Monday, April 09, 2007



Our Traditional Country Channel is "Willie's Place"...used to be Hanks Place but Willie Nelson 'bought it'. Instead of simply a press release and a hollow "artist endorsement", Willie actually listens and has ideas. I think he likes the fact that it's an AUTHENTIC channel. Smell the speakers and you'll smell chewing tobacco, stale beer and worn out 45's from an old Wurlitzer. Modeled after the way an AM Country station in Lubbock probably sounded circa 1955. Willie likes that authenticity and so do XM listeners. It performs outrageously well.

So...Willie has some ideas. Me, Paul Bachmann, ray Knight and Jim Mc Bean pile into my plane and we trek up to Danbury Connecticut to meet with Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager and a guy named Zack who Willie and Mark would like to produce a new show idea Willie has. Those three guys live way up in Maryland so I flew from Manassas Virginia (my home airport) and stopped at Frederick Maryland to pick the guys up. Beautiful day for flying. Nice flight up to Danbury. Upon arriving we rented a car figuring we'd want to check out the local vibe before we left. Mark met us and we followed him to his office--exactly 5 blocks away. So much for cruising the countryside.

Arriving at Marks office, we see a true Yankee Fan. Goose Gossage's jersey, signed pictures of the '60 Yanks and tons of memorabilia. I wanted to engage him in a baseball conversation, but it's useless and Yankee fans are impossible to talk to as they have this thing about their team being God's gift to baseball. Annoying.

We dove into conversation about Willie's Place. I kept pretty quiet the whole time and listened. Ray, Paul and Jim are the guys who have to make things happen, so I sat back and made sure no-one said anything that we'd regret later. They didn't. Often in the heat of a meeting with a manager or artist you can tend to promise exciting things---only to find out they are undoable later. Important to be straight forward and realistic. The only time I got involved was with the suggestion that Willie does his show when he feels like it for that spontaneously. Ah---I think we need SOME kind of schedule guys....Anyways-meeting went great. Zack was a pretty impressive guy. Day job is Film maker and the guy who designed anti Bush playing cards. By night he is an expert on Traditional Country. I hope things work out with him as he'll be a nice dimension to the group...which is all about authenticy and integrity...two things hard to come by these days.

After the meeting was wrapped, it was time to soak in local culture, so I pulled out printouts from a site that has all the best local joints to eat at. It was between The Goulash House which is known for "incredibly rude and inept angry hostess and great goulash". Paul violently objected and wanted to go to the “Waterfall Inn” a diner…..nah, too obvious, so we went to plan B Then I took a hit from Paul about listening to the XM radio in the car. “Not Fine Tuning! For Chrissake Lee!” So we settled on Soul Street and Chill. (actually—in my car I start at 4 and just keep going up the dial—but I have this Fine Tuning image) We also considered eating at JRs. They are knows for their Black and White pathology of Weenie history on their walls. It had the biggest # of reports on, but we decided that the place was almost too reputable. So it was The Amigo Deli. A Cuban deli and market. After a few passes, we found the place. Talk about Authentic! We were far and away the only Anglos...and the only ones who spoke English in the place. It was kind of a dump, but it had character. Cases and cases of weird Animal parts and strange alien vegetables. Strode up to the counter. After several language issues we ordered. Mc Bean got some strange Chicken stew along with Tamarind Nectar, I got a Cuban sandwich, Ray got something he didn't order and Paul got a Chicken Parm Sub (in a Cuban place???!!) though he actually ordered a Cuban sandwich and Ray ordered fish---it was ah, an ordering “experience”. An extra Cuban sandwich came with our order and Paul devoured it. The staff there thought we were from Mars but seemed to enjoy the attention. Mc Bean was clicking photos of the exotic food with a wonderful shot of miscellaneous animal parts I’m sure.

After the Amigos experience--back to the airport. Flew just west of Manhattan for a nice view of the city. Then over Allentown, we flew over a series of Hot Air balloons at Sunset. Beautiful. Then--me and Ray saw a UFO. Looked like a guy in a bike at 7000 feet. Peddling fast as it zipped by. Still not sure what it was—definitely more UFO than aircraft. Probably not a vehicle from Zarcon....probably not a guy on a bike. Oh well....swamp gas I guess. I sure as hell aren’t going to report it. More important was the fact that Mc Bean had to pee. I pulled out a US Air Force approved bag that turns pee into solid material. He held it---probably a good thing. Dropped the guys off at Frederick and flew back into enormous air traffic to Manassas.

FROM THE WAY BACK MACHINE: Here’s a note to the staff (though we only had 27 employees in programming at the time!!) from 2000. We're pretty stable but 9 are still here from those on the distribution list on this particular memo. I like to review these to make sure that while we have to evolve and stay in sync, we also keep our creative roots in check—most of this stuff is still relevant:

From: Lee Abrams Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2000 1:57 PMTo: Lee Abrams; Ward Cleaver; Josh Cunningham; Kurt Gilchrist; Kenny Curtis; Rick Lambert; Redbeard; Mark Parenteau; Lori Parkerson; Eddie Webb; Dan Turner; Kevin Straley; Irina Lallemand; Bob Mckowycz; Sari Zalesin; Charlie Logan; Dave Logan; Matt Wolfe; Michelle Hammond; Dave Logan; Blake Lawrence; Steve Harris; Ray Knight; Cleveland Wheeler; Blake Lawrence; Phlash Phelps; Wayne JobsonSubject: ELECTRIC MOMENTS FROM THE LAND OF CORN

Can't stress enough the importance of cool new names for features and "stuff" that happens on your channel.
Electric Moments from the Land of Corn.
...that slogan WILL mean something IF you attach a concept to it!
YOU are in control. Obviously, the slogan or name must be in the language of your format. That slogan on Classical is TOO bent...but on FRED, it might just work.....
Obviously, these crazed names and slogans are most effective once you have people listening to you and understand vibe, focus, environment and point of view of your channel...
Once listeners "get" what you're's time to go nuts with names. Again, nuts is a relative term and needs to be "nuts" in terms of YOUR listeners.
Historically, crazed inventive names GET REMEMBERED, and enhance your image.
Remember: Psychedelic Psupper vs. Oldies at Six.
We need to think like artists, NOT RADIO GEEKS. If Eric Clapton was a radio guy, Disraeli Gears would have been called "Hard Rock music featuring the wah wah pedal" or Exile on Main Street from the Stones would've been "New selections from the Rolling Stones"

"Hi...who's this?" "Whereya callin from?" (on music formats)

Many of our formats will be PHONE HEAVY. On those formats, we want XM to sound like the "mouth of America" with people and accents from across the land.
It's part of our "Not local????...Damn right...we're National, big and proud" spirit. A big part of that is the experience of listeners hearing all of America represented on the phones.

The problem is that most phone calls die before they get started due to a clichéd opening line.

Re-think this...there's more to life than "Hi who's this, whereya callin' from?"
Maybe it's:

"Speak to me!"


"You're on XM...GO!"

"Eat Me!" (Well.....we need to talk about this one first....)

(On the 70's format) "OK, quick, name your favorite Brady"

...the point is Call Openers need to be re-thought........ESPECIALLY important on our National platform! XM IS ALL ABOUT AMERICA!

XM Boot Camp starts shortly. After boot camp, THEN,”formal" format design starts........
As you know, we must RE-THINK EVERYTHING! we must CREATE A STUNNING AND OBVIOUSLY NEW SOUND...As Fresh to today’s' FM listener as FM was to an AM listener 30 years ago OK, you know that.

Many of our formats are "firsts" so the fact that it exists is exciting enough....but with ESTABLISHED formats:

We often talk about re-inventing specials, production, etc....That's critical, the little things add up BUT....
We can also (in many cases) re-invent BIG, MAJOR PARTS OF THE FORMATS' ARCHITECTURE. For example:

XM Classics: Instead of a tweedy bow-tied pipe smoking 80 year old professor sound.... No-one has ever heard Classical like that.

XM 60's on 6/ 70s on 7: We will be introducing”memory cluster" music sequencing. This WILL revolutionize Oldies Radio. Songs clustered 24/7 in three song sets from a given season, so memories BURN IN and are not simply fleeting moments as the typical oldies station navigates from era to era. We will let an era...a point in time, BURN IN. Three from Spring '66, next Three from Summer 69,(along with sound bites FROM that moment) etc......They will just happen as "the way" we program....this station will give people chills. These formats will sound more like UNSCOPED AIRCHECKS from a given date than "Oldies Stations"

This is a difficult and often fruitless exercise....but It's important you think beyond Where traditional spot breaks go....beyond what happens at: 00......... Beyond putting sweepers between songs......BURN THE RULE BOOK....BURN THE PLAYBOOK. It's our responsibility to create a new radio order that attacks and updates the BASIC CLOCK ARCHITECTURE.....or the ACCEPTED WAY OF DOING THINGS.....Your "bold" idea for a total new architecture may not pan out...but give it some thought. The point here is: RADICALLY changing the basic format structure.

YOU DON'T CHANGE THE WORLD WITH A FEW NEW THINGS...THINK OVERHAUL. Radio now is a great reliable, efficient 727......
XM needs to be the first hypersonic transport. That’s takes some design change beyond bigger overhead compartments, if ya know what mean!

Most stations out there aren't necessarily "bad"...they're "average....that’s why they sit there with a 3 share
Baseball team that’s playin' 500 ball is average......that’s why they're doing 15,000 instead of 51,000 a game
most new CDs released are Average....which is why they don’t sell
most new restaurants that open are average...which is why 75% of them close within six months.
AVERAGE is a way of life......99.9999% of America is pretty Average, make average acceptable.
We can very easily do average radio. Piece of cake...and you know what? It wouldn't sound would sound average.
We'd be "acceptable".....
An example of extremely bad is our proposed "Worlds Worst Music" channel. Yes friends, Extremely Bad is good the singer Stern has on his show that’s SO bad it's amusing....or Tiny Tim, or pro wrestling from the 60's, or the 1965 Mets, or William Shatner singing Beatles Songs.
The point: THINK EXTREME!!!!!!!!

EXTREME GETS NOTICED. Average gets lost.
Extremely Great: (my opinion here...but you get the point) first Star Wars Dark Side of the Moon
Extremely Different: This amazing Celtic Jazz harp record I heard Pulp Fiction Beavis & Butthead (it DID get noticed)
Extremely Bad: WWF (so bad it's brilliant) Carl's Red-Hot’s (A toemain infested dive in Chicago...the best) .....

THE KEY BETWEEN EXTREMELY BAD (but effective) or EXTREMELY BAD (and it will kill you):
Extremely bad but effective is based on authenticity, originality and quality
Extremely bad but will kill you is based on nothing authentic, nothing original and of low other words, average.

MTV WAS brilliant at "EXTREME"......good, bad or different, it WAS always EXTREME, and it always gets NOTICED.

All radio stations must have a van (I know we have a van....but I'm referring to promotional vans). Now, Vans were totally cool in ' that corny neighbor of yours has one. That ain't cutting edge. For the price of a van, a station can buy a used Caddy Limo....a used fire truck....a Tank......a '57 Desoto
The point is "re-thinking" rather than "accepting" that the station vehicle must be a van. Talk about a cliché!!!!!

America loves to Party! So....CREATE PARTIES. XM has the power to create holidays. Liquid Metal can claim "October 14th is Liquid Metal Day"....if you do it right, especially after we have a nice Fan base built up, America will be celebrating Liquid Metal Day in every city and burgh across the Country. Or "Garth Brooks Day" or whatever. HOLIDAYS DO NOT HAVE TO BE TRADITIONAL. Christmas and Thanksgiving are cool...but hell, we need MORE holidays. The answer: CREATE THEM. Through intense "sell" on the air, YOU have the POWER to create Holidays.

Radio has an inferiority complex....."We’re just radio" in the age of Internet & TV....Screw that! WE are the power.

Speaking of parties.....

THE BIG ARETHA PARTY: Coming! Next Wednesday! We will be discussing your duties as we get closer. In a nutshell, we're the "personality" factor in the mix...this is going to be a big event! BE PREPARED TO BE ON HAND 9am until????? (Late)

THE XM PROGRAMMING BASH: Thanks for attending. MANY MORE TO COME! Only the beginning of "the way we party"!! Stand by.......these are going to get very dangerous!

If there's one thing we need to be is SMART. We don't dumb down....we don't rely on old-line stupid Sex jokes and dated innuendo (talk about cliché!!!!).
Smart Radio has NEVER been "important"....well, it is now. I'm not talking about Elitist..."Masterpiece Theater" radio...I'm talkin' about intelligence...cleverness.
Big complaints out there include: Too many spots AND dumbness.
Sounds obvious don't it? Well, being "smart" in the old world meant following the research.......tightening up the jocks......studying the Arbitron for "flukes".....air checking that hot station in St. Louis for the latest ideas their focus groups came up with.......studying the "trades"......writing tired liners because that style of writing was safe.

Favorite old line smart radio slogans: "Don’t fix it if it ain't broke"........"The book was a fluke".........It's the jocks' fault (how can that be if they ain't allowed to talk??)....too obscure, the audience wont relate to it (oh yeah....Two-fer Tuesday is SO relatable)

I ain't bad rapping this thinking....its making people a ton of money.
But for XM to soar......

Man-WE MUST CHANGE THAT STYLE OF THINKING. That old-line "smart" radio stuff is:

a) Evaluating the flawed ( Most radio research is flawed. If it wasn’t, radio would sound better and serve better)

b) Blind leading the blind.

We must think on a totally higher level. More on this later. But part of the revolution is based on fighting SMARTER than everyone else.


Playing the hits works, always has worked and always will work. BUT!!!!!!----There is SO MUCH MORE to that simple statement. We are dead if we "simply" play the hits. Here's the deal:

*XMs hits are different from terrestrial because we are SO narrowly targeted. A Classic Rocker trying to reach four generations (Dylan to STP) has to play the songs that won't offend any of those generations. An oldies station going after the Buddy Holly through ABBA eras can only play the most compatible songs.
WE HAVE THE LUXURY OF SUPERSERVING. If you isolate ONE generation from a format that tries to reach four generations, the Hit list is naturally much deeper because you don’t have to worry about compatibility with other generations.


Chart Hit Songs (Big Songs) FAMILIAR BY TITLE

Hit Artists (Popular artists...Where the "Oh Wow" factor comes into play... "That’s Metallica, but it isn't Enter Sandman AGAIN" ) FAMILIAR BY ARTIST SOUND

Novelty Hits. One time wonders or oddball songs

WHAT KIND OF HIT DOES YOUR FORMAT PLAY?????? Answer: It all depends on the sophistication of the listener target.
Going after the Beer fart BTO crowd, and ya don't need to challenge them with depth.....They don't want it.
The "Traffic was best with Dave Mason on the first album" crowd......they want depth

This is an area we gotta be SUPER SMART!!!!!

*HITS ARE EXCLUSIVE TO FORMATS. "Oxygene" by Jean Michele Jarre is a HIT on our New Age...a total stiff on the 70s Channel.....Slayer is a hit on Liquid Metal...meaningless on 20on20.




(This is an area we will totally cover in boot camp!)

But the point remains, whatever type they are...YOU MUST PLAY THEM.

.....then there are FAKE HITS. The kind of hits you DON'T want to play:

Auditorium Testers. Flawed. How else can a song that was completely marginal suddenly be popular........?

Dead hits. Toasted by Testing

FINDING NEW HITS. Well, nowadays it's "testing"...and record label crap. And Indies...and trade ads...and Mindless self appointed music experts writing their comments in trade papers. I think that’s BS. Its the WORST of all worlds: Flawed research....corrupt hype and ego. THAT SUCKS!
The best ways are:

*RELIABLE sales based Charts.

* long as there's VOLUME and a reliable tracking system

*From your features. Do a feature on an artist or genre and if ya get response....HUGE response, its a no brainer.

*Artist History

*Regional breakouts. When a song is #1 in EVERY Country in the probably will work here on SOME format (despite the Euro problem discussed earlier)

Music radio went into the crapper when we stopped looking at these methods and got into "testing" music....or becoming slaves to trade papers and free ego dinners from labels.

If you're a classic/oldies/eclectic based format...we will discuss "the hits" in more detail soon

Finally, In regards to currents: "Its not how many songs you're's how you're SELLING the ones you DO play" You could add a song a month but if you handle its sell right, you'll have a better "new music" perception than anyone else in the Country.


TIME LOCKS: We'll all be doing heavy features...daily, weekly, monthly, etc.....
But remember the value of "hourly" features that are locked in. "Traffic on the 8's" is a good one.
One we'll be doing on 60s on 6 is: BEATLES at top of EVERY hour. Reliably locked in. Want the Beatles...they're ALWAYS there at: 00. We'll do the same for Elvis on 50's.

Be thinking...maybe Mark P can follow his current format of "Strange Oldies on the 8's" that he uses at his desk, on the Comedy Channel.

60's on 6 will dedicate 4 hours EVERY day to All Nationwide Requests (we sure as hell aint gonna call it that though). All Request Saturday nights get HUGE ratings...listeners love it. Why not EVERY night?

One of our Country Channels is going to do The Top 5,000 Country songs of all time.....kinda makes the Top 100 look sorta lame huh?

OK, that’s enough for today.... much more later.

Be Amazing! ...we HAVE to be to survive


At 7:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's no surprise that Rick Lambert has been with XM since the beginning--He REALLY gets XM--What he did with Ethel was truly genius (it's why I signed up)--and he continues to do it on Fred. I know from time to time you will drop some annecdotes on your programmers--would love to know more about Lambert--he really is a programming god--I listen to Fred (and the old Ethel) and marvel at how he knows every great song from every relevant band--It's like when you are a hardcore fan of a band, and you know all the hidden gems--Lambert is like that, but with EVERY FRIGGIN' band relevant to the format.

Like you said, average isn't bad--in fact it can be good sometimes--the problem with average is that it is never GREAT. This is the problem with Ethel. You have a programming team consisting of a PD with average knowledge of the music (and an MD with even less)--

What I do not understand is why XM went out and got a "big FM fish" (Steve Kingston, who was never known for being a great alterantive music programmer) to do an average channel You can get interns to do average.

Hopefully in the future, Lambert will be able to do both Fred and Ethel as God intended them--and Kingston can concentrate on a modern rock Top 40 station (perhaps the merger would enable this)--in the meantime Ethel will continue to be average.

At 3:56 AM, Anonymous Jeanne C said...

Lee - I've been meaning to comment about how awesome your blog is in explaining innovative thinking for the workplace when your comment about the flying humanoid 'thwacked my world.' I had seen this youtube video of a mexican tv news report and am still trying to assess whether the event was just a psy-op exercise or an interdimensional sighting:

Here's a short video of a jet pack apparently militarily available, (discounting youtube's veracity of course!,)

Best wishes from here in Reston -- give a shout out as you fly over Lake Anne to me and the ducks -- Jeanne C

At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say you don't want XM Classics' hosts to sound like tweedy old professors, but, sorry, they do. And they also recycle entire blocks of programming, complete with stale, dated commentary, months after they originally air. I heard one of them talking about Halloween coming up during a music block that aired in March!

Goldsmith and Bachmann certainly know classical music, but XM Classics' approach -- and its content -- needs to be fresher.

At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Classical Music Fan said...

Speaking of XM's classical programming, I agree with some of what "anonymous" said above. On the one hand, I love XM Classics, Vox, and XM Pops, I love Millenium of Music, I absoluely adore Reflections from the Keyboard, the Mozart special last year was amazing, and so on. On the other hand, with all this good stuff, it is heartbreaking to be insulted with a repeat of a classical music block. Bachman and Goldsmith clearly love the music and totally get it, so why can't they take the time to program for periods when they'll be away, provide fresh commentary, etc?

Also, the classical music pages of XM's web site aren't accurate at all, don't include repeat times for Millenium of Music and other shows, and so on. With about one hour's work this could be fixed and so many classical music fans would be aware of ALL the times various shows are playing.

I definitely don't think Bachman and Goldsmith sound dweeby, I love their commentary. Dubai is on another planet entirely with his comments during Reflections from the Keyboard. You should bring him on as a third programmer, or to pinch hit when one of the others takes a vacation. He's exactly what classical music needs, true passion, strong opinions, and a touch of humor.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Dick Hungate said...

When I sit back and asborb every
morsel of your old memos to the
staff (and I DO, as lame as that
makes me seem!)...boy do I get
jealous of XM "lifers" such as
George Taylor Morris and Earle
Bailey. I had such a great job
happening at 96.5 "The Planet"
in Richmond, Virginia (believe
it or not, a personality CAN
THRIVE outside of a top-50 sized
market, given the proper
support from management...and
it certainly helps if that guy
already has experienced the
heady rush of having excelled
in several top 10 markets
previously because he got that
compulsion or "need" out of his
system)....I was having such a
good time and garnering such
Pierre Robert-echelon ratings
also that it never even dawned
on me to apply to XM! And I
was even sooooo close, a mere
two hours' drive down I-95 too!
I had a vehicle trade with a
local Chevy honcho, where in
return for live testimonials
I got a brand-new car or truck
to drive...with free XM. THAT
was a sweet arrangement. It
still would be fantastic to
get involved professionally
with such a super-talented
programming assemblage. But
with the pending merger I find
myself (naturally) wondering if
a year from now the survivors
will be folks like my old
co-worker and buddy Mark Goodman
(with me at WMMR before MTV) who
now is on "The Big 80's"...a
well-done Sirius channel.
If so, then good for Mark.
Surviving a merger couldn't
happen to a nicer guy! a former major
market programmer, I just GET
OFF on reading your old memos,
Lee. They raise my "radio
blood pressure", which is
exactly what you intended them
to do. Not trying to suck-up,
I NEVER received such memos
from some of the industry
luminaries I had the chance
to work under...such as Jeff
Pollack and Fred Jacobs and
Tom Bigby. If the memos are
that INSPIRING, then the
actual boot camps must have
had attendees LEVITATING.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Patty said...

By the way, it's JK's not JR's - know for their Texas Hot Weiners (in Danbury, CT??). If you were willing to drive a couple of miles you could've gone to The Sycamore. A true trip back to the fifties....great steakburgers, fries, real milkshakes, homemade rootbeer, they even have car-hop service if you so desire. A real trip back in time.

Love to hear about the inner workings of XM - keep up the good work!

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From your 2000 memo:
"60's on 6 will dedicate 4 hours EVERY day to All Nationwide Requests (we sure as hell aint gonna call it that though). All Request Saturday nights get HUGE ratings...listeners love it. Why not EVERY night? "

And now you're back to All Request Saturday Night -- which, by the way, my local oldies station does much better than XM does. What happened, Lee?


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