THE HORRORS OF CLEARING CUSTOMS…AND GOOD TIMES IN CANADA
THE HORRORS OF CLEARING CUSTOMS…AND GOOD TIMES IN CANADA
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.