Monday, January 29, 2007



I read with great interest how Randy Michaels has bought into a sizable group of TV stations. I shot him a congratulatory note, where he proceeded to reply in self effacing "I must be crazy to buy into TV" rant. On the surface maybe, but this guy doesn't do too many crazy things. Well---he's known to do some crazy things on the air, but in a business sense, he usually makes the right moves, and I'm sure there's more to the puzzle than what was announced.

I find the idea of a guy like Randy, backed with a pure business head like Bob Lawrence, might do some very interesting things. While they won't really control much of the programming since the stations are Network affiliates, I’m sure they will do SOMETHING to separate them from the pack. The idea of some whacked all the way to the bank radio guys putting their stamp on TV properties is fascinating. I haven't met too many TV Programmers, but other than Fred Silverman the rebel who used to run NBC, the ones I've met really aren't programmers in the radio sense. More like deal guys, putting the best deals together on their platforms. So what happens if you get creative guys in there? Seems like it will either be a) Nothing happens because it's too hard to do anything b)they'll fail miserably because TV is different c)They'll do some NEW things that make a difference. d) this is just the first part of a bigger picture. Knowing Randy, I’d bet on C & D. He was ousted by Clear Channel, but that was no surprise--talk about Oil and Water with the Mays Family, but when he had a freer hand as with Jacor and some of the early incarnations of that Company, he always engineered some interesting things.

My own TV experience is relatively limited. I was involved with the original Pittman/Garland era MTV, and later did some work for a very bright guy named Scott Sassa at Turner, and consulted some products on TV ads and use of music—like Mello Yellow, a piss colored product that was basically sugar and caffeine, aimed at teens who liked a sweet buzz. A different world that struck me as being FAR too tightly wound...BUT---The clever creative ones like Pittman and Sassa knew how to navigate the minefields and it paid off. Navigating minefields is a real art. Many smart guys caved early by failing to understand this. Kinda like being a programming consultant or overseeing the direction of any creative venture. It gets down to how you can express your ideas and get a buy in from the guys you are working with. Too easy to isolate or piss off or simply not get through.

Our third Concord CD is coming out soon. Watercolors RED. Like Watercolors BLUE, it’ll be distributed exclusively at Circuit City. It's a cool series that marries Concords deep "Smooth Jazz" archives with XM's Watercolors channel programmed by the ebullient Trinity. With the built in distribution at retail through Circuit City it's a win/win. The first Concord/XM release was BLISTERING LICKS that was distributed through Starbucks.

These compilations are not easy to put together and may take awhile to gain traction in a BIG way, but I think we're on the right course. A lot of people here are involved from Trinity to design ace Brian Lichty to Zack Kovolenko to Shannon Suydam and Jody Feldman on the marketing team. XM has actually released over 20 CD's...some compilations like these, others simply releases of recordings created in our XM Performance Theaters. I am convinced that over time, XM will be known as a creative Mecca beyond radio content as we create SO much music here. Over 5000 sessions in just a few years. EVERYTHING from Mc Cartney to Odetta to Porcupine Tree to pretty much anyone you can think of from all genres and all success levels. A lot of these lean toward classic artists. Not by design, but Classic artists tend to have better stories, but in reality it's because there are MORE Classic artists--after all we can go back 50+ years and there are A LOT of artists to work with compared to the relatively short list of newly emerging ones.

Sony/Burgundy also just released America Then and Now which includes the Then Again we recorded here awhile back. Kurt Gilchrist also put a great special together that ran on the 70's and The Loft where the band walks through the recording of each of their greatest hits. An Audio biography sorta thing.

Another CD coming out soon is REO Speedwagon. They recorded a "Then...Again" of High Infidelity AND an Artist Confidential which will packaged with a set that'll be distributed at Wal Mart. In most cases, these CD's are not profit centers for XM, but instead are image enhancers that flex our musical muscle and provide a vehicle for our artist and retail partners. PARTNER is a key word. In terrestrial radio, an artist hasn't been a PARTNER in eons. Where the artist and the station work TOGETHER. What a concept. We are desperately trying to avoid the "We are radio...and you're not" thing and instead embracing the artists to do partners. To leverage our 44 million listeners.

REO is an interesting band. They get dissed a lot, but if you were in your musically formative years around 1980, and were into the American soundtrack at the time, REO was a band you probably cruised around listening to over and over. Most citizens (non Industry, artists or hard core aficionados) don't stop liking a band because they aren't cutting edge any more. Most citizens recognize that their edge has already been cut and live with that. While insiders may say "REO---how dated...80's corporate rock...give me a break". Real citizens from that era have nothing but positive memories and appreciation...and WELCOME new material from their heroes. Plus--they're solid musicians, and it drives me nuts when artists get disrespected because they happened to have success.

Speaking of Wal Mart, Eric Logan, Dan Turak, Rhonda Marsh and I went to Wal-Mart Headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas. We always visit our retail partners including Best Buy in Minneapolis, Circuit City in Richmond and others. Bentonville was a trip. I calculated that if we took my plane we would have saved 10 minutes since we had to fly through Memphis on Northwest. Bentonville is kind of small. One advantage of that is a great BBQ place called Smokin’ Joes---complete with huge guys sitting around eating ribs, toilets out back next to the smoker and real BBQ. Also the security line at the airport took 37 seconds to get through. Good visit at Wal-Mart Headquarters. Great group of people. What a complex business! The flight back was no eventful except that Eric paid an extra $50 and upgraded himself to First Class. I tied, but the agent said it was full. Of course it wasn’t. More great service from a bankrupt carrier. Logan made matters worse during taxi out by sending a total of 27 e-mails raving about the legroom…and a new email each time he had a free beer. We fly Coach at XM…unless I take my plane. We’re not into the corporate jet thing---not really appropriate at our stage of development. Reminds me of when I was at ABC. They were offered a new jet by a big syndicator that was in deep trouble. Hey thought that it was smart that this syndication company was getting rid of their jet to save money. In fact, the struggling syndicator was upgrading to a BIGGER jet. What are these people thinking? A company to watch is Day Jet. They are starting up an air taxi service using VLJ’s—a new generation of very small jets. You can fly on your schedule from places like DC to Bentonville at Coach like fares. Should be interesting.

Marc Fisher, the Washington Post writer who wrote "Something in the Air" an excellent new book about the history of rock radio, had another good piece in the Post Magazine section last Sunday. I think you can pull it up on line. He went to an FM "Perceptual Study". Marconi is rolling over in his grave. These studies are what is killing FM Radio. They sure look good on paper--but they are completely flawed and destructive. we LOVE them. They are tools that keep FM lame and further XM's opportunity to welcome listeners to our system. It is so odd that the FM guys don't seem to "get" this. Oh well...not our problem.

E-Bay alert: I discovered you can buy old telephone books. I bought them. Anyone remotely interested in advertising should check it out. The Chicago Yellow Pages from the 40's and 50's. It's fascinating stuff in the way that watching an old Dragnet show is interesting. The ads are priceless and I gotta tell ya, the artwork is in many cases so old school it would be stunningly cool NOW. Then there are the white pages. I love looking up the home addresses of famous baseball players before they had to be unlisted. Weird shit---but its kinda fun. I am learning things from the yellow pages ads. Borrowing ideas from the last 20 years is...stealing ideas. But when you go back THAT far, I have no guilt, and in fact, there are some angles, ideas and looks worth borrowing. Some are so bad---they're brilliant.

Started doing some cluster meetings. They went well. Really geared to re-introduce the staffs to the original architecture of their channel. Mostly found some basic mechanical flaws like song scheduling and the like. Overall though, pretty easy stuff. If you haven't checked the Video blogs--check them out---On the right side of the main page. There's one about XM in flight weather---OK if you're into aviation, but the one below where you can click LOW or HIGH is the presentation about the XM programming philosophy…always evolving but still revolving around the core idea.

Monday, January 22, 2007



Back around 1999, two years before XM went on the air, we wanted to engage timeless artists to be a part of the XM “Artist Family”. The idea was to work with important artists from as many genres as possible. By “Timeless” I mean we were looking at artists that would not only be around when we actually launched, but will be around in 100 years. Instead of going for the quick celebrity that may flame out, we set our goals pretty lofty. Bob Dylan, Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson and among several others of similar creative caliber—Wynton Marsalis. Beyond the engagement, it’s important that the relationship is more than a press release. It’s easy to give somebody a bunch of money, put out a release, create a five minute buzz…and that’s it. Signing an artist for the press release, but then often the content is vacant. Every artist in the XM ‘Artist Family’ is INVOLVED. Bob Dylan of course creates a rather revolutionary show; Quincy Jones creates these amazing multi part specials. First there was his eight part “Be Bop to Hip Hop” where he traces the history of music…then RNBQ as he traces the history of R&B. And Wynton does another remarkable show called “From the Swing Seat” as well as being our ambassador of Jazz. The whole relationship intersects perfectly with our facility and connection to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Facility in New York where we’ve recorded everything from the recent “Willie and Wynton” (now THAT’S interesting) concert to Sting to the Dixie Chicks to Andrea Bocelli.On Monday, I read a Q&A with Wynton in USA TODAY. It clearly illustrates the brilliance and intellect of this man. Our first meeting was at the 1999 CES Convention where, through his manager Ed Arrundell, we set up a dinner at the Venetian Hotel to talk. Me, Hugh Panero, Wynton, Ed and our EVP of programming at the time—in the pre Eric Logan days. Instantly we were Wyntonized. He has this uncanny knack to take a song as benign as “Doggy in the Window” and trace the jazz elements in the arrangement. But beyond Jazz, the guy is so evangelical...and smart. The kind of artist that we WANT to engage and give them the theater of the mind palette that only radio can deliver. Rather than babbling on about him, please take a look at the Q&A, it had a profound effect on me that I wanted to share:

Leading a company is often compared to conducting an orchestra. But organizing a jazz band may be a more appropriate analogy. That's because business leaders increasingly want to set free the creative juices of individuality while maintaining the discipline to make music, not noise. USA TODAY's Del Jones went to Wynton Marsalis, 45, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who was named one of America's Best Leaders in 2006 by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and U.S. News & World Report.

Q: Does a jazz stage really have anything in common with the typical workplace?

A: When you listen to great jazz musicians, you hear the respect they have for each other's abilities. During a performance, most of the musicians' time is spent listening to others. You see the trust they have for each other because they are always making adjustments and improvising based on what someone else does. I think (drummer) Elvin Jones articulated it best when he said, "In order to play with somebody on a profound level, you have to be willing to die with them." You might not like your colleagues that much, but that is jazz and that is feeling.

Q: What can ruin jazz or business?

A: Lack of integrity. Jazz music always stood as a fortress of integrity. The musicians' skills were so hard-earned that they did not easily sell out. Once the musicians decided to be less — for notoriety, publicity or money — our art began to face challenges: dearth of leadership, reducing human labor to a line item on a budget, and so on. We have control over how we choose to confront our challenges and reconcile contradictions.

Q: The roots of jazz go back to slavery. Do the best leaders have to experience a level of pain to be their most creative? For example, can a company thrive under a CEO born of privilege?

A: The farther away from the sun we are, the colder it gets. To know the essence of a thing requires us to go back to the origination of that thing, because time erodes meaning and enthusiasm. The originators of jazz were a second generation out of slavery and victims of rigorous forms of segregation in which humanity was routinely and institutionally denied. You would think that they were thinking about getting revenge, but in actuality, they were thinking about sharing and communicating with all kinds of people, and they became masters of achieving balance with others. These early jazz musicians worked out a perfect way to co-create using improvisation and a basic unit of rhythm called swing.

Q: What is "swing," and how can a business get it?

A: Swing is a rhythm, an era in American history, and it is a world view. In this world view, there is a belief in the power of a collective ability to absorb mediocre and poor decisions. When a group of people working together trust that all are concerned for the common good, then they continue to be in sync no matter what happens. That is swing. It's the feeling that our way is more important than my way. This philosophy extends to how to treat audiences, consumers, staff or dysfunctional families. This may seem idealistic, but think about how church congregations recite, nearly together and completely unrehearsed. They proceed by feel. Swing is the single objective. It is the core that makes us all want to work together.

Q: How can we unleash creativity and spontaneity on the job?

A: When I was younger, just beginning to play jazz and getting publicity, almost every critic and older musician came out of the woodwork to say that my playing was inauthentic — lacking soul and feeling. They said it was too technical and young. I had not paid enough dues to play with meaning or feeling. The great jazz trumpeter Sweets Edison, who played in Count Basie's 1930s band, asked me "Where are you from?" I said, New Orleans. He said, "What did you grow up doing?" I responded, "Playing." Then he said, "Why are you trying to act like what you are? Be what you are." This was a profound lesson in creativity. It's about being yourself, valuing your own ideas, mining your own dreams. You can be creative inside or outside of tradition. Outside of tradition, you create a new world. Inside of tradition, you create a new way to do the old things much better. Both can be innovative, because in one you reinvigorate a tradition. In the other, you counter-state it.

Q: The originator of jazz, Buddy Bolden, combined church music with music played in houses of ill repute. Is that the ultimate lesson for thinking out of the box?

A: Everybody knew the church music and they knew the whorehouse songs, but they didn't have the courage to put these two opposite genres together. But the innovator understands how things that appear to be opposites are in fact the same. Bolden invented a way of singing the melodies through his horn that made the trumpet, the clarinet, the trombone, sound human.

Q: Every company longs for creative employees. How does a jazz band get swing without chaos?

A: Jazz is the collective aspirations of a group of musicians, shaped, given logic and organized under the extreme pressure of time. When we work together, the music is swinging, and when we don't, it's not. The perception of jazz is that we all get along. In actuality, we're always trying to get along, and it is the integrity of that process that determines the quality of the swing. A business that swings will definitely be successful.

Q: On stage, what's the difference between a leader and a follower?

A: Children are only responsible for themselves. As adults, we find ourselves responsible to and for more people, our families, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, our world. Our ascension to a mature level of citizenship is directly related to the responsibility and size of things we choose to take on. In the arts, this ladder leads from your personal artistry to your art form, then on to all the arts and finally to humanity itself.

Q: So, is there a boss in a jazz band who takes charge?

A: In jazz, hierarchy is determined by your ability to play, not your position in the band. The philosophy of jazz is antithetical to the commoditization of people. It is rooted in the elevation and enrichment of people. The reason that jazz is the most flexible art form in the history of the planet is because it believes in the good taste of individuals. It believes in the human power to create wonderful things, and it embraces that instead of attempting to administrate it away with senseless titles and useless hierarchies

.…and so the Gospel according to Wynton. Quality is timeless.

Sunday, January 14, 2007



Just got back from the CES Convention. As usual it was a mind boggling array of everything gadget. XM had our usual “booth” which was more like a section of the enormous North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Our marketing group was in full force as the masses descended on us, looking for information, interact, or simply to schmooze. A mix of Tech guru Stell Pasiokas talking in some strange technical language with other tech gurus (Stell is Greek—he’s also extremely bright, and when he talks fast, between his intellect, Greek accent and excitable nature—it’s “interesting”), also top brass Panero, Parsons and Davis in many meetings I wasn’t invited to. Eric Logan, who has this ability to gamble and drink whatever Country fans drink all night, then look completely fresh the next day. I don’t get it…reminds me of the time I flew to Australia…14 hour flight, sitting next to Astronaut John Glenn. They guy gets off the plane and looks like he just got out of the shower, perfectly coiffed and shiny while the other 327 passengers looked like shit. Also on hand were our new CMO Vernon Irvin, press team Nathaniel Brown, Marie Farrar and David Butler, our own Bill Graham’s in Stephanie Mantelmacher and Gary Hahn, competent XM attorneys and closet Rockers Jeff Blattner and Dara Altman (Dara came from Discovery TV but I think it took her all of 8 minutes to "get" XM), Brian Shea and Dan Murphy's retail army along with a ton of others all on hand working the crowd. It was pretty impressive as we had about a dozen cars equipped with the latest XM on display as well as hardware that was pretty cool. There were some units I didn’t even know we had. Usually we have a stage with performances. Everything from a live Opie and Anthony to Snoop Dogg…and everything in between. Then in the evening, we’d take ALL the artists and the XM programming crew to a lavish dinner. Last year there was one night where it was Kevin Bacon sitting next to Donnie Osmond sitting next to Jon Anderson sitting next to Herbie Hancock sitting next to Todd Rundgren sitting next to David Coverdale sitting next to Weird Al, etc….A melting pot. More fun than you could imagine. Just listening to Todd and Donny talking, or Kevin Bacon exchanging emails with Jon Anderson—priceless. Throw in the managers and the XM crew and these were some memorable nights. This year we didn’t do the entertainment thing. I’m half hoping we do it in 08. Where else does musical madness like THIS happen other than XM? Half hoping because the work in setting these up and chaperoning is mind boggling logistically. Gotta keep the stars happy---We do. But not without some logistical craziness ranging from Snoops posse to the “should we put Derek Jeter in the same Green Room as Everclear at the same time” decisions. This is where our DJ’s and production crew really shines—Lou Brutus, Jim Mc Bean, Leo G, Kurt Gilchrist, Paul Bachmann, Bill Black, George Taylor Morris,Jayme Karp and others interact SO seamlessly and naturally with these guys. A big reason I think XM is gaining n incredibly good reputation as being THE artist friendly company. We pride ourselves on that. We try to avoid the gawking and “I am not worthy” approach and treat artists with a sense of partnership. Of course having stars around is costly. Last year my expenses were something like $32,000 as I was ringleader for the after hours…this year $9.23—coffee in the room.

This year we DID have Quincy Jones. He shared the podium with Hugh Panero at a big league “Leaders in Technology” event at the Wynn Hotel. Both Q and Hugh performed spectacular. Hugh was “Presidential in his poise and delivery, Q was telling it like it is—you sometimes forget what Quincy has done in his still young life. Gary Hahn pinned him down to ask about the Sinatra sessions at the Sands. Effortlessly, Q glides into an amazing Frank story. I'm sorry--THAT IS COOL. He is an icon that will go down in the history books---and through it all he is such a wonderful person. I’m honored to have him involved with us. All in all the Q & Hugh show was a really strong balance that impressed this hard to impress crowd. Jon Anderson, long time friend and XM supporter was in town too. Dealing with some Chinese video company. He was gracious enough to drop by and shake a few hands. Also nice to see Skunk Baxter drop by, America’s only Rock and Roller who has some secret Pentagon clearance.

As was typical, I received about 100 ideas for channels at the CES. I’m sure Eric Logan got another hundred. The reality is that while we have a ton of bandwidth there ARE limitations. Putting up a channel is one extremely complex idea. We have to be incredibly selective and while everybody says that if we put up Channel X, we’ll get 2 million new subscribers, we know better. We do a ton of due diligence. For anyone coming at us with a channel idea, it’s probably best to present a SHOW rather than a channel. A channel usually just isn’t practical from a bandwidth perspective, and NO-ONE understands how much work goes into something that is 24/7/365. A show is more realistic and is almost ALWAYS of higher quality since all the intensity can be channeled into something shorter rather than creating something 24/7 that probably can’t creatively sustain itself. Of course there’s Oprah and Fox and other 3rd parties, but these are enormous organizations with infrastructures, experience and a brand so channels while still difficult, are much easier to do and maintain a high standard. We started with 50 channels (pre launch), then 100 channels, now over 170. I’m assuming the number will grow as technology improves.

There’s a REAL good book that just came out called “Something in the Air”---by Marc Fisher from the Washington Post. It covers the history of Rock n Roll Radio better than any book in memory. Really dives in and captures the reality of how it all came together, accurately reporting on the history of Music Radio avoiding the popular myths in favor of what REALLY came down.

Howard Stern got a 68 Million Dollar bonus. Not bad. Speaking of our competition, they had a press release saying that Yusef Islam was doing this first Performance on Sirius. Huh? XM did one the SAME day AND did Artist Confidential with him TWO years ago. I’m not going to bash them because in many ways we’re all in this together and they have a good product, but this press release made the think---huh? C’mon guys!

One REAL cool thing is that when Cal Ripken was told he made the hall of fame—he got the call LIVE on XM—THAT’S magic!

We’ve been having some cluster meetings lately. Part of the purpose is to review the original architecture. It was almost 9 years ago since we first put the blueprints for the channels together. I think some may have forgotten the original plan, or came in later and need a refresher. I don’t sense any major issues, but as we get bigger it becomes important to recognize what we’re all about…and remember. WE started very idealistic about “revolutionizing radio”---It is too easy to lose that sprit as life becomes more complicated and as we become a more mass appeal product. Can’t happen. Certainly we need to evolve and adapt, but we can’t let ourselves lower our original standards...And it’s easy to do…way too easy. Look what happened to FM. It started creatively tanking when it got successful. We have to avoid that. Get successful but maintain the idea of moving things to the next level. Some channels will never be incredibly revolutionary as they are ultra mainstream by design…but we should try.

One thing that bugs me is Tune out paranoia. Tune out is fine—as long as listeners come back. Tune out paranoia creates SUCH a tightly wound sound that you do NOTHING even remotely experimental of interesting because you are scared of tune out. Guess what. Tune out happens…can you imagine if HBO never ran an edgy show because Star Wars fans night tune out? Give me a break. Do great things in the big picture and people WILL tune out…but they’ll be back! If a channel has to rely on EVERY second being air tight, you lose the potential of doing something unusual that just might resonate. Go ahead…make mistakes…a channel might be better in the BIG picture for trying. Kind of like baseball, it’s the creative batting average. You gotta swing for the hit, and you WILL strike out in the process…then again you might bat 300. Same thing with music…same thing with EVERYTHING creative. Pull out the experimentation gene that’s in MOST of us….and don’t be afraid to make a mistake every now and then. If your channel is SO vulnerable that it can’t withstand taking a few shots—the channel inherently is doomed to a future of sucking. There’s a big problem with sucking—because it’s so easy to do. Just do what is already being done on 99% of radio stations. THAT’S WHY RE-INVENTING/RE-THINKING is SO bloody important. Status quo sucks. In some things, status quo is great, but in a medium that is dated like terrestrial radio, now is the time to do everything you can to re-think and re-invent. Does XM do that? Not always. We do it a lot more than everyone else, but we STILL need to re-invent, or at least TRY to re-invent. There’s a problem with re-inventing for re-inventions sake. Not good. That’s where you just screw yourself. But the “exercise” of assuming everything sucks and it’s our job to make it right…now THAT’S the exercise that forces change. GOOD change. What gets me nuts is “assuming” that the status quo is best and simply not TRYING to re-think things. A formula for….sucking. As a consumer I admire ANY product that challenges themselves weather its radio or airplanes---if done right---Everybody wins. Winning can be done for the right reasons, you know…

I’ll never forget when I bought a Cirrus Aircraft. Picked up the plane in Duluth. In December. It was SO fucking cold that I’d make up problems so it would stay in the hangar all night while they fixed them during the delivery week. Part of the acceptance is a factory tour. The tour was the EXACT same tour we give at XM—just exchange “radio” for ‘airplane. This company threw away the rulebook and took what is a 1950 basic aircraft design for private piston aircraft and completely changed it to meet the 21st Century. Composites, modern electronics, and a distinctly non macho cockpit that’s more like a Lexus than a 1955 Cessna. They soared to leadership in planes produced….the other “big name” piston aircraft manufacturers are now playing catch up. Funny thing happens when innovation is more than a marketing term and you actually AFDI it (our internal slogan for actually Fucking Doing it).

Monday, January 08, 2007



XM Adds Nearly 1.7 Million New Subscribers in 2006 for Total of More Than 7.6 Million Subscribers, Achieves Positive Cash Flow From Operations During Fourth Quarter 2006. That is good news. Having been here 9 years, it’s clearly a milestone!

…and now to a completely different subject

It’s easy to complain about the Music business, just as it’s easy to complain about the state of radio, but back in the 70’s and 80’s I had a fling with music and quickly discovered that even in those heady days, it is an absurdly complicated business fueled by politics, greed, muscle and the sexiness of stardom as well as vegetarian passion and purity. By the late 70’s I was getting a little restless with radio, or at least the repetition of what I was involved with. It was still home, but facilitated by the hundreds of stations we worked with, it was relatively easy to get in the musical door and dabble.

That was the problem: Dabbling. You can’t dabble in a business that complicated. I learned that to do it right, or at least have a shot at it, you needed to go balls to the wall into the arena. I couldn’t do that. I already had a day job. As a result it was more of a hobby than a career change and it never really flourished. But the learning experience and at times fun of it was shockingly memorable. An education that was eye opening and personally gave me some depth into the realities of an allied business to radio, one that is in many ways similar (music driven, trend driven and has way too many lawyers--who often become stars in the own right).

But the over-riding thing was that the dabbling, as mis-guided as some of it was, was an education that anyone involved in music programming would massively benefit from. I saw first hand how it worked...REALLY worked. Certainly in the business side, but more importantly the artist side. The creation side. Stuff you have to experience or else you'll never really get it. Most guys in radio see the dinners, the promotion and the meet and greet. Man that is NOT the reality. I was blessed (?) with the opportunity to live IN the trenches with artists of all calibers from emerging to eccentric to stadium filler and beyond--but not as a radio guy as much as in the inner circle. In the club. The tales are a book. The characters, the insanity, the in fighting, the evil, the magic--all came alive. An education and experience that added a new level of understanding that I felt has given me an edge as well as an understanding and in many cases a profound respect for the ones who consisantly succeed beyond luck in music. I suppose it's the same for a music person who experiences the inner workings of mass media...probably helps their depth. We have some people here at XM who've been in the music trenches...the REAL music trenches. Like Eddie Kilroy on Willies Place. He probably wouldn't be as good as he is without that edge he acquired from being in the trenches. Powerful stuff. It's one of the reasons I'm a crusader against celebrity without substance. I "get" the vacant side of popular culture, the five minute success stories and understand how it needs to be served, but I also know what's WORTH fighting for. The bottom line is that I have the luxury of understanding both sides which I Think is a clear competitive advantage in 2007.

A few of my ventures come to mind—here are some mini stories---the full length versions would be a very large book and unbloggable:

GENTLE GIANT: I really admired these guys, but by 1979 they were on thin ice. Their label had dropped them and they were painfully uncool inside industry circles as their avant garde eclecticism was out of sync with the Punky New Wave that was occurring at the time and with the Industry fueled by fashionability, it was tough for guys like this to get traction. Ray Tusken was a guy at Capitol Records who reached out to me to se if I had any ideas to “save” them, meaning how they can expand their reach to where they could justify the label’s commitment to them. We met at this West Hollywood watering hole called The Palm, before it became a national steak brand, in LA and I suggested a meeting with them to talk through things. Band founders Derek and Ray Shulman and I met up ion Derek’s flat in London and talked about the future. We hit it off well as we had similar tastes and agreed that I’d kind of oversee the next record. Then Capitol dropped them. So we proceeded ahead and came up with a “concept”. Pitched it to all the labels. Not getting too far. The then head of A&R at Warner Brothers actually fell asleep during our pitch….complete with loud snoring. But then Arma Andon at Columbia bought into the idea and they were signed. Next, the guys came to Atlanta and camped out in the music room of my house and we worked through the music and the general direction. Then, Geoff Emerick—Beatles engineer was recruited to record their session at Wessex Studio in London. Next door there was a new American Band recording called the Pretenders. They were polar opposites of what Gentle Giant was about and incredible dickheads with that whole “I’m a punk and you’re not” bullshit. Very annoying but they had great timing a plan and a sound and of course went on to big things, despite being dickheads. The result of Gentle Giant was really an interesting record. Some tracks like "Inside Ou"t still are really powerful. The fans of the band generally hated it because it was such a departure from their early sound. But we had NO choice, had to make an album that reached out a bit more or there simply wouldn’t be an album. I think the guys felt comfortable with the end result but the record got caught in the middle, not classic Gentle Giant enough for the core and not Kansas enough for the mainstream. In reality—it WAS, but their image was so eclectic that it was tough to convince a programmer in Wichita that it might be right for their station. I think it was assumed that because I was involved it would instantly get added on all my client stations. In fact, it was 180 degrees from that as to avoid a conflict of interest, I needed to stay FAR away from promoting a record I had an interest with---So while my career helped me get in the door, and it also shut the door when it came to my radio relationships. That “door” was an interesting thing. You find out who your friends are as some label guys smiled and talked about how great it is to be together on the project—then bury the project internally because we were the enemy. I still think this was a solid album with moments of brilliance, but it never really worked commercially and it was the end of the line for this adventurous group. Possibly a good thing for Derek as he went on to discover Bon Jovi and run Atco Records.

CRITICAL MASS: Lee Arnold was PD of our client WAAF in Worcester/Boston. He kinda discovered the Cars. One day he came to me with this band from Miami called Critical Mass. Kind of a U.S version of the Buzzcocks thing. Real engaging. The guys were like the Three Stooges on Acid. I figured that Lee had a good handle on music trends and that maybe an Americanized Punk thing could fly. So we talked, played around and decided to give it a shot. They wre great guys not yet warped by the business and hilarious to be around as they played The Green acres theme as effortlessly as their own songs. Figured we might want to record it in the UK to soak up the vibe since things were happening there, so I rented Chris Squire’s studio in suburban Surrey outside of London. These guys COULD have been Green Day. Energetic pop, great melodies. Playful but decent musicians, but the sessions were a disaster. Fueled by the evil circa 70’s Cocaine Cognac and Hash cycle. Though the guys were pretty straight, preferring English Pub food to drugs. It was an incredible learning experience about the perils of Drugs and Rock n Roll. Adding to the problem is that the engineer was too UK centric---going for the rough JAM sound than a smoother Van Halen sound. In ’79, there was literally no FM in the UK so the engineer’s reference was how a Jam record sounded on AM rather than how Van Halen sounded on FM, additionally the band had a manager who was a Broadway producer and had little knowledge of how to break these guys. The whole experience was depressing as we were all holed up in this dive hotel amusing each other with comedy routines and lots of booze and drugs among the production crew….all highlighted with a dark lonely Thanksgiving in a cold hotel café eating bad turkey sandwiches slathered in butter and limp cucumbers served by an apathetic waitress with Pink hair.. We were all going crazy but too stoned to see the light of why.
The resulting sound was miserable, however Trevor Horn was a good friend and let us remix it at his SARM Studio and the final final was surprisingly pretty decent and the session was somewhat saved. We shopped it and MCA bought it, but it never really happened. Part of the problem was that US radio wouldn’t accept that sound. Kinda funny ‘cause I was viewed as the guy who was responsible for the US radio sound back then. If we could do it over, we’d record in Miami their hometown, outlaw all substances from the premises, get a US engineer and bore into doing what the band was capable of—which was Green Day in 1979.

CINEMA RECORDS: We had one huge hit. Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson that paid for the three others that didn’t fare so well. This was a concept label. I pitched it to Don Greirson who headed up A&R at Capitol and they bought into the idea of our creating a Progressive Rock/Experimental Music label called Cinema. It was to be an electronic inspired version of the then ground breaking Windham Hill. This is a classic example of a concept that would have been enormously successful in a niche way IF we treated it as a full time thing and not a hobby. The concept was at the time so unique that it required working Capitol records hard as well as putting a LOT of focus into the marketing concept...camping out at Barnes & Noble and Stabucks type places to work out shelf space (of course those were not yet national brands yet--but you get the idea)—something that we didn’t have the ability to do time-wise. This was where I really learned that you don’t just put out music and expect the system to fall into place. We were not helped by the fact that Don Greirson and half the company including the President left Capitol mid way during the project. Nonetheless Eric Johnson was a big success, partly due to a champion inside the building in Tom Whalley, who now runs Warner Brothers. The other records we put out included Pete Bardens—now this record WAS strong and almost broke through. Patrick Moraz did a wonderful piece called Light Elements, German synth whiz Michael Hoenig did a Tangerine Dreamy thing and the real sleeper was Amin Bhatia doing an epic called Interstellar Suite which is a deserved cult classic amongst the electro-musos. This was a good experience though looking back if we JUST had the time to do it RIGHT—the time to EXECUTE the marketing plan we envisioned. Musically, we worked very hard with the artists—no complaints there—the stuff was GOOD…very “cinematic” and wide screen. Not for everyone, but something that Pink Floyd fans would generally appreciate. Cerebral music that was more about the head than the spa. That was our goal….but no-one got to really hear it.

VOYAGER RECORDS: Irving Azoff and I go back quite a ways—both from the Midwest and of course he makes more money from one Eagles tour than a typical major label makes in a year. So one day, pitched him on the idea of a “Classic Rock” label. He liked the idea and we were off to the races with Voyager Records. The idea was to take classic artists who still have the goods and create new music. It’s literally the SAME story as Cinema. No time to work the project, Irving and his key people laving the company midway and no champions within the building. Signed Dave Mason and Johnny Winter. Dave’s record was especially disappointing as I think it had a ton of potential—some really cool songs that captured his essence without compromise, but just couldn’t get the machinery cranked up to bring it home…and it, like our other artist Johnny Winter, got lost. I still talk to Dave Mason (Mike Marrones favorite artist); he’s as good as ever. Great guy. The key behind Voyager was to actually work with the artists to help them understand themselves—something not always easy as they have often been poisoned with input suggesting that they bend their style for what was happening at the moment. Occasionally that can work as with Yes’ Owner of a Lonely Heart, but ore often it becomes a confusing mess as it’s unnatural for the artist to “try to make a hit single”. They need to stick true to their roots and if they evolve it should be because they want to rather than someone telling them they have to…and they not really buying into it. But like with Cinema, had the plan and the music, but not the ability or buy in from the machinery to execute on the plan.

On one hand these four projects were simply handled wrong…by me. In the Cinema and Voyager projects, there were two others involved—Larry Mazer was a high strung manager who got bored with the labels once his band Cinderella broke big and Denny Somach an entrapanuer and friend I had known for years going back to the early WTSP in Philly. Musically I think the records were really good, but really good is about 10% of making something happen. My batting average for success really sucked, BUT—I learned WHY weather it was drugs, time shortages, inexperience, lack of support from the machinery or simply miserable execution, and that made the experiences unbelievably positive for me personally in the long run. It really gave me a depth of understanding and experience that helps me in the programming World. It was painful, disappointing and at times rather dark…but I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything. It also gave me new respect for those in the music business who know what they’re doing, do it consistently and are successful because of their abilities rather than their bullshit or law degrees. Also learned about timing---most of these projects were ill timed. Ahead of the times I like to think, and that is probably right, but ahead of the time is as fruitless as behind the times in a business driven by the importance of being in sync with the times.

These four projects only skimmed the surface---in future blogs I’ll get into some really wacky times with Yes, Iron Miaden,The Pointer Sisters, Moody Blues, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Robert Palmer, Bob Geldof, Alan Parsons, Al DiMeola, Chris Blackwell and Island Records, and a ton more that I think merge interesting with sick, fun, vastly educational and memorable.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007



My New Years wish to the programming staff is better use of the XM Logo. Throughout the holidays I was in a lot of stores and restaurants and damn, if that five note “audio signature” didn’t cut right through. Without it, I would have had no idea that it was XM being piped in. The signature is part of the XM audio DNA. It’s a way of saying XM without saying it. A lot of people didn’t get it…I’m sure I was beyond annoying about it, but I pounded home that the benefits will come over time…and they are starting to come.

Some people listen to radio as a foreground thing—crankin it to 11. But more listen as a background source. Often a DJ or spoken word is a muffled mess. That’s where a logo can cut through and identify you without words. Sort of like the TV being on in the den and you are in the living room. You can usually tell what channel is on without being anywhere near the screen—via the channel's audio logo. You know--"Hurry up, the movies going to start" because that HBO intro music is coming on. Years ago I did a “hitchhiking study” where I’d leave in the morning and get picked up…hitchhike all day with the idea of ending up close to home that night. Dangerous work, but in 1970 it was an effective way to study in car listening among the kind of listener that would pick you up—which was the kind that I wanted to know more about as was putting together the FM Rock idea then. Without going into the gristly detail, two things really stood out:

--Many Listeners listened in the background then cranked it when a song they like came on. Some DJ’s had something to say and the volume stayed up during the breaks, but most DJ’s offered nothing more than muffled noise as the volume came down during the break. The point being that the kind of station I was working on had to be “background” friendly and have some kind of Identification happening when listeners were not actively tuned in. Sonny Fox at WRNO came up with an idea to have wind chimes in the background whenever the mic was keyed—same effect. Walking through a mall, or hanging out talking to friends, you knew what you were listening to even if you couldn’t understand a word that was being spoken. Of course, audio logos are nothing new...NBC had the chimes and every pop station in the world drove home their jingle, but somewhere in the 70's or 80's the idea of an audio signature seemed to get lost on radio.

--Talking over music sucks. These listeners thought that a DJ “talking up” a record was incredibly lame. Sure, the DJ would be SO proud when he “hit the vocal” with perfect timing. But listeners (at least the ones I was studying) absolutely deplored the audacity of the DJ to think he’s more important than the song and favoring “tight mechanics” over music.

OK, back to the audio logo--

Some of our channels do exceptional work with the logo. Our Jazz channels religiously ask artists to play the logo, and it sounds amazing to have a sexy trumpet playing it in between Jazz songs. Or then there’s Bill Kates our sound madman in New York. He will take guitar riffs from Dick Dale’s recent XM Performance, jockey them around and get a Surf inspired logo out of it!

The magic of the XM logo isn’t the notes, though Synth Wiz Larry Fast did a splendid job of creating it, but the magic is in the treatment of it so it matches the vibe of the channel it’s on and gives XM an added dimension of system identification.

Kinda slow as the year wound down in terms of Artists dropping by, however, Vince Gill dropped in for an ARTIST CONFIDENTIAL. Actually a COUNTRY CONFIDENTIAL. A different twist on the concept much like Martin Goldsmith’s CLASSICAL CONFIDENTIAL. In this case, Country legend and true Gentleman Bill Anderson hosted. It was pretty magical as the two had so much in common. Plus Bill already hosts an XM show where he interviews Country legends, so it was a natural. Vince, like most of the Country guys, was such a pleasure to deal with as was his manager Larry Fitzgerald. Some of the Rock guys can be assholes…haven’t met an asshole Country guy yet. Vince was another XM first as we’ve done Confidentials with him and his Wife Amy Grant...maybe Family Confidential is next.

New Years Eve brings back memories. One that is especially prominent is New Years 1969 going into 1970. I was involved at WQAM in Miami at the time. WQAM was among the Nations most influential Top 40 stations. As a result, many of us got invited to a party at Jerry Wexler’s house in Miami Beach. I went there with Paxton Quigley, aka Cleveland Wheeler who was WQAM’s night DJ at the time and the first PD of XM’s Sixties on Six Channel. What a scene. Right out of Hollywood. Exactly what you’d expect from a record mogul. I knew NO-ONE there but soaked in the buzz. It was a star studded, well catered evening in a very expensive Mansion on Biscayne Bay. Later that night I got introduced to Jerry by someone who I bonded with. I was only about 17 so I stood out quite a bit. I could have said I was Jimmy Page and probably gotten away with it. Jerry and I talked for a good 30 minutes. That was cool. We left and didn’t think about it beyond that it was a memorable "what the hell am I doing here"? type evening.

Much to my surprise, a week later I get a letter from him asking me to call. I did. He offered me a job. At this stage I was so into riding the FM boat, I declined…but I always wonder what would have happened if I took him up on it.

Right before Christmas took a road trip. Went with XM Producer John Stevens. John looks like a cross between Rob Zombie and some Middle Eastern terrorist. It’s always fun flying with him because he usually scares people at airports, but good heartedly engages people who figure they met a Rock Star. Back last summer when we flew to Savannah, he engaged a group of Navy F-16 pilots. Now THAT was a scene to remember....Anyways, Took off from DC and went to White Plains New York where we picked up Randy Ezratty and his lovely Wife Jon Ann. Jo Ann wants to become a pilot so she sat up front. She asked a LOT of questions…very enthusiastic. Answering questions and flying through the busiest airspace in the World was challenging…but no prob. We then flew to Beverly Massachusetts, just north of Boston where we were met by two of Randy’s friends who both were high up in the U2 organization during their early years. They took us to a restaurant on the shore for Chowder and Clams. Authentic New England thing... My plane had just come out of its annual inspection and the mechanic forgot to hook up the landing light so we tried to beat the sunset so I could taxi ok. Imagine no headlight. No sweat in the air, but tricky on the ground. The flight back to White Plains was incredible. You could see the lights of the metroplex on this wonderfully clear winter night. We landed at White Plains and the airport is well lit, so no problem getting back to the terminal. Took off again and headed back to DC…again pure magic as the East Coast unfolded in a blaze of light. Approaching DC we hit the arrival push into Dulles and large jets were everywhere you can see. An uneventful landing, a dark taxi and we were home. A fine day for all.

A good friend asked me for a very short overview of what’s hot---random thoughts, from a PURELY commercial perspective... Always an emotion packed argument starter, but here’s what I told him…

On the 12 “Hot” genres, it’s a very complicated issue that really requires a face-to-face discussion; however, here is a basic list. PLEASE NOTE: These do NOT reflect what terrestrial radio is delivering as they are motivated by Arbitron/Ad Sales rather than truly reflecting tastes. If a music genre doesn’t hit the sweet spot ad sales wise, you won’t hear it. Also—some of the genres don’t translate well into the current CD distribution mechanism, though the genre’s importance nonetheless exists. Take Classic Rock. Don’t see the CD sales, but concert attendance is off the scale with the big names. It’s scary that the “Industry” and media in particular are out of sync with what is REALLY happening and opting for the big catch. But in broad strokes National picture that is also kind of obvious…, here we go: (not in order of importance)

CLASSIC ROCK (EARLY ERA): The generation that was 16-20 during this period is grown up, but this genre remains a powerful sound icon in their lives, more reflected through touring.

CONTEMPORARY COUNTRY: The voice of the Red States

URBAN A/C: Mainstream music for the African American new mainstream of adults

HIP HOP/RAP: Very polar as it can be “dangerous” to some...…but the fans buy a lot of CD’s…and it ain’t going away as the music you like between 16-20 is almost universally the blueprint for your musical future

TRADITIONAL COUNTRY: One of XM’s leading music channels is Willie’s Place. New respect for the Johnny Cash types. REAL Americans playing REAL music.

SMOOTH JAZZ: The new “Beautiful Music”. Audio valium for the stressed.

ADULT CONTEMPORARY: A catch phrase for ultra mainstream song-driven big melodies.

CLASSIC HARD ROCK; should be bigger but fewer places to expose this. Rush and Aerosmith define this

HARD ROCK (NEW): Again, not a lot of exposure, but there’s a potent group of Rockers. However---PROGRESSIVE HARD ROCK---Coheed & Cambria, Mars Volta is the thing –not the mindless stuff.

INTELLIGENT ALTERNATIVE: Maybe “progressive alternative” is a way to put this. Radiohead for example.. and those following more of an early U2 thing…and a lot that are bubbling under the threshold of the mainstream...Artist with a cerebral edge and a modern message.

SINGER/SONGWRITER: The trick is a great song by someone who can sing. That great song is the illusive part.

LATIN: A huge emerging market!!! Massive.

CHRISTIAN: Another emerging market.

Then there are the XM Holiday Channels'06. They rocked. I heard them everywhere. My favorite is the sicker-than-ever Special Xmas. Modeled after the old Special X Channel, this gem assembled by Lou Brutus and Dan Turner re-defines Holiday music. So pathetically bad…it’s brilliant. The worst and strangest Holiday music ever recorded. Then there’s the Hannauka Channel. It was Hugh Panero’s idea, but Mike Abrams (no relation) put his heart and soul into it. It WAS brilliantly put together.

Christmas Day was quite the Drama. James Brown died the night before. We were operating on a Christmas Day staff schedule, but the group came together with the precision of well oiled madness. Bobby Bennett, Dion Summers, Pat Clark and B.K. Kirkland all went into high gear and assembled some pretty amazing tributes. Beyond the call. E-mails, phone calls and airline rebookings all came into play as XM reacted on a dime at a time when our competitors were on autopilot….

…and now its 2007…so bring on the logos!