Tuesday, December 26, 2006



I wasn't going to blog this week. Not many people are around, so why bother. Then I thought what the hell. Though I'm working through the holidays, there’s a lot of down time, so I've been rediscovering my collection. Digging out vinyl (I still have a turntable), cassettes (Lots of demos, airchecks and strange stuff there), CD's, I-Pod and of course XM. I let my 8-Track rest in peace. The following are a few thoughts from my formulative years. I tried to stay away from the obvious Beatles or Dark Side of the Moon...but not get TOO obscure....just a few random thoughts from the dusty collection...

THERE'D PROBABLY BE NO EDDIE VAN HALEN'S WITHOUT: The Ventures. Surf purists may prefer Dick Dale, but the Ventures were simple enough to learn from, original enough to create a "sound" and totally cool. The best era is the early and mid 60'd before they started doing Top 40 cover songs. Walk Don't Run and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue demonstrate mastery of the early Surf guitar.

ROCKERS COULD LEARN A FEW THINGS FROM THIS GUY: Chet Atkins. A lot of people think Country...and then you see he does songs like "Mr. Sandman"...then you listen and he plays so effortlessly...but DAMN this guy is amazing, partially because he DOES make everything sound so effortless.

THE PERFECT SINGLE: From the USA---Good Vibrations. Immaculate construction. Commercial perfection that was so damn original, if not revolutionary. . No wonder it sounds as fresh today as the second it was released.

MOST EXPERIMENTAL SINGLE: Telstar. The fist UK record to be #1 in the USA. Written and produced by madman Joe Meeks. Sped up pianos, slowed down toilets flushing and so much more sonic insanity... became an otherworldly smash. There had never been anything that sounded like this before on the charts.

SIMPEST SINGLE: Johnny Cash. I Walk The Line. Budget musta been ten bucks. I hear that the drums were actually brushes played on a phone book. Bare brilliance. Innocent. Spontaneous.

COOLEST SINGLE THAT WAS ACTUALLY KNIDA SAPPY: Our Day Will Come by Ruby and the Romantics. How can anyone NOT like this one....?

REALLY CLEVER ALBUMS NOT MADE BY THE BEATLES: The Who Sell Out. One of the most under appreciated early classic rock era albums. A concept album celebrating "Big L" aka Radio London, one of the Pirate stations off the coast of England. I guess it came out before the Who broke big...they were still a little culty back then in the pre Tommy days. But it was a joy to listen to, it was so...clever. The Yes Album. Critics hated them, they kinda got way off course (though remain a phenomenal live band), but in the Autumn of 1970 they recorded this epic that if a Yes hater would strap on headphones and actually listen to, would likely be converted. Cinematic production, exceptional musicianship and telepathic arrangements make this more of a journey than an album.

UNDER-RATED SINGER: Gene Pitney. For a white guy, he had some soul going on. Plus he wrote and arranged his material, but that voice is so emotion packed...yet honest. In an age where Male pop stars tended to be all about fashion, Gene was the real deal.

WEIRDNESS AT IT'S BEST: Freak Out by the Mothers of Invention. By today's standards, it’s not that weird, but back in '67, it was so incredibly sick and out there. Completely experimental but melodic (mostly), funny and mildly offensive for all the right reasons. Rumor has it that this album was recorded without drugs. Hard to believe.

MY FAVORITE FOLK ALBUM NOT BY BOB DYLAN: Gibson & Camp at the Gate of Horn. Funny, energetic, socially relevant in a 1962 way. A ton of fun to listen to...

THERE'D PROBABLY BE NO LED ZEPPELIN WITHOUT: Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, etc....the Blues giants.
At the time, I thought the original Blues versions were too loose, too organic and guys like Led Zeppelin made the songs palatable to the masses by infusing the electric British sound. In recent years, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for the pure emotion transmitted in those early original recordings.

THERE'D PROBABLY BE NO ROCK N ROLL WITHOUT: The Crows and those early R&B artists. Kinda like the Blues thing where there was a generation of artists emerging that took that sound, ”cleaned it up" for the mainstream. Take that early R&B mix it with Country and even some Pat Boone and the cocktail became Rock n Roll. Yes---highly simplified, but the point is how absolutely critical to the mix the R&B bands were. Without them, The Beatles may have been cutting their teeth on the McGuire Sisters.

TWO GUITAR SOUNDS THAT OPENED THE EYES OF THE MAINSTREAM. Jeff Beck's scorcher in Shapes of things and the oddball 12 string in Eight Miles High. We'd never heard anything quite like those, at least not on pop radio. It opened doors.

WHY PETER GABRIEL SHOULD JOIN THE GENESIS REUNION. Watcher of the Skies, Suppers Ready and The Fountain of Salamacis. If you aren't familiar with those songs....listen to them.

BEST USE OF AN ORCHESTRA IN A POP SONG. I said I wasn't going to mention the Beatles, but they're the only ones that did it right.

BACK WHEN PROGRAMMERS WERE OPEN ENOUGH TO PLAY A FORIEGN LANGUAGE SONG. Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakamoto and Dominique by the Singing Nun both soared to #1. Both had great melodies and proved that the strength of a melody performed right could overcome the language barrier. I think that STILL exists, but most pop programmers and the label machinery is so hooked into the system that it'll probably never happen. Too bad, I’ll bet there are quite a few big hits from overseas that would make some noise here. Discovery knows no borders.

FIVE DEEJAYS YOU SHOULD GET TAPES OF. Back when DJ's were tied at the hip with the songs, instead of being disconnected card readers,”funny local morning guys" or simply annoyances. Try Alan Freed mid 50's as he was among the first. A pied piper for teenagers...the guy tour parents didn't want you listening too because you may hear that satanic "race music". Rick Shaw on WQAM mid 60's. The epitome of a guy completely connected to the streets of Miami. The Real Don Steele late 60's. One of the few guys that could take the ultra restrictive "Drake" sound and make it real. Oozed Southern Cal. Al Benson WGES early 50's. The voice of Bronzeville. A raconteur who was the voice of R&B to the South Side of Chicago. Allison Steele WNEW early 70's. A lethal combination of sex, soul and new music. Then there’s just about any all night guy on a big 50kw AM…especially the Country guys. Pure Americana. Folksy radio magic.

I continue to believe that you can't design the future without understanding the past...If you are old like me you'll remember this stuff...if you aren't old--check it out, it’s good for you.

Monday, December 18, 2006



Well, Ahmet Ertegun passed away...a few months ago Arif Marden too. Who will carry on? Are guys like this just part of an era in music that'll go down as...an era? Is it too late? Will guys like this with Music in their genes re-emerge? At this very moment I tend to think that music guys REALLY controlling the music business are a thing of the past, and outside of the connected Hip Hop moguls, have been replaced by icy numbers guys controlling the rudder who will inevitably sap the lifeblood out of their companies. You know--the guys who are wallowing in the confusion...may have a good rap, but are SO disconnected from the essence of what they sell that failure is inevitable. Then again, I have faith that new people with new ideas will emerge...be laughed at, but inevitably succeed as Ahmet and Arif did...but in a different way that you just can't predict. It'll just happen. Music...no make that LIFE, works that way. The right things happen. The pathetic state of some things is fuel for the next movement. Guys like Ahmet and Arif were facilitators. Faciliating the music that merged "Race Music" (the early definition of R&B by people who were afraid of it) into the mainstream. On my watch, those guys were behind everything that made Atlantic Records cool. In 1970 or so, if it was on Atlantic..It was worth buying. Led Zepelin, Yes, Cream, King Crimson etc...Like the dangerous moves in the early 50's, these were also kind of dangerous as they plunged into "Acid Rock" (the early definition of the new music that was emerging in the late 60's by those who were afraid of it). We need MORE fearlessness! Not afraid of technolgy and not afraid of getting back to the creatiive garden to pick the fruit...and not afraid to LEAD the charge.
And CBS is bringing back CBS Records. This epitomizes everything wrong. This will fail miserably. I don’t wish failure on anyone, but when I saw this news, it was laughable. Come next year, I’m sure they’ll try to salvage things with a Katie Couric Christmas CD. Textbook cluenessness I predict. Might be wrong...but I have the feeling there's not going to be a lot of musical vision here...and I gotta believe that without that, a MUSIC company will not succeed. We’ll see…

…20 on 20 has relaunched itself. I didn’t get too involved other than inspiring them to think more like Blender magazine and less like every other top 40 out there. Mostly Michelle Boros, Jon Zellner and some Steve Kingston. I’m anxious to get into hearing it. The 20 on 20 concept is actually the first new Top 40 idea in awhile when we kicked it off in 2001. Interactive. No sales…no charts, 100% chosen by listeners emailing and phoning in their requests. A song could be #1 at 5pm and number 14 at 8pm…depending on how voting went. Sort of an “enough already with old guys and traditional media determining what’s popular in this world—lets completely turn it over to listeners. That is still a Major ingredient in the channel. The first channel to completely turn over the play list to listeners. As long as they keep it Blenderized and don’t slip into Top 40 Radioland…they should do well. Stay tuned.

When we launched XM, we populated the department with music freaks. People who LIVE their genre and generally accept the reality that there's a huge disconnect between what 99% of radio programmers and music industry people believe...and what normal citizens REALLY want to hear. Funny thing happens when you take a music "expert" and liberate them from the playbook. You get amazing stations that CONNECT with fans. We have never marketed this. I think it's a HUGE differentiator...and a massively positive one from our competitors, be it FM, Sirius or any of the Internet sites. Hopefully we WILL start to figure a way to market these people. In the meantime, Business Week magazine has caught on. Both Mike Marrone and Jonathan Schwartz have their own columns in this prestigious magazine. A week doesn't go by when the press doesn't recognize one of these programming stars...and there are A LOT of them at XM. It IS hard to properly market this angle...but it exists and even if XM doesn't push them to the foreground, it’s just a matter of time before more Business Weeks' do.

Now, to an entirely different subject--
Went to Miami to an event we had supporting Yoko Ono's XM "Offstage". She's the DJ and literally takes over XM for an hour. In this case, three hours as she requested that her Offstage was in three one hour parts. We didn't actually create the event in Miami. There was a big Art Festival called Art Basel in Miami all weekend and we piggy-backed onto the fact she was there.

I would have liked to fly myself, but there was a tight time-line so I ended up on American. I forgot how horrible the commercial flying experience is, but I made it to Miami on time. Of course the gate wasn't ready so we sat on the tarmac for 70 minutes. Then the baggage took about 40 minutes. I easily could have beaten American in my plane since I don't have to sit on the tarmac, deal with security or wait for bags.

Finally made it to my hotel. The Carlton on South Beach. Easily the worst hotel....ever. The guy with an attitude at the desk said I had no reservation despite an American Express Travel Service confirmation in hand. He finally rustled something up. The rate was $490 for a night. OK if it was the Four Seasons but this place was a dump. The room had NO A/C and of course the phone didn't work...and it went downhill from there. I imagine if I was 18 and in town for a binge it would be OK to stay here if the rate was more like $70, but other than that it was a horrible place.

Fortunately, because the plane was so late I only had 10 minutes to get dressed and meet Les Garland, ever the impresario, who lives in Miami. We trekked down the road to the very luxe Sagamore hotel where the Yoko event was. Quite a scene. I've never seen more extremely wealthy people digging art. The paparazzi were in full force. XM's highly competent Anne-Taylor Griffith and Nathaniel Brown were on hand to direct traffic. I've never met Yoko before so we were introduced and took a few photos and talked. She was REAL nice. Genuinely interested about her XM radio shows. There are those who think--Yoko? She broke up the Beatles! But like her on not, she certainly has things to say, stories and hey, if she was good enough for John, she’s OK by me. I dug her and her show.

The party carries on. Interesting arty group. The kind of event you'd expect to see the ghost of Truman Capote. A lot of Black being worn. Garland and I escape about 10. We have a deal, if he can get us into Joe's Stone Crab within 10 minutes, I’ll buy. The guy is amazing. Putting on his best promo schmooze, he brilliantly works the desk and we are at a table in 43 seconds, avoiding the 90 minute-2 hour wait. Dinner was pure 50's Miami Beach. The crusty old school wise guy waiter was a perfect foil for our animated conversations about "the old days". Hell- I felt like a rat packer in '56. Garland then has the idea to call Bob Pittman on his cell. We do. I was the mystery voice that he had to guess. Took him awhile, but he nailed it, after a ten minute talk about airplanes and life, we were back to our decadent Joe's experience. We then drive around Miami as Les' girlfriend Denise wants to hear Ray LaMontigne. I guide them to THE LOFT, but Ray never comes on. I keep stalling them because I dread the idea of going back to my room. But I did and sweat through the night in darkness as the light bulb was burned out in the room.

Miami reminded me of a key career break. In 1972 I was consulting WQDR in Raleigh. We went to #1. It caught the attention of a guy named Gordon Hastings from Katz, then the leading ad rep firm. Gordon was a big believer in the commercial viability of FM which was still in the financial closet. I met Gordon and I guess I impressed him. He then talked to Carl Wagner who ran the powerful Taft Broadcasting Group. Carl was a bad ass former pro catcher. Mean--but fair and smart. Gordon set up a meeting at about midnight at the New Orleans Hilton at a convention. Taft owned 7 major FM's, most of them with big signals, Taft muscle, but kinda sitting there. Carl and I hit it off. I think he was impressed by my knowledge of baseball as much as my ideas on developing FM stations. We shook hands and he told me to wait for a call.

A week later, Carl calls and invites me to the Taft Managers Conference at the Sonesta Beach Hotel in Key Biscayne (Miami). Taft managers were an old boys club. I got the feeling that their bonuses were based more on their Golf scores than on performance. I dressed up as best I could but must have looked like an alien to these guys. At the opening cocktail party I think they thought I was brought in as an entertainer. One exec asked me if I was with the band. I told him I was in Led Zeppelin. The response was "Really? My daughter has one of your albums".

The next morning I did "the pitch". In a suite overlooking Biscayne Bay. On orders from Carl, the Managers of every Taft station were sternly told to listen to me. The pitch went fantastic, but I was still an outsider. But then after the morning meetings, there was a Tennis tournament. I loved Tennis, so I asked if they needed another entry. They put me with Ed McLaughlin who was the other non-Taft person at the meetings. Ed ran ABC RADIO and later managed Russ Limbaugh to fame. I'd known Ed for awhile since I worked for ABC at WRIF in Detroit. He and I absolutely kicked ass and WON the tournament. It was all over. Even if I looked like a drug addict to them, I proved myself on the court--the next best thing to beating them in Golf. They even invited me to appear in the Taft Company picture, though they probably airbrushed out my beard.

Within three weeks I signed WDVE Pittsburgh, WLVQ Columbus, KYYS Kansas City and WGRQ Buffalo. All four stations had huge increases and we were off to the races.

Now--I had a problem. A good one, but a problem. I had six clients. It was a business. But I had no experience in running a business of this nature. I needed capital, connections, an infrastructure, and guidance on how to maximize this thing. I'd known this guy Kent Burkhart. Most people in the business did. He was one of the FIRST Top 40 Program Directors ever...oddly enough at WQAM (my all time favorite Top 40 station) in Miami, and then went on to run the powerful Pacific and Southern group. He was a legend. He had left Pacific and Southern and started a consultancy. Every week I'd read in the trades where Burkhart signs another station. So I send Kent a proposal. Basically, I do the FM's while you do the AM's...and run the business aspects. He suggested a meeting in Minneapolis. We met at his client KSTP. We put a deal together in 30 minutes. I moved to Atlanta a week later and Burkahart/Abrams was born. Kent also turned over WYSP in Philly and WKLS Atlanta to me as they were FM's. We formally introduced the "Superstars" format. That name is kinda hokey and we NEVER used it on the air, but to station heads that were still suspicious about this underground FM thing, it was a comforting and relatable term that translated into "mass appeal".

The basics of the concept were pretty simple. To change the familiarity factor from song title to artist so instead of hearing the same songs, you’d hear the same artists, but the whole library of songs instead of just the hit single so it was familiar by ARTIST, yet interesting because you’d hear ALL of that artist. It was aimed at the vulnerable Top 40 listener. The person who listened to Top 40 but liked every 4th song. Stones and Cream--cool. Bread and Osmond’s...not cool. Eliminate the Bread and Osmond’s and focus on the artists that were defining the new "Album" movement. Then between the big names, introduce the coo new stuff so the sound was anchored in familiarity, had depth and selectively introduced new artists so they'd get enough exposure to actually get noticed. We accepted the Underground stations as a fact of life and were ore concerned about getting people to FM who found Underground radio too out there. In the process we took out a lot of the Underground Free Form stations who were simply too elite. The good ones that were focused remained important factors.
Our "position" was to be as accessible as possible without losing the progressive identity.

We recently wrapped up THE XM NATION AWARDS. The thing got some good press—and the press was about the whacked categories like most overplayed song. Textbook example of how honesty works. The reality is that people like to vent about “real” stuff. No-one cares about the cliché “Song of the Year”. On a related note, the following is something I sent to the staff:

OK---Here are the 2006 XM PROGRAMMING UN-AWARDS! These are completely subjective, have questionable bearing on reality, are complete personal opinion, totally arguable and not to be taken seriously. Well, they’re all kind of “real” in a warped way…and if your channel isn’t mentioned---definitely don’t sweat it…this isn’t exactly accurate. SO-- with that said, here we go: (keep in mind—despite words like “Disturbing”, all of the awards are GOOD things)





























Monday, December 11, 2006



In 1980 or so, got a call from General Electric. They were looking to do something with their "beautiful music" (muzak) FM in San Francisco, KFOG. This station had everything. A great signal, cool call letters for the Bay Area, not to mention studios overlooking the Bay at Ghirardelli Square. Kinda knew that another AOR wouldn't cut through there, so designed a concept that was, well, more sophisticated. Aimed at the "upper end" of the Rock demographics. Aimed at people who gravitated more toward The Dead, Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel than Styx and Foreigner. First generation FM Rock listeners who have long been abandoned by the stations like KSAN which was no longer a factor. Had to be careful that the station wasn't TOO hip, but based on what the competitors were doing, that wasn't going to be a big problem.

Flew to Connecticut and the presentation for this new concept went great, and Randy Bongarten, then head of G.E.'s radio group loved the idea and we signed it up. In fact, Randy was right in the demographic target so he completely "got it". Green light to put the idea on the air at KFOG.

Hired Dave Logan (yet another Logan in my life-) we worked together at places like The LOOP in Chicago and WLAV in Grand Rapids (A truly GREAT station in its day) and as an associate at our consulting giant Burkhart/Abrams. Beyond the basic architecture and concept of KFOG, we kind of made it up as we went along since this kind of station had never been done before. A nice freedom to have, and not unlike the creative spirit at XM. Dave incidentally was part of the early XM team.

Blessed with incredible cooperation from GE who was more interested in jet engines and toasters than a station in San Francisco, we were able to market and program this thing the way we thought it should be marketed and programmed. Didn't have much money but spent it well. First thing was to hire Rodney Dangerfield who did a brilliant TV ad using the "no respect" angle for FM listeners with "taste" who got no respect. The whole station was like. Eschewing the "agency" look for a logo went to R. Crumb the master of "Head Comix". Somehow that didn't work, but we did use David Helton, a protoge of R. Crumb who did the early WMMS Buzzard stuff whch always blew me away. I believe they're still using that logo today. I never understood why radio stations, especially music ones fail to approach the art masters who design things like great album covers instead of the often lame local agencies who usually snap together some disposable graphic identity that has the distinction of looking like VERY other station in town. Even XM can be guilty of this, though I think are logo is modern and "right" and the recent updates to it are on it...But-- If you go to a Best Buy or Circuit City, there seems to be this "Satellite Radio look" where both XM and Sirius basically have the same look and feel. Anyways, back to KFOG early 80's: The one spontaneous idea that really nails "gonzo marketing" is this:

GE sold the station. The new owners came to town. THe All Star game was coming up in two weeks and at an early meeting with the new ownership it was decided that we should do something with the game. Something quick and cheap. After going round and round, it was decided that we'd fly a banner overhead. Easy. Not expensive. Fine. However, WHAT is this banner going to say? After an hour of the lamest and most obvious slogans like "KFOG: Home of Great Music", Logan and I took a break, walked around Ghiradelli for a few minutes and rejoined the meeting and presented,”Hit this plane and win $5,000 from KFOG". The new owners were aghast. "That says nothing about Arbitron retention" said one VP. "That is simply crazy--let's test the idea first" chirped another, and "What if someone hits the plane!!..Then what?" said yet another. Holding firm we pleaded that there are two options--another stupid radio station banner or something that might actually be SO absurd, it cuts through. We wore them down and the head of the Company said "OK, we’ll do this but if someone hits the plane, it’s your ass". Fine. A risk worth taking. In fact back then we commanded big rates, so that was a month of consulting fees. Of course today, the Apache helicopters would thwart this one.

So the game happens at the old Candlestick Park. Sure enough, every station in town has banners: KRQR Rocks the Bay…KYUU with Music for You…all the typical “radio slogans”. Then the KFOG “Hit This Plane and Win 5 Grand” flies over. Talk about getting NOTICED! By the seventh inning it was a blow out game and half the crowd was drunk and every time that plane flew over the crowd went nuts---throwing beer cups at it. It was more interesting than the game. We later found out that some guy followed it to the airfield and hit it when it was on the ground. Disqualified! Must be in the air! But the REAL kicker was the next day. Front page. Something like: GOODEN FANS 6 AS NL ROMPS….AND NOBODY HIT THE PLANE! Now you can’t BUY that kind of PR. And we were SO close to doing “KFOG ROCKS THE BAY”—Gonzo won over lame. Few of the experts from the Company got the idea when presented…thank God we persevered. Some things you just gotta go with. "Testing/researching" an idea like this is absurd. I wonder if DAvid Letterman runs the idea of dropping melons off a 40 story building to film them exploding through a focus group...I doubt it.

KFOG was a cool station. It was very experimental and the kind of programming we try to inspire on people here at XM. It was also had its share of strangeness. One afternoon our DJ got a box of “cookies” from a fan (that was when FM stations had Fans). He left the cookies in the jock lounge. The GM grabbed a few. Three hours later he was at a sales dinner and the cookies “kicked in”---The poor guy thought he was dying. He called Dave Logan the PD and asked what was in those cookies? Dave calmly reminded him to never eat cookies from listeners and suggested he goes home puts on some Hendrix and waits for it to pass. The DJ was fired and the GM never ate another listener cookie.

There was a whole different spirit in radio back then. It really wasn’t that long ago, pre-consolidation era. Consolidation led to a whole new financial driven mindset. Different rules. I actually tried consulting stations again after I left ABC. It lasted about a week. Definitely not the place to be. I left pure consulting in 1988 and by 1998 it was a completely different world and clearly not a better one unless you were a shareholder of major proportion. A lot of guys made a ton of money and that’s great, but when you compare the spirit of radio over the air—it was a completely different business. That’s a key reason I am so adamant that XM doesn’t even remotely mimic today’s FM model. It has NOTHING to do with listener satisfaction and while there are those who think it does---and it may to some of the true believers still on FM, it absolutely doesn’t to the guys in control of that medium. You’ll see the comments about how these guys are serving their communities, but it’s all BS…or denial. Hey, I’m not blaming anyone—they have their plan and we have ours, it’’s just that WE need to stay ON OUR plan without referencing the current/recent state of FM….because they have vastly different goals than XM.

As inventive and fun as pre consolidation radio was, it was not without its quirks. Local ownership had some let’s say “interesting” characters. A few that shall remain nameless but come to mind:

STATION IN MIDWEST circa 1978: General Manager is way out of his mind. Comes to office dressed as Doctor, Secretary as a Nurse. Invites me and my associate (the late Lee Michaels) to a Baloney Toss. Pulls out an archery target, lays it on the floor and pulls out a stack of Oscar Meyer Boloney. Draws a line on the floor. We stand behind the line and toss baloney onto the target. Low score buys lunch.

STATION IN THE NORTHEAST circa 1976: New Owner, an alleged Mob hotshot beats up the GM because the phone company screwed up. Later asks for Albums for his kid. I supply a huge stack—calls me at 3am with a threat that the albums stink and I better watch out

BIG MIDWEST STATION circa 1981: The plants keep dying. Huge mystery. Experts come in and can only figured they’ve been tampered with. Video cameras set up. Night DJ was doin’ a lot of beers and pissing in the plants. That explains all those long versions he’d play.

…there’s A LOT more, but you get the idea.

As always, the best stations had that balance of this sorta insanity..Well maybe not exactly like THESE examples with smart business people paying the light bill. In the mid 80’s I was hired by Disney to consult on an adult theme park in Burbank that never got off the ground. I remember those meetings—one side of the table was Brooks Brothers attired business guys—the other side was “Imagineers” clad in funky Levis. That Balance created some interesting fireworks. The impressive thing was that the imaginers were the ones with the power…the business guys reacted to their input with plans to make the weirdness reality. At a lot of places these days those imaginer types wouldn’t even be invited. There was this "You crazies come up with the ideas, us MBA's will find ways to make it work". Sweet deal.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the “language” used inside media companies. Here are a few examples of New Words and a translation.

PING: Call
BAKE IN: Add to
1Q: Early next year
SCRUB: Check
COB: Later today
CONFERENCE IN: Call somebody
OEM: Cars

When I got to XM I had NO idea what half these words meant. Now I couldn’t get through an hour without having this second language skill, though I still hear CPGA (Cost per gross add) and think of a Canadian Golf organization. I’m very glad that XM gives me the opportunity to be what I am…and actually let me in MOST of the meetings, despite the fact that I'm still learning the lingo.

The musicality of the XM Executive branch is interesting. Take John Dealy. A business genius with a BS radar that rivals NORAD’S best. Used to run Fairchild Aircraft, teach business at GWU and is truly a captain of industry. He’s a Folk freak! Can quote lyrics from obscure Celtic bands. When I wanted Odetta to do an Artist Confidential, he put me in touch with a contact. When he’s not talking high level strategy that would challenge a Harvard MBA, he pops down with his highly opinionated thoughts on music trends and waxes on about The Weavers. Go figure!

Then there’s Hugh Panero. I booked Damian Rice (one of his latest favorites) to play at the XM Performance Theater. It’s probably a good thing for job security. In 1999, Hugh took me to Blues Alley in DC to see Diana Krall. He turned ME onto her. A CEO turning the music guy on. Cool.

Gary Parsons is a person I don’t see that often as he’s usually tied up in high level Wall Street things, but like clockwork, 4 times a year, I hear “Say Lee, I hear James Taylor is coming to town….”

And Nate Davis our new COO. He’s definitely a closet muso. 48 hours after he joined as COO, I got an email—“Al Jarreau is coming to play Wolf Trap—got any connections?”—Fortunately Al did an Artist Confidential and his Management is fantastic so we got Nate covered real fast.

Back around 2000 when we launched Artist Confidential and other “Exclusive Music” shows, Hugh assigned Joe Verbrugge to help me manage the business side of the project. Now Joe was in charge of Satellite Insurance issues at the time—hardly Rock n Roll. Be he was quickly converted. Within a month we had him drinking vats of wine with Don Henley and weather or not he will admit it—he LOVED it. He’s back on the pure business side, but I know that the short flirt with Rock n Roll has changed his life.

One of the great things about XM is that even the Executive Branch respect and admire music. As always, if we can consistently balance good sensible business with the soul and passion of art---Everyone wins. XM, the listeners, the investors, the artists. It’s the RIGHT way to win.

…check the video if you haven’t—just click LOW or HIGH on the right side of the main page.

Monday, December 04, 2006



Recently I’ve been speaking at quite a few colleges. Very refreshing since there’s no baggage accumulated from the trenches, just honest and idealistic points of view—many extremely informative and eye opening. Obviously one of the big questions is “how do you break into this business”? Of course there’s no magic button. In fact, it’s gotta be about the toughest thing to break into…certainly among the toughest to make any money at. Anyways, I try to offer some advice, at least from what I look for which tends to be on the creative rather than the more purely business side of things, though having an understanding of that side is critical, just as having an “understanding” of the creative side is a benefit for a business position in the entertainment field. A few observations of what gets me going in terms of what to look for in people and in creating staffs. Probably bad advice for a traditional environment---but for something an un-traditional as a creative staff, I believe these elements are pretty critical--Staffs of GREAT entertainment entities are filled with oddballs and crazies. In fact, a HUGE reason many entertainment companies like many radio stations are vulnerable because they fail to have that edgy component, the 'imagineers' to borrow from Disney, to drive the "entertainment" part. Probably the exact same thing exists in music, TV, Movies etc...I certainly read about Hollywood visionaries and Artists pissed off that the big companies are filled with people that talk about creating magic...but it just ain't their skillset. Just as dealing with business and legal complexities are out of the scope of many of the more creative areas. Anyways, a few thoughts of what I personally think are the qualities and atitudes that make a difference in the creative space :

PASSION: That fire. That electric commitment. Often fueled by memories of how that first song you bought was pivotal in your life. It should be SO engrained in your DNA that NOT working in this field is not an option.

PALS: You may have amazing pals—and they should probably join your thing, but limiting hires to pals limits the potential of the team you build…plus it can create friction in the hallways among those who aren’t your pals.

CONVENIENCE HIRES: The worst! Hiring because it’s convenient. Guy lives in town….I have his phone number and he can be here next week….Guy out of work and will come in cheap…Guaranteed mediocrity.

HISTORY: You can’t build the future unless you understand the past. I’m impressed with people who have studied the great radio battles even if they happened years before they were born. With the Internet, one can re-live the way KHJ unseated KRLA in 1965 or what happened in 1962 when WQAM automated for six months….or even more recent things. Obscure stuff to a lay person, but armed with this sense of history is powerful in the same way an Artist who has studied the masters has a clear edge. Of course it’s what you DO with that knowledge, but man, it is potent stuff that can really give you an depth and understanding of both how to win and how to make a difference going forward. Some of the principals behind these historical events are timeless.

AVOID BURNOUTS: It’s a high burnout business. Résumé might look great but decent chance there's a burn out factor. Back in 98 I took Hugh Panero to LA to meet various Industry people, he came back with the concept of collapsed heads and expanded heads. Collapsed meaning fried. Expanded meaning enlightened. Kinda like wine--some ages and improves, some turns to vinegar. Hugh picked that up in about 10 seconds!

KNOW THE MINORS: Ya gotta make a decision. Going after free agents from big markets or rookies? You gotta know the farm system so you can make the right hires. Too often it’s about convenience rather than studying what’s out there in the minor league…that’s got the chops to be the NEXT star.

POSITION HIRING: Critical. Putting the puzzle together. There’s a baseball analogy here. The best teams are the well rounded teams. A team that has 25 sluggers may score 200 runs a game but without defense the other guys will score 300. Or take a great band, the best are balanced. At XM I was impressed by the balance. A United Nations of backgrounds. We had people from Telecom, Cable, Retail, Technology etc…running the Company. Drilling down to programming we had people from NPR, Big stations, Small stations, music industry, artists, unemployable eccentrics, etc…The point is that we hired by Position. People with very specific skills that they can immerse themselves in. Personally, the best thing that’s happened here is that there’s an Eric Logan who thrives on the business side. I believe he actually LIKES doing complex budgets and negotiations...and saving my ass in management areas. Selfishly, this allows me to focus on the more purely artsy and evangelical part. Years ago we had an EVP who actually said to me "My job is to make your life miserable". Oh great. Of course he didn't make my life miserable, because it would take A LOT more than someone with a bad attitide to do that! I suppose it was his way of "motivating". In any case, he’s long gone, and Eric Logan is in--and he clearly understands "position hiring". Another example of position hiring. Placing people where they can thrive emotionally and creatively. Sounds simple but I run into SO many people who are smart but out of position and miserable. What a waste.

SPIRITUALITY: Weather it’s a sense of mission, or a war like approach to the job at hand—there’s a spiritual thing where you MUST feel and believe you are here to do something that contributes to something bigger than CD sales or ratings.

POSITIVE PEOPLE: I recall walking into a station and you could tell it was a loser by the tone of the receptionist. Bad vibes permeated the place. Bad vibes USUALLY start from negative attitudes that spread. In fact, Bad vibes ALWAYS start from “people”. Keep the negative types out of the joint and it can’t spread. Positive doesn’t mean unrealistic –to me it means more of an outlook and attitude. Got a challenge/problem/issue? A positive will figure out how to adapt, deal with it and move forward, a negative will get into this "This place blows...screw it".... They might hide it--but even THINKING it gets no-one anywhere. I think a lot of negativity is created by people not feeling appreciated, so some who are outwardly negative may actually be very positive--if they are interacted with better....understood...and allowed to shine. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. If ya can't respect EVERYONE you work with---there's a problem there.

WHACK FACTOR: Give me a person that can quote Bugs Bunny lines from mid-40’s Bugs and I’m sold.

OUT OF THE FORMAT LOOP: When we interviewed Maxx Myrick, he was a big time Urban PD. When asked what his passion was—it was Jazz. Guess what, we made him PD of “Real Jazz”---Find out where peoples passion is…and put them there! Even if they are out of the format loop.

CONFIDENCE: You can smell it a mile away…Confidence and even cockiness CAN be channeled into swagger and focus. Both good things.

DISCIPLINE & DETAIL OR LOOSE CANNON: No standards here—some stars can’t tie their shoes. Big deal. Others are obsessive perfectionists. It’s all good. Everyone is different. The bottom line is...TALENT! I see NO sense in not hiring someone because “they’re different” or lack some traditional quality —if they got the talent that’s good enough. And I belive EVERY position os about talent--not just on air....a great janitor requires talent.

ECCENTRICS: Eccentric Doctors or Police Officers…bad. Eccentric people in the entertainment business---Well Yeah! Key: Eccentric all the way to the bank.

CHEMISTRY: What kind of place you setting up?? Chemistry check! Will they fit? Here at XM, we got a lot of whackos...in fact someone too normal would fail here…Just as someone too whacked would fail at a conservative Bank.

CREATIVE BATTING AVERAGE: Come up with 100 ideas and 30 work—GREAT! No-one will remember the 70 that failed...you are a .300 hitter. All-Star. Looking for people who step up to the creative plate and TRY to hit homers…but aren’t afraid to strike out.

DATA HEADS/ROCKET BOYS: Sorry, in a creative environment, they drive me nuts. HOWEVER—people who balance data/research AND the creative thing ARE dangerously attractive.

BAD LISTENERS: Sorry, this REALLY drives me nuts. You know—the hyperactive types who can’t turn it off. Well, turns me off. Excitement and energy is great…but not knowing when to shut your trap and soak it in is better. Sometimes I believe the music and radio business has forgotten how to THINK as everyone is trying to out BS everyone with fast talk and having all the answers

EGO CASES: that’s OK…as long as it’s backed up with some action. Ego problems, inferiority and other issues best left for a psychologist...but they are rampant in this creative business...gotta live with it.

MOXIE: Look it up if you don’t know what it means.

BORING PEOPLE: Personally I can handle outrageous, even difficult …anything but BORING. At least not in our side of the business.

Once you got the right crew, it’s all about DEVELOPING the talent. Talent DOESN’T only mean air talent---EVERY position requires talent. The key is hiring people that have “it” –then unleashing ‘it’ into action. Not easy…definitely fun hearing what ‘it’ can become from a passionate and focused mix of people working on a creative project. A few keys include--

COMMUNICATION: I always find that the combination of:

*All Hands Meetings—where you can really get evangelical...Inspire and hopefully motivate and educate on the mission at hand

*Face-To Face meetings---Details are best explored here

*Parties—VERY important—seriously.

*Inspirational memos that focus on the big picture—outlining the big picture

*Informational memos that focus on the details

CREATE THE ENVIRONMENT FOR MAGIC TO THRIVE: Some radio stations are like banks…no wonder they sound about as interesting. Some labels are kinda like banks too. I remember the Old Warner Brothers in Burbank…the place oozed magic—no wonder it was a creative oasis .

DE-CLICHÉ THE WORK ENVIRONMENT: Ever go into an office with those “Success is Mission #1” Posters with a picture of a soaring eagle…the kind you buy in Airline in flight magazines? If you see that in an office—RUN! Many leaders in entertainment business send the WRONG message. Might be right at Citibank...but not in our World. A sales intern at Aetna might get inspired by this---but anyone inspired by this kind of fluff in our World is scary.

RAH RAH STUFF: It can fail because it's often too transparent. We’re too cynical. Just be real. That's all it takes. Nate Davis has been doing some all-hands updates recently and he pretty much tells it like it is. Open and up front about the challenges. That's good. The Rah Rah can be inspired from the top, but the lasting rah rah is created bottom up from the people in the trenches. A happy staff with a mission usually creates victory which makes the leaders happy , when the workers aren't happy and the leaders are----problem. Nothing leads to an "us vs. them" faster...

EMPATHY: A great staff consists of totally unique individuals. Empathy is what makes it go. Unleashing and understanding how each individual ticks. The overall spirit is the aggregate of each individual. That doesn't mean letting everyone do what they want--that'll be anarchy, but UNDERSTANDING how people think and what pushes the buttons can make everyones life a ton more productive.

...alot more to this, but those are a few thoughts.

Other stuff:

BBC picks up the Bob Dylan show. Funny, we talked to major Syndication companies in the U.S. about this and they all said it’ll never happen. So we went at it ourselves with Bob’s people. Did the deal in 12 minutes.

Air Canada adds XM to it’s flights. Along with United Air Tran and Jet Blue and practically every private pilot on earth. XM is in the air....

Keep in mind the XM "Friends and Family" offer for radios. Go to http://friends@xmradio.com then type in lee.abrams@xmradio.com for access to the site.