Monday, March 26, 2007



The audience for NPR shows hit a new high in the Fall book. That was a recent headline. The cume of 26.5 million is up 2% from the previous Fall (2005) and up 4% from last Spring. National Public Radio says listeners ship to its member stations - which buy programming from NPR and other sources, and also produce their own - rose to 30.9 million. NPR can't help noting that "commercial news/talk radio has dropped 7% over the past three years." And Morning Edition was just ranked as the nations #1 morning show. To me this is a continuing symbol of the upper demographics trend away from traditional radio and its “junk culture” approach. I think NPR could be infinitely better without sacrificing its integrity and purpose, BUT they are at least an oasis from most of what is offered currently in "commercial" radio. Then there’s the young end. FM’s creative problem is happening from both ends of the age spectrum. I’m not suggesting XM is perfect, but I hope we are and continue to attack terrestrial problems by offering something more interesting. Radio will never go away so long as it stays more interesting than annoying. We radio people often work hard at keeping it annoying. Annoying like a ubiquitous utility service that is "there" but really doesn't ADD anything to life's pleasure, so what you are left with is something flavorless that it becomes annoying in its blandness.

Then there’s this:

SIMON COWELL SAYS HE IS BIGGER THAN 'THE BOSS'"I sell more records than Bruce Springsteen," Cowell says of the rock star who signed a contract with Sony BMG reported to be in the neighborhood of $100 million. "In the last five years, I've probably sold over 100 million records. If [Springsteen] got 100 [million dollars], I should have got 500”.How does he sell 100 million records? "By doing 'Idol'... I signed the biggest artist on the planet and it's called 'Idol' because every single 'Idol' winner is now signed through Sony BMG,"

American Idol is an extraordinarily successful show. Something kind of disturbing about his comments though as if you could actually compare Springsteen to this guy. One is an artist and one is a TV guy lucky enough and with a nice shtick to be on a mega hit show.
It’s the audacity of a comparison that’s nuts…and once again symbolizes the decent into junk culture. Not dissing him— what he says …it’s a fact. But, it’s still weird.
Some find Mc Cartney's deal with Starbucks disturbing. I don't. It's symbolic of the new world. He's probably a lot better off with a fresh approach and a built in retail partner than flogging along with an old school label. I imagine that having Paul will force some interesting thinking on ways to maximize their investment beyond the old way that didn't seem to be working too well. Plus I think Concord is a very adventurous group that adds depth to the situation. We have an arrangement with Concord (and Starbucks). Those Concord guys are feisty.
Speaking of the younger end, I’ve been talking to as many young people as possible because not being remotely part of that generation I need to get into it to at least have SOME clue. The problem in talking to radio people about it is they are usually equally clueless and the big reports from the research companies that attempt are completely useless. Here are some bullets from meeting with the young as it relates to satellite radio primarily. And it still feels strange to say “young” but I can’t figure out a word that isn’t in Arbitron lingo or is condescending:

. The people I talked to (people—that’s a good word) had some amazing points as well as volumes of mis perceptions about XM and Satellite Radio. I strongly believe that these people would generally love satellite radio, IF they were exposed to it. THAT'S the problem.
I believe there is a remarkable, but challenging opportunity to penetrate this segment. Keep in mind that this is more of a psychographic thing than a demographic one in that while there are 18-24's, the people I talked to are clearly more music/media sophisticated than a 20 year old waitress at Denny's that loves the latest Janet Jackson or Toby Keith single. No problem...just reality. On the other hand we need to be realistic that while we may remember when radio was the revered soundtrack to our generation, today’s younger person has NEVER heard a great radio station and the idea of broadcast radio being cool is unthinkable because of their condition and exposure to FM at its worst in the last 15 years. You know it’s not inconceivable on the idea that we might best serve ourselves by focusing and REALLY serving 40+ since they are more of the “natural” radio audience and the younger you get the more the concept of broadcast radio is an archaic one, but with that said here are some findings—highly condensed and not necessarily the end all—but certainly thought starters:

*Fear of Installing: "Our generation doesn't install things...we're used to convenience". Big push back when they perceive something needs to be installed. Too complicated. They want easy. Click, punch and satisfied. There is a complicated installation perception....that it's a hassle to set up sat radio. Words like “kit” and ‘install’ are scary. In reality, XM is easy…but there IS this fear…

*Wi-Fi: Why get XM when I can get anything on the Internet for free...and it's all coming to cars soon perception. (Well maybe---Personally I see a MAJOR trend toward NOTHING being free in this space), AND while this will be another piece of the media pie, at the end of the day best content wins.

* The "cool" cycle seems pretty short with this group. Once something reaches mass's not cool. Even My Space is headed that direction. Sometimes we align with tech partners AFTER they have culturally peaked…hard to keep track because new media cycles through cool faster than you can keep track.

*Starbucks is what Mc Donald's was to my generation. It's everywhere and used heavily, but there was low awareness of any XM tie in.

*"My parents love XM"---They prefer something that is "theirs". Their parents have NO idea what You Tube or Pandora is so they are attracted to that.

*They think celebrities are amusing but stupid. Again their parents are possibly impressed, but they are not. In showing our channel line-up they were very:

1. I can already get these people on TV
2. The artists are cool, but they thought the hip hop names were old school. "Once a Hip hopper makes movies" they lose us. Losing the street in transition to the screen.

…there’s no doubting the value of an Oprah or Baseball—but didn’t see a lot of traction with the celeb thing on this “lower demographic”.

*They want experimental and underground, using KCRW and Indie 103.5 as examples to those I talked to in LA. Funny—that they may not actually listen to those stations, but the “idea” of those stations is attractive. The biggest attraction to XM, was the fact we offered Blues, Jazz, Indie, etc....THAT was attractive, but not really understood. There's still this "Satellite is celebrities and lots of regular radio channels" image.

*They reject mainstream. "We are the ones that will change the mainstream" they thing. This of course is what EVERY generation of college students thinks. Personally we need to tap into this timeless "anti mainstream/establishment" vibe that EVERY college generation has. It's tricky since we ARE mainstream...but need to highlight our "NON mainstream side" to reach these people….and actually deliver.

*Cost perceptions. Too expensive. (it’s not)

*Availability of portable units. No idea "how it works". Confused. Generally perceived as complicated to set up and bulky. (Ah---it's just a "radio")....I call it "Device paranoia". Radios are easy, devices--not always easy.

*INTERNET. Unawareness that XM is available online. As we assume, Internet is cool..."radio" is not. Reason primarily is again, that a college student has "never" experienced a great radio station as someone over 30 has. They were introduced to radio during the creative doldrums of the 90's and tend to perceive it satellite, as corporate radio...just more channels. They don't seem to "get" that radio CAN be cool and it's all not like FM.

*Lack of eclectic choices. Not programming for "them"--more of the same, nothing experimental.

*Pop/Hit radio as it is today does NOT have traction. Hits are great but the mindless presentation based on 1980’s thinking helps us nail the coffin in this demographic. WE NEED TO DELIVER what we promise…they can see right through channels we have that are “marketed” as cutting edge but are ….not. Or a presentation of "the hits" that is aimed at a 9 year old with fake groovy cool as they expect to hear.

*Something that is more for their parents. They are all about You Tube and exotic internet destinations, but their parents are more into the "radio" thing.

Most importantly for us is to get back to street level thinking. Attacking this audience or NOT attacking this audience cannot be dealt with denial, an overly corporate perspective or looking at the very sick mainstream media as a guidepost.

Interesting stuff. A lot of mis-perceptions and challenges that require street thinking. “Getting it”. Throwing out the denial.

Then again---GETTING the younger demos to accept that radio CAN be good--is the real challenge...

Pete Seeger Artist confidential was incredible. Historic. He’s 88 years old. Engaged the packed house with incredible stories and even wrote a song on the spot and had the audience engaged in a sing-a-long.

Finally, I love guitars…XM’s FINE TUNING is doing an amazing celebration of guitars---that is worth a plug.

Fine Tuning in April
The 5th Annual

International Guitar Month

With Weekly Live XM performances

Week one:
Al DiMeola
8pmE Wed. April 4 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week two
Eric Johnson
8pmE Wed. April 11 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week 3
California Guitar Trio
8pm E Wed. April 18 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Week 4
The Incomparable Stanley Jordan with music and conversation
8pmE Wed. April 25 (Encore Fri. 5pm Sun. Noon E)

Ear colleges on guitar work and composing from the greats: Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Richards, Will Ackerman, Kaki King, Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Stanley Jordan and more all month long. Ear College is a cool concept—it’s where an artist of expert sorta does a “…For Dummies”: kinda thing. It started years ago when Martin Goldsmith our Classical guru did a sorta Classical 101. There are a lot of people like me that like Classical but are pretty clueless about it. You know the type: Love the melodies and drama but call pieces by the movie like the 2001 Theme. A quick and cool way to educate listeners without getting ponderous…and we need all the educating we can deliver.

Saturday, March 17, 2007



Went to the Canadian Music Week Conference in Toronto. Pretty well executed event fueled by intense Nationalism supporting the Canadian music cause. Unlike the industry conventions of the past, the vibe wasn’t who had the best dinners, who has the best after hours suites or the classic radio vs. records debates, but more about the new technology and if it was going to get screwed up by a music industry that is confused about how to deal with all of this emerging tech.

I was only there about 18 hours. Six hours of that going through security and customs at Toronto Airport. EIGHT different checkpoints. Coming INTO Canada I usually have issues. Back in about 1980 I was coming in to visit client Q-107. Gary Slaight the GM told me to just tell them I was coming up to visit friends. I tried that. Then the customs agent asked to look in my brief case. Sure enough, right on top was a letter from Q107 outlining our trip and all the details of our relationship. Well—into one of those secret rooms for a two hour going over. Heat lamp and “good cop bad cop” from the Customs Mounties. Eventually I was released but EVERY time I have gone into Canada I got a free trip to the “secret room” as I was now in the computer as an American doing the work that a Canadian could do. The worse arrival was in Chicago in ’78. Flew in and upon disembarking, two FBI types yell “Bingo” and arrest me. I was inbound from Miami and fit the description of a Puerto Rican terrorist from something called “the FLN”. Into “Room 301-B” at O’Hare for hard core questioning. Pleading that I was in town to visit WLUP as a consultant with no terror ties, they finally decided to call the station and verify. Well…The PD and GM were out and the receptionist never heard of me and then looked at the station directory. As consultant, I wasn’t on it. It was bad. Eventually, they DID make contact and after several hours I was released.

Then there was the time in San Francisco on an early KFOG visit, about 1980 that I got off a flight from Atlanta. Meeting me were PD Dave Logan and President of GE Broadcasting Randy Bongarten. I noticed my bag had about 50 baggage tags around it. Hmmm…that’s odd. Took 5 steps and two guys from the Justice Department grabbed me and said the Dogs found something in my bags. Yep---I had two joints. I immediately told them. They were incredibly nice and did a complete search and took the joints, called in to see if I had a criminal record (nope—never been arrested…not even close) Dave Logan was bummed that they took them and Randy; a conservative guy who was a closet rocker, thought the whole thing was amusing and part of the Rock n Roll experience which he hadn’t been part of at GE. It wasn’t, though the Government guys were extremely nice and chatty.

The worst was flying back from a 2 day trip to Holland when I was working with Golden Earring during their “Twilight Zone” era. Upon entering the US, a smiley customs agent asked me where I was and for how long. The second I said two days in the Netherlands, buzzers went off and 5 agents surrounded me and took me to Room 43-C. I quickly realized that two days in Amsterdam is the M.O. for heroin dealers. Once in “the room” a cute little Beagle entered, went to my briefcase and yelped with great authority. Huh? Was I set up? The agents tore the briefcase apart and found a cherry tomato that slipped in there off the lunch tray on the plane as I worked and ate at the same time on the 7 hour KLM flight. Whew! Then they tore ME apart. The opening line from the lead agent was “Have you ever lied to a Federal Agent before”—It went downhill from there. Three hours later I was released—they never really bought the “radio consultant” routine, and to this day still think I was a smuggler. Only thing I smuggled were a few ideas I picked up from Radio Veronica, a station over there.

I have a reputation as a wild man. In fact, I was but I’m pretty steady now…make that VERY steady. I just hope that is reflected in the network of Customs computers!

So back to Toronto where a clean me had an interesting panel. The problem with the panel is that it was all about technology. That’s fine…but there was a complete void of what goes ON that technology. I tried to steer the room toward content. Technology is wonderful but it doesn’t mean much---and won’t create fans---unless there’s some meat on the techno bone. At XM, there’s this term called the BIG 3: Passion, Character and Muscle. The “character” thing is where XM needs to have character…a vibe…an attitude; otherwise it’s simply a new technology. That’s an issue I see with many new technologies—great ideas…cool delivery system—but lacking in “character”. WITHOUT CHARACTER YOU BECOME A SERVICE and “services” don’t create Fans. And any entity that is about entertainment—needs FANS to succeed long term. Fandom is the #1 marketing tool on earth. Create fans and regardless of what you are—you are in the game. Technology development needs to be balanced with Creative development, just like Wall Street needs to be balanced with Main Street. It’s all about balance! You can do well being a “service” but if you claim to be in the entertainment business—you gotta entertain, and devise and technology deliver entertainment but don’t create it.

Toronto reminded me of some great experiences. In the mid 70’s we signed Q-107. A new license. To go Rock. Dave Charles was the Program Director and John Parikhal was the…well I’m not sure what he did but he was part of the brain trust. Visits to Toronto were all night brainstorms geared to navigate through the heavy regulations, but create some cool radio. Later on, Gary Slaight assumed the top position there and those visits, while vastly different from the Parikhal/Charles visits were also pretty interesting. Even though Canada was next to the USA, the attitudes were refreshing. A balance of wanting to learn the American tricks with a fierce defense of the Canadian way. If you can ride the balance, there was magic. With Charles, Parikhal and Slaight we always hit that stride. In all of our visits, we camped out in a trade-out suite at the Plaza II Hotel on Yonge and Bloor. Rarely stepped into the station. No need. We’d call people over who needed to be seen and spent the rest of the time with 12 radios blaring re-inventing the world. SO much better than going into the station and spending tedious minutes going through the play list. We operated on a higher level. The play list was fine. If it wasn’t we’d fix it in 3 minutes and get on to the bigger picture stuff. As a consultant I always preferred to get the mechanics like rotations out of the away and then look at the things that were beyond mechanics—what made stations GREAT. I hope we do that at XM too. Get the music architecture locked in and then focus on the things that make it soar. Funny, I look at the greatest clients I had in terms of success and those were the stations where you’d set the play list and inspire the people to continue to explore, but really spend face time on bigger higher things. The play list, DJ chatter and the other classic “critique” things were rarely touched. It was all just on a higher level of interaction instead of sitting around talking about the afternoon guys talking too much and the minute music rotation things that are fake science that NO listener would ever notice. Kinda like Arbitron distortion techniques where you play a certain song at a certain time to influence ratings diary keepers. It’s SO absurd and a complete waste of time. FM really suffered from fake science. Trying to get clever and doing little tricky things that you’d think would move the ratings needle. I used to be like that—but you eventually realize that it’s complete radio nonsense. Band-Aids and tricks.

Back in DC, Artist Confidential is really starting to get into swing for the 2007 season. Talk about diverse. In two weeks we have Eddie Money—in fine form! Joss Stone and Pete Seeger which will be hosted by Robert Aubrey Davis, a passionate expert on Folk and the guy who runs Vox and The Village. In fact it starts in a couple of minutes as I write. Pete’s one of those guys that not everyone “gets” but in terms of musical history—he is iconic and will be known and revered far longer than any “junk culture” artist that won’t be here after they gain weight and are no longer cool to 9 year olds for 8 months. Not a “bad” thing---but not a lasting thing you want to go down in history for! A challenge here is to get Programmers to air more versions of songs recorded here live. We have over 5,000 sessions covering every genre and we are the ONLY ones to have exclusive versions of songs recorded here. The quality is outstanding and the versions are generally pretty amazing. Everything from Coldplay doing Clocks to Phil Collins in the Air Tonight to more obscure but fascinating live recordings in every genre. Our Blues collection alone deserves a museum spot. These are an XM “trademark” that we haven’t done a very good job of maximizing. Some channels have, but in the big picture, these songs and this vast archive is a big mystery. That sucks. We gotta change that! We did do “Ju-live” which was a full month of all of our live recordings. I still get shit for that name. Some think its plain lame—and Gary Hahn our SVP in marketing claims it’s anti Semitic as it sounds like “Jew-Live”. I still kinda like it…but maybe it is lame. The anti Semitic thing is…huh?

First Artist Confidential: Latino! Was a HUGE success. Jesus Salas conducted the thing like a pro. Total command…great rapport…fantastic. The entire thing was in Spanish so I didn’t understand a word. BUT—you can read the room and KNOW it was magic!

Big weekend for flying. On Saturday took Ray Knight our Senior Country Programmer and Eric Logan up to Syracuse. Eric was meeting his Wife there and was then going to drive back. Eric spent most of the flight complaining about Syracuse weather while Ray, a Syracuse native defended the city raving about the beautiful summers. We picked up HIS wife who was there visiting and flew them back. Nice flying weather—then once we got 50 miles from Syracuse it went to hell. Made a nice Instrument approach into SYR Runway 10 in the fog and rain…make the Wife Swap, and flew back. Then Sunday took my daughter back to school in South Carolina with XM Computer whiz Jonathan Lochhaas and his wife. A lot of flying. The plane is highly automated, but you gotta stay focused as you are “managing” the flight. Can’t drift off. My plane has XM Weather which is a life saver. Real weather info delivered to the cockpit via XM satellites. What I have sitting in my hangar is the XM Radio kit…finally got FAA approval last year—but I’m scared to hook it up—the last thing I need to do is start critiquing channels while flying in the system…I wish I could just “listen”…I can’t—I have enough trouble driving a car and tuning around, recording thoughts into a Dictaphone and staying on the road.

Monday, March 12, 2007



Another kind of radio that I think has lost its way is "Alternative". What says it all is that originally it was called that because it was an...Alternative. Along the way though, it became a format name seemingly meaning current era artists that don't fit the old AOR or CHR definition. A throw-away. Alternative isn't an's a format name. In fact it's about as alternate as Mc Donald’s. If some alien landed on earth and heard "Alternative" radio they'd wonder what's alternative about this? It's yet another component in radio bullshitting listeners. And you wonder why radio has a bad rap among younger listeners? The thing that really gets me about “Alterative” is that there seems to be an FCC regulation that all these stations have to have the filtered “man in a box” production not to mention a striking sameness in graphic identity. Sameness is pretty common, but it plays to the absurdity of “alternative”. Alternative things are…alternatives. Alternative radio stations that are the same as other Alternative radio stations strikes me as …weird, and not “good”: weird. Lame weird. Hardly an alternate to the mainstream.

One thing that happens at some stations, but not nearly enough is for stations that are all about DISCOVERING music, having programmers that actually LISTEN and SEEK interesting new artists. At FM I noticed that practically all programmers relied on record companies and trade papers to learn about emerging artists. That makes NO sense—at least is very limiting. I call it “lunch instead of listening” where if that programmer would spend as much time listening and studying the underground than lunching and chatting with promotion people, they would provide an infinitely better music perspective to their listeners. Record companies and trades are a part of the equation, but for a station that’s about discovery, nothing is more important than sleuth work…being ahead of the curve. By the time a label is plugging it, it’s too late—plus they are looking for tonnage where a “discovery” oriented radio station should look for cool and interesting—Before it hits the label radar. And Trades are simply regurgitating what another stations are playing based on what labels tell them to play. Personally, I used to scan every issue of Melody Maker, Sounds, NME and other UK trades. I found SO much music—some for personal pleasure, others for recommendations to clients. I discovered Genesis way before the “industry” did by reading about them in Melody Maker, then the important music mag in England.

No bash on labels or trades—they are part of the equation. But for being a station that is about DISCOVERY, labels and trades are increasingly irrelevant. Pouring over true alternative (not “alternative radio”) charts, college info, and the hundreds of other tools, instead of being a sheep and ONLY following the label and trade herd is where it’s at. And it really isn’t just about “youth” formats. It’s about ALL formats where musical discovery is a factor. Listening vs. Lunching. Getting BACK to the street that radio in particular and the Industry in general has seemed to forget about as you get sucked into the “system”…and the system is sick.

Last week I was the CMW Conference in Toronto. Overheard two guys, apparently from “Alternative stations”. They were debating lunch plans. One guy wanted to go to a record store and check it out. The other insisted that he had to go to lunch with a promotion guy. I’d want to hire the guy who went to the record store. Record company relationships are a good thing but my guess is that the lunch was…a lunch and probably more about back slapping than anything tangible. The guy going to the store was IN THE GROOVE. The guy going to lunch was IN THE INDUSTRY. Big difference. The “Industry” is baggage…the groove is the street. In a perfect world—the label guy would go with both of the programmers to the record store and blow off lunch…but the world ain’t perfect.

Along these lines, I recall when overseas radio was Government controlled docu-radio and the USA had the excitement. In 1964, rebels created Pirate stations off the coast of the UK to present American style radio in an era when the BBC types were still in the 1930's. NOW its 180 degrees from that, the exciting terrestrial radio is overseas. well, not completely as many emulate US radio, but the point is that it seems the critical experimental qualities of American radio that live on the edge of culture has been erased by a research and marketing driven cause that tries to figure out how to get the message across without actually doing anything beyond the marketing message. You know--the station that talks about "On the Cutting Edge" but in reality--they ain't. As if listeners will buy that. Lies! The 180 degree change in the attitude of artists visiting America is scary. Back then, artists would come here and couldn’t keep their fingers off the dial. It was exciting. Now, artists come here and the tendency is to talk about how they wish we had stations like they had in their home Countries. More Junk Culture thinking invading our Nation’s once proud entertainment heritage.

When we did our AOR thing in the 70's and 80's the one thing we never did is even remotely claim we were underground, which was the “alternative” of that era. We weren't. We were above ground. We were as underground as Stairway to Heaven. Imagine if we tried to be underground. Listeners would have seen right through that. That's where I got my first lesson in TRUTH. Tell it like it is and listeners will ultimately respect you rather than resent you.

There's new terminology out there, or at least terms we’ve known for eons but have hit the mainstream. I think radio has to get more involved in the language. Terms like digitally remastered, Box Set, Bonus Track, demo, Download. Pretty common stuff but I don't hear these terms being mentioned in a lot of DJ raps. Another disconnect with contemporary “street” vernacular? OK—many people could care less, but overhearing a conversation at a popular coffee bar, a bunch of guys were arguing about the “demo” version they heard in a box set being better than the digitally remastered version. Hmmm…you don’t hear a lot of radio people talking this language. In fact, many radio stations are satisfied with simply playing the “radio” version and not even considering alternative versions of songs much less discussing them. Mike Marrone at the Loft collects alternative versions in his temperature controlled CD and vinyl vault under his home. He played me unusual mixes of everything from Sgt. Pepper to Fleetwood Mac to Todd Rundgren. I was blown away. You’d think that, assuming it’s legal, you’d WANT to turn listeners onto cool different versions. To inform. I know you can “educate” listeners to the point where it becomes tedious, but who wouldn’t want to hear different and interesting versions of popular songs? Well, some may not, but MANY may. The point being there’s more to music than radio versions and there’s more to radio than limiting yourself to banal “radio raps:.

John Mayer Artist Confidential at Jazz at Lincoln Center happened on March 2. George Taylor Morris and the entire crew went up via Amtrak the night before. I scoffed at the idea of being on a train for three hours and opted to take the Delta Shuttle the next morning. The 7:30 was cancelled...then the 8:30...then got on the 9:30. Sat at the gate until 11. Then they said it would leave at Noon. That would put me in NYC one hour AFTER the show was over. I missed it. First one I've missed in the 60 we've done. The crew reports back that it was incredible. Maybe I'll take Amtrak next time...or just fly myself. I didn't this time because the weather in NYC was REAL bad.

Speaking of Weather, I have a love/ hate with The Weather Channel. I do respect them for putting some entertainment value in the weather. I recall joking back in 1970 that one day there'd be a channel that had nothing but weather. Roars of laughter as the others in the room suggested equally bizarre ideas like a channel of all cartoons. But the Weather Channel came and I admire some of the lines they've come up with like "Alberta Clipper" or 'Nor’easter'. They INVENTED these dramatic terms for weather events. Then about a year ago they started wording their casts as if they were IN your town. Some weather person at headquarters says "Here in Toledo, we are feeling the cold...." Wait a minute you are NOT in Toledo, you are in Atlanta. They do that A LOT—tricky wording to imply that they are IN the city they’re referring to. If it’s a remote with a person on the street—fine, but their studio is clearly NOT in your home town. That’s just as bad as a voice track guy in Austin pretending he’s in Spokane. That stuff WILL haunt you later. Pure media trickery.

Stanley Jordan is one of the great, and completely under-rated guitarists. A genius. He is penciled in to play at XM and I’m pretty excited. I first met Stanley in a very odd and amusing situation. Back in about ’82, we had a Superstars convention which was an annual get together of our clients and half the music industry. Those were the heady days when record companies would go all out and rent lavish suites, fly in artists and put on a show. The days were intense sessions about the state of radio and music, and the nights were massive partying that went till dawn. Four days of health ruining debauchery, but tempered with intense learning, dialogue and interaction. One night, our client the NBC Source Network had one of the lavish suites. Steve Ray Vaughn came by and jammed, and a new guy named Stanley Jordan was in attendance. Early in the evening he was sitting around playing. Man—was he playing! Weird tunings, strange technique with unbelievable speed and accuracy running though brilliant solo works including a life changing version of Eleanor Rigby. We were floored. He became the centerpiece of the packed room. Around midnight Stevie Ray comes in and plugs in. In all total respect to SRV, he tried to jam with Stanley and after about 10 minutes hung up his guitar and bowed to him. Totally different styles of course, but anyone of SRV’s caliber that bows to another guitarist is saying something pretty powerful. Stanley kept playing all night. SRV watched intently. By 6am the suite finally started to clear out. I said—Lets get breakfast! I recalled a place called Lester’s Diner. So about six of us piled into the rented Chevy and attempted to drive over to Lester’s…pretty buzzed and blinded by the morning South Florida Sun. I am to this day, amazed we weren’t arrested…or beat up. First there was the completely reckless driving—even drove by a bunch of Police officers arresting someone and yelling some obnoxious but pro-police lines like “You guys Roooock”. Since Stanley didn’t do as much as LOOK at the drugs and liquor that was going around—the plan was to have HIM talk if we got stopped, backed by then Source GM Frank Cody who was as fucked up as the rest of us but has this ability to look completely un-stoned. Then we made it to Lester’s. Picture a lot of Southern truck drivers and laborers and in walk a bunch of ragged rock n roll types and a jazz musician. Got some strange looks.

A few days later I was back in Atlanta and RAVED to everyone about Stanley. We got a ton of play on Eleanor Rigby and a few other tracks…but then kinda lost touch as he went back into Jazz land. I guess that’s his natural place, but on the other hand ANYONE who likes the sound of the guitar needed to and needs to discover this guy! It IS OK for channels to play songs that are “out of format” in many cases as Stanley sounded GREAT on AOR then. I remember that WLRS in Louisville had a Fusion Jazz show on Sunday’s and played Mediterranean Sundance by Al DiMeola ONE…The phones went berserk for a week. They added the track. It went crazy. It was the fastest most intense guitar imaginable and the Clapton/Beck crowd completely embraced it. I spread the word to our other clients and the reaction was the same everywhere. I try to impress that we need this kind of thinking again---where its about exciting he LISTENERS and not being so tied to the rule book that you can’t do some crazy things musically that helps turn listeners into FANS.

Monday, March 05, 2007



This is not a jab at Top 40 radio, the stations or the people running them. It’s a question mark. A possibility that I think needs addressing:

I wonder if the model for Top 40 radio is dead. Pop, CHR, mainstream Top 40 (or whatever you want to call it)songs are certainly pretty dominant but I gotta wonder if the way it’s presented on radio which is really a 52 year old architecture is fading from relevancy faster than you’d think. Maybe teens blatantly prefer picking THEIR top songs, loading them into their device and listening to them that way instead of listening to a radio station…waiting to hear their faves in between songs they don’t like, complicated by a blabbering DJ, ‘promos’ for tickets to a concert they’ll never win and an artificiality as plastic as a starlets chest.. Worked many years ago, but this ain’t many years ago. Back then there was no You Tube, Internet, and scores of other cool music listening applications. Radio was IT. Maybe today a Top 40 station should be more about DISCOVERY where they hear songs first that they may want to eventually load into their device. Maybe it's about COMPLETELY rethinking or even eliminating the DJ component whose style, might be painfully out of date in today's You Tube era. The biggest issue is denial. Afraid to accept that a sound and style that was such a part of the Nation's soundscape is over--- Radio people thinking this CAN’T be happening. Well—Personally I think it is. Top 40 radio strikes me as being used as a utility more than something that is creating and nurturing FANS.

To complicate things, Teens sure hate radio…and it’s not too surprising. Maybe hate is a strong word, but I’m thinking the majority think it’s pretty irrelevant, if not plain dumb. Not too hard to figure though. Unlike an old guy like me that remembers when AM and FM stations were iconic and part of life’s fabric, younger people may have first tuned into radio when they were 10. That’s 1997. The peak of over commercialized, absurd playlists, (not about length as much as the blind leading the blind instead of looking the street in the eye) artificially manufactured DJ’s and goofy production. I can never remember a time when “young” radio was SO out of sync with the streets. I think there are a few urban and country stations that at least TRY…but mainstream pop stations, alt stations and the like are jokingly out of sync. That’s why I believe traditional radio research blows. The idea of it is of course important…but the ways it’s done is blatantly flawed or else these research driven stations would be pointed in the right direction. I was listening to some tapes of stations way back—and they connected…they were almost experimental in nature. Today’s tight ass corporate sounding utilities (aka Pop stations) are what gives XM promise in that demographic…but it ain’t easy convincing listeners that we’re NOT like FM…AND—we have our own challenges to indeed NOT be like FM…ain’t easy. I call it the “Blender factor”. Blender being a cool magazine that seems to be in sync whereas the typical low age target stations are more like a cross between a bad tabloid and a weak attempt at the late Teen People. It’s important for our people to shed their baggage in the pop world, because it NEEDS shedding and the baggage is diseased. Our 20 on 20 and some of the other channels certainly aren't bad by any means, in fact they do a good job---My point is not about how the channels sound--it's WHAT is the plan that'll re-engage teens to radio in the 21st century as the tried and true way that worked last century is dated. I hope we find the answer. Recognizing that it's an issue instead of denial is the first step. Thinking about it--aggressively blowing up the playbook and decisively challenging the old way in order to create a NEW way that might just deliver the approach needed to connect in 2007 and beyond. Radio in its traditional form CAN become a medium of the aged as the new listeners opt for something that reflects THEIR era, and it's worth questioning if "youth radio" does that today.

Part of the problem I've noticed with programmers reaching out to teens is age distortion. You think you are targeting 12-24 year olds, but in reality the thing is geared for 8-14 year olds. I really wonder if anyone over 14 is impressed with Paris Hilton, whereas I can see a 9 year old being enthralled...but then you see stations targeting 16-24 year olds covering Paris and Brittney as if they are taken seriously--something I doubt. The "interest" is more of a joke. Of course all of this "12-24" stuff really has NOTHING to do with programming...zilch. They are advertising definitions. In fact it's all Bullshit unless you are selling ads. What I'm trying to say is I don't think many Top 40 stations truly reach & touch people over (for lack of a better reference) 14 year olds.

Then there’s the marketing challenge of convincing young non believers that radio is “OK”---but that’ll backfire unless it REALLY is ‘OK’—otherwise they’ll hear the message, tune in and be disappointed. If you convince people to check it out—you gotta blow ‘em away, and deliver on the promise. Nothing is worse for the cause than convincing someone that you got the goods and then delivering something that doesn’t come through. It’s deeper than a standard marketing challenge…it’s about AFDI’ing and delivering something that’s REALLY good…and attacks all the reasons they think radio is bad.

It’s a lot easier to do older targeted stations because the blueprint has been designed and while many formats that have been around for awhile disintegrated, they DID have a period when they were dead on it. It’s a matter of authentically and correctly re-creating the magic from their best eras, or inventing it as many older skewing channels are more eclectic or interesting in nature and have never been done. I see nothing wrong with “re-creating” formats that are long gone like the ones in our decades channels because those were great days that deserve to be re-lived. Re-creating or mimicking 80’s and 90’s radio is scary because I don’t think we should mimic what sucked. The challenge is to invent new takes on more contemporary formats. Fighting the urge to do it as it’s been done as many of these formats never REALLY had a golden era…at least not in the minds of civilians. Yes—you go to radio conventions and hear everyone jacking each other about how K-108 is “kicking ass” though real listeners may have a different impression. My point is either to invent, re-invent or re-create…and to know which channels need invention, re-invention or re-creation. Not easy. The radio mind tends to think that the stations you worked at that had high ratings were great. Period. I wish rating services had a “satisfaction” factor. It’s sort of like any utility. You use it but don’t necessarily LIKE it. At XM we are in the business of getting people to LIKE us…A LOT, so they’ll pay. I think we do that…but can always do it better. There are still 200+ million people without satellite radio. Never has it been more important to think like real people instead of industry types. It used to be when a listener had an idea, the response was “We’re in radio…you aren’t—go away” (or at least we’d THINK that). OR—you bury yourselves in data that is likely flawed in the first place but looks cool. Bottom line—it all distances yourself from the street…and with all the competition out there—the street CAN be your best friend….if you let it.

Many "oldies" stations are dropping DJ's. Not sure I get that. I guess that is a difference in XM. Our decades channels, particularly the 50s and 60's are created and programmed to mirror the way a Top 40 station sounded back then. Authenticity. It should screw with your head...take you back to 19-- to the point where you lose all sense of time. We bought the ORIGINAL PAMS Jingles, run old ads (so campy that no-one could possibly consider them "real" ads in the ad free environment), DJ’s who UNDERSTAND the spirit of radio on those eras. 60's even has Chickenman. FM Oldies radio is SO lame. A SHORT list of songs presented by DJ's who weren't born then, using 2007 techniques. We opt to recreate the sound...the attitude...the vibe. Why? Because it WAS brilliant! Why would we NOT want to recreate...authentically, the golden era of music radio? Those stations had 60 shares...musta been doing it right. People who were there wax on about the magic. There isn't a person on earth who was there back then who can't name most of the DJ's. They were the years that defined great radio. In fact, at XM Bootcamps, I’ve played old tapes so our people can hear it...and transfer that magic to their channel and this era. Unless you are old enough to have lived through that era, there’s a tendency to use more recent radio as your standard. That robs you of understanding radios potential. If you grew up with radio in the 80's and 90's, that's like being a modern rock artist without having experienced the Beatles, or a Metal artist that never listened to Black Sabbath or a Country artist that never bothered checking out Hank Williams Sr. You don't have to have lived in the era to apply the magic, but you DO have to experience it...otherwise you'll NEVER reach your potential. That's why I'm into history. I don't think you can design the future without understanding the past.

One of the things about XM is that we try to put DJ's where they mean something. Some channels they mean nothing--it's all abut music. But for us, the 50;s and 60's are all about personality. It's REAL hard to make it work, but we try, and I think it is working splendidly.

We DID drop a daily show called CQ, where listeners phoned in. In reality, live call ins were NOT part of 60's radio. Then again, it sounded pretty good and allowed us to engage the Nation. But it DID get out of control so we backed it to weekends. Might bring it back more frequently...we'll see.

The real gem of our Decades channels is the salutes Terry Young does of the great Top 40s of bygone days. He just did WQAM in Miami which as I always say--was the best. Did another favorite WLS a few weeks ago and had Ron Riley co-hosting. Ron was a WLS stalwart in the mid 60's. WLS is a good station to study. They were a station aimed at farmers for years, and then in '60 they went to Top 40, but were saddled with everything from Don McNeil's breakfast club to hour long news blocks. Eventually they really came into their own with guys like Dick Biondi at night...WCFL threatened them with a clean and highly cinematic presentation in '65. John Rook came in around 68 and cleaned WLS up a lot, and throughout it al, WLS remained dominant. Terry's salute brought it all back...and it was an education.

Saw this about The Associated Press NOT covering Paris Hilton. Not a bad idea for a “legitimate” new operation. There are plenty of tabloids that can cover her running out of gas or partying with Brittney.

Paris the Thought: A.P. Says Au Revoir to Hilton Hottie

On Feb. 13, the Associated Press declared its plans to boldly go where few wire services would dare to go in this day and age: the no–Paris Hilton zone.

“Next week,” entertainment editor Jesse Washington wrote in an e-mail memo obtained by The Transom, “the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.

“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”

The results of the experiment, naturally, will be fodder for a future A.P. story. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” read the memo, which could have used some stern copy-editing, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”

Reached for comment, Mr. Washington said, “There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing. A lot of people in the newsroom were saying this was tampering with the news.” One editor’s response was apparently: “This is a great idea—can we add North Korea?”

Mr. Washington said he was inspired by the fact that, in the past year, Ms. Hilton has appeared on the A.P. wire about twice a week.

“We got lucky,” he said. “Totally by accident, her birthday party was the day before we started the experiment. There really weren’t any major news stories involving Paris, so we didn’t have that many really tough decisions to make.” Though “her name did pop up in a couple stories, despite my best efforts.”

…to be continued