something mind melting from Coltrane

On Boneyard: It's bad ass tunes from Stadium Rockers

XMU: Hell, could be anything. XMU's hits are hits before the rest of the world knows they're hits...or cares

The point is that there is NO one definition of a hit in our world...every channel is different. The point remains---playing the hits of your channel means playing the songs that are important to YOUR LISTENERS....and maybe no-one else.

...while there is overlap to a degree on our formats....the key is to focus on YOUR KIND OF HITS.

Another way to look at it is--
*Types of Hits:

Songs: Instantly familiar by SONG kind of traditional hit definition

Depth: Oh Wow tracks. ...unpredictable songs that may have never been discovered by radio or washed out of the system by conservative research based programming.

Non Radio: VW ad, Sopranos Theme (THINK BEYOND RADIO!) ( Everywhere)

Novelty/Unusual: Unusual, but cool. Can range from the Flintstones Theme to a flaming flamenco solo by an unknown artist to a bizarre Spike Jones track.

Forgotten: .... but INTERESTING music.

Sound: It has the right "Sound" (especially in Jazz, New Age, Blues etc...) It just SOUNDS like it belongs.

Then there's Sell: THE LOST ART. Music can be Important because DJ has SOLD it as such. DJ's need to be NARRATORS---MASTERS OF DISCOVERY--TURNING PEOPLE ON TO MUSIC! This is where you MAKE something a hit because you BELIEVE. Soul-less "new technology" can never do that. If DJ's fail to do this, they risk extinction.

Bottom Line:
Stations lose because they don't play the right songs and they do play wrong ones. Yaw gotta be 100% YOUR HITS....100% YOUR POSITION. Don't stray..stay true.
Don't waste time with average songs Think MINUTE BY MINUTE
Remember the Cannonball/Fort example
Don't play stiffs
Don't drag out songs...Ain't workin? Cut bait!
EMPATHY!!!!!!!! -- THINK ABOUT THE LISTENER NOT THE INDUSTRY-- It's SOOOO easy to isolate yourself from the street---
DON'T!Think Hits in the traditional sense...But----"THE XM DEFINITION OF HITS....BY CHANNEL"
DISCOVERY! HELP ENLIGHTEN LISTENERS. We are entering an age where radio regurgitates the obvious--we GOTTA change that and become the source of Discovery and musical satisfaction.
Oh, more on empathy:
Amateur: Stairway to Heaven Sucks.
XM Pro: Stairway Sucks, but it's popular and I'm going to understand its popularity. I'm gonna power through a lot of "points we discussed. Got questions...ask please! These are highly abbreviated:
*Power at :00 is Bullshit . Think like a listener not a radio geek
*Internet sells music (soon...not yet) ...but it's coming
*Paper Time vs. Real Time. Look at your playlist..thats paper. Listen to the radio that's real.
*STAY 100% True to your formats' musical purpose.
*PURITY. Avoid good/ good/ good / SONG THAT DOESN'T BELONG HERE/ good/ good /SONG THAT DOESN'T BELONG /good/ etc.... This happens when a song that "isn't you" is in there...or a stiff...or a hit that isn't your "kind of hit" Be what your supposed to be. Magic in what you DON'T play
* Informing/Selling is a lost art....we will bring it back

*Youth are Not Angry. Those who are anesthetize the anger with booze & drugs. Our youth formats are about either FREEDOM, PARTYING , or BEING SMARTER THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD (or a combination of those things). Pissed off radio is stupid. It does NOT attract youth!!!!!! reflect their needs...even those who are pissed off are looking for escape..not some adult trying to emulate their anger. And for God's sake, don't pretend to understand young listeners if you aren't one. Find the people who live it, give them a playing field, and let them play. Don't read the bloody charts and think you have a CLUE (unless you are IN the audience).
Low end radio is about escape! Dark escape if sophisticated..cartoon escape if non-sophisticated. One thing: LOW END LISTENERS ARE NOT DUMB. THEY ARE CULTURALLY BRILLIANT. EVEN THE UNHIPPEST TEEN is living in a special world that XM must and will serve without "G" (Generic) or compromise.

*We live in a musical society where AGE is Good. Older artists are the US, the older you get the cooler you get (with the exception of guys who were uncool to start with). Examples--Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Santana, BB King, Clapton, etc.....For the first time in history there are 40+ Rock fans...millions of them. The 50's "Rock is for Kids" is James Dean Bullshit.
*It takes 7 exposures before a person likes a Song to the point of buying it. (an arguable average)
*16 to 20 factor . The musically formative years. HELP them form their tastes by giving them a taste of what's out there!
*Cant get hurt by what you don't play concept is wrong!!!! It's the cornerstone of what's wrong with FM.

*Just Do It. Never brag. "THE STATION WITH THE MOST HENDRIX"...BS. Just play it...they'll get it. Some of the audience may be unsophisticated....but they ain't dumb!!!!!!
*Play Hits. Your hits. Don't play songs that aren't part of your musical reason for the definition of what you're musically SUPPOSED to be. Nothing more nothing less. Dead on it. (Had to repeat this's important!)
*NEVER penalize a song or artist because its BIG or TERRESTRIAL is playing it. Never! That is immature. Don't even think about terrestrial in terms of music--play what's right. If it's on FM--Great! If it isn't--Great also.
*Music on TV ads are hipper than radio playlists.

AFDI. It is your responsibility to know EVERYTHING about your core artists careers...not the birthday stuff..I mean the REAL stuff...managers name, managers dog, next release date, what the t-shirts look like, EVERYTHINGetc....

*Orbits: (Aerosmith on Boneyard as Example) . THINK about how you orbit songs...ESPECIALLY with major high circulation artists--take Aerosmith for example-Ludicrous: new Aerosmith -Constantly: Wk 2-3 Aerosmith -A real Lot : Wk 4 hot cut -Alot: Wk 4 other cuts -Often : Aerosmith Classics -Now and Then : Cool Depth -Special Occasion: 1972 Aerosmith demos the system for flexability...all records are different......There are times we DO want to get anal.....such as with an Aerosmith type band who has SO many different types/levels of songs
*RESPECT MUSIC. No Talkovers! (except on 60's where it's part of the authentic style) No post hitting. Remember Hitchhiking Story
*Sell the Meat. Imagine on NBC TV: "Tonight at 8 Eastern on NBC...A real good show" Never "Great Music" comin up. Sell Meat not air!
*Statements. FUELED BY :LIQUID METAL....BONE ME....In Harmony with the Earth on Audiovisions... Never G. Never Generic.
*XM is about more about St. Louis than New York, Paris and LA! Don't get caught up in the centerpoints of culture...think globally
*Authenticity...78's OK! Playing a 78 from 1939--Cool.
...I think this only scratched the surface of what we discussed. remember:


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How on earth did you wind up in Newark when trying to get to nearby Camden from PHL?! Even without a GPS, I'd think that coming out of the airport, crossing the river then following signs to the venue (which are posted on the bridges) would be easy enough! That shoulda been a 10 minute ride! :)

At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to: anon 10:31 am
but at least he ate a cheese steak. he didn't tell us "with" or not. So I feel this post needs a follow up.

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Uncle Freddy said...


You’re the best salesman XM has! If only XM’s marketing could describe what XM is all about as well as you do…

I’d propose an addition to your list of principles. While listening to Arlie Kendall’s great program of Native American music on Fine Tuning, she said something that I thought was profound. She said something along the lines of “I’m just trying to entertain myself, and hopefully others will be entertained as well.”

If a PD is not entertaining him/herself, it’s all over. There’s a certain sincerity that comes out when you know that the PD loves what he/she is putting together. So with all humility, I’d add “Entertain yourself” to the list.

Keep up the good fight!

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Al said...

Ithink the basic problemm with creativity. The true theatre of the mind folks are out of terestrial programming. I remember the first time I met Jerry Clifton, I thought "this guy is truely from another planet, but call NASA cause I have to get there".

At 6:27 PM, Anonymous DJGWK said...

I couldn't find personal contact, so I'm leaving this here, impersonal as it may be.

Wondering what Mr. Abrams thinks of the comment from REM's Mike Mills that he would like to see an FCC mandate that licensees should be required to play a certain amount of local artists "and not just in the middle of the night."

Obviously it's not of relevance from a national point of view like XM works from, but it would seem to me that the basics elaborated on in this post are violated by this suggestion.

Then again, that'd be good for XM, as it would leave terrestrial radio even more irrelevant to today's listeners than it already is...

At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Andrew Newby said...


I enjoy your blog and your thoughts on radio, but it's deeply disappointing to find that you don't tune in to WXPN when you're in Philly.

David Dye is a real DJ... a music fan, a great interviewer, and he has a sense of story... he strings songs together the way a master chef blends flavors. His show, World Cafe, is as good as radio gets.

I now completely understand why 45 (XM Cafe) and 50 (The Loft) totally suck now. You really should clean house with those two stations. Next time you're in Philly listen to WXPN and take some lessons on how to build a singer-songwriter centered station the right way.


Andrew Newby
Raleigh, NC
XM Subscriber, but not for much longer

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Post a Comment

<< Home