WILLIE NELSON TRAVELOGUE AND XM THINKING FROM THE EARLY DAYS
WILLIE NELSON TRAVELOGUE AND XM THINKING FROM THE EARLY DAYS
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 Roadfood.com 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 service...an 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 Roadfood.com, 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 about.....it'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"
CLICHE OF THE DAY
"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?"
"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!
INVENTING NEW ANGLES
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 bad...it would sound average.
We'd be "acceptable".....
Well........we NEED to be EXTREME. Either EXTREMELY GREAT...EXTREMELY DIFFERENT....or EXTREMELY BAD. Yep...so bad...it's good.
An example of extremely bad is our proposed "Worlds Worst Music" channel. Yes friends, Extremely Bad is good too....like 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!!!!!!!!
or EXTREMELY DIFFERENT
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 quality..........in other words, average.
MTV WAS brilliant at "EXTREME"......good, bad or different, it WAS always EXTREME, and it always gets NOTICED.
UNWRITTEN "FCC LAW" #285
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 '75...now 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!!!!!
PARTIES & HOLIDAYS
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.
XM MUST TAKE SMART RADIO OUT OF THE DARK AGES AND INTO THE FUTURE.....
PLAYING THE HITS:
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.
*EACH FORMAT HAS DIFFERENT TYPES OF HITS. They are:
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 that...work.
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
THE TERM "HIT" DIFFERS WITH THE TARGET...WITH THE FORMAT...WITH THE SOPHISTICATION....WITH THE ARTIST
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.
We MUST UNDERSTAND THIS. KNOW YOUR FORMATS HITS...AND THE "KIND" OF HITS YOUR TARGET WANTS.
"Hey Babe...to win ya gotta play the Hits".......THAT IS A MEANINGLESS STATEMENT WITHOUT DIGGING IN AND KNOWING
WHAT TYPE OF HITS YOUR LISTENER NEEDS
IT IS A MAJOR FAULT IN TODAY'S PROGRAMMING. The word "HITS" is a powerful word. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND HOW THE MUSIC LISTENER WORKS...BY FORMAT...BY AGE before you can make that statement.
(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.
*Requests....as 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.
*Regional breakouts. When a song is #1 in EVERY Country in the World...it probably will work here on SOME format (despite the Euro problem discussed earlier)
MORE HITS WERE DISCOVERED FROM THESE THREE METHODS THAN EVERY OTHER COMBINED.
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 playing...it'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.
SELLING MUSIC IS A LOST ART. WE WILL RECOVER IT!!!
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.
OTT OF THE DAY (OTT IS "OVER THE TOP"...another way to GET NOTICED)
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