Monday, July 30, 2007



Hugh Panero is leaving. Gonna miss him. As soon as he leaves I’ll share a few classic Hugh stories…has to wait a few days since he can still fire me. I’m the only original employee left (other than Chariman Parsons who has been here since about 1955)

Satellite Radio is where the action is. In preparing for XMX (our new channel that aggregates our special programs), I looked through the range of content—and it’s really mind boggling. For example:

Over 50 Bob Dylan Shows. It’s REALLY Bob. Pure---
Over 50 Tom Petty Shows. It’s REALLY Tom. Pure---
Dozens of Wynton Marsalis Shows. A sound tap in the mind of Marsalis.
Hours and Hours of Quincy Jones Specials. One-on-one stories fro the master.
Over 100 Bill Anderson Shows—interviewing the Gods of Country Music
70 Artists Confidentials. Including Mc Cartney, Sting, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant. Incredible intimate performances and audience interaction.
Over a Dozen Then Again including Jethro Tull redoing Aqulalung, Allman Brothers redoing Eat a Peach
Dozens of Live Broadcasts of Concert Events from Live Eight to Bonaroo to Willie’s Picnic to Telluride to Merlefest..
5000 Concerts recorded at XM…John Legend to John Mayer,
Offstage—One off DJ shows from Bob Seger, Elton John, Yoko Ono, Josh Groban, Joe Walsh, Jon Anderson, Gregg Allman

..And that’s just the tip of it. It’s really amazing. What’s especially amazing is that FM is still in the land of canned sounding syndication. Satellite radio is on the edge creating really powerful NEW content. That’s why this XMX thing is going to be good—NO ONE knows this stuff exists..It’s been buried. One of the problems with SO many channels.

While Satellite is engaging artists, the big news at Viacom is lawsuits between Redstone and his kids. Classy operation.

Kelly Clarkson apologizes to Clive Davis. Huh? Actually it's typical in the "musical/cultural" lull period we are in. Lull periods are characterized by things like Business controlling artists (ulnike the opposite "Intense periods" where Artists drive things)...In lulls there's fashion over art; Boyfriend/girlfriend lyrics are in command; no major musical advances that make the prior generation of music nostalgic more than relevant; the "look" of artists is flashy but not scary...and the list goes on. Let's just say that we are SO in the American Idol era... It's actually a fascinating study of music and cultural trends over the past 50 years that I did...well, I think it's fascinating...I also know it's valid because I developed it in 1978 and it has been extremely accurate for the last 29 years in assessing and to a certain degree predicting trends. I guess I'll dive into it next blog. The point right now is that an artist apologizing to a label head is typical during a lull period--During an intense period (like 55, 64, 70, 80 or 93, A label head would bow to an artist that sells as many CD's as she does)...Can you imagine Elvis, The Beatles, Hendrix, the Police or Nirvana APOLOGIZING to a record company???!!!! Yeah--those are "big names" but any important artist from "intense" periods wouldn't even bother. More on this lull/intense thing later...but suffice to say, we are in a lull...

If you think radio is clichéd, TV is worse! Had some dialogue with Randy Michaels who runs Local TV LLC, formerly the New York Times Stations. A nice group with stations in Memphis, Norfolk and a dozen or so other markets. Randy of course will do some damage in these markets---He has NO TV ‘baggage” and is a brilliant and hyper-competitive guy. He was sharing the clichés…it’s unreal. The consultants CONTROL local TV News. Then I went and looked at the websites of local TV Stations---they ALL:

*Share the same three or four “good testing” slogans.

*Have the same mix of homogenized teflon news people (They all LOOK the same)! Fake. Funny that historically and even today, the most respected (rather than simply tolerated) news people don’t necessarily “look” great. More about character than happy and shiny.

And…well, go to And click away---The homogenization is unreal.

I suppose the argument would be that it makes sense to duplicate a successful formula. Yeah—but this ain’t duplication…this is mindless sheep herding. Just as bad as terrestrial radio. No bitterness here—nothing to be bitter about---It’s more about the sheer amazement at the ongoing homogenization of media. America used to be the place where innovation drove the train. Now, with the exception of the Apples, HBO’s and a handful of others, there’s no engine..Just a lot of freight cars carrying a vacant message. That vacant message feeds junk culture and junk culture feeds mass stupidity…which...Ok—you see the domino effect. That’s scary..And that’s why I really believe in the NEED to innovate! –or at least TRY to innovate. Other than those completely focused on the pure business side and not having the sense to balance it with the creative—the real culprit is the research and the research companies driving content. I gotta credit content research companies for having outstanding sales skills to hypnotize an entire industry, tempered with disdain for the unwavering advocates of this stuff. RESEARCH is of course a wonderful thing (and there ARE “good” research companies delivering important data) ---but it’s WAY out of control in terms of guiding upfront content decisions and more often than not being used where it shouldn’t be at the expense of being used where it should be…and it’s always positioned as a “road map” but the map is blindly followed directly into the pit of mediocrity. From a radio perspective it was good that in 1966 it helped us realize that people like to hear their favorite songs…or in 1976 it’s good to say your call letters a lot. OK—I think we’re beyond that. I personally get heat for “ruining radio” back in the 70’s by researching it. Well, at the time, that’s what it needed. NOW—that’s NOT what it needs. I guess the same thing in TV news---It NEEDED research in 1980…but now, the research morphine is what’s killing it…through the slow death of homogenization to the point of irrelivency. The NEW innovations are based on ideas...Often from people who have either ZERO baggage and don’t know any better OR from vets who have been through the research grind and think beyond it. Make no mistake: research is “finding stuff out” and is invaluable…but the way it’s positioned as the magic serum...and bought into without questioning or dialogue is what is aiding homogenization, junk culture and irrelivent dated media. In a way, Im thankful. Without the over researched radio stations, basing everything on obviopuslty flawed data, there’d be no need for XM because terrestrial would sund just fine. I’m betting on Randy Michaels to succeed in TV because he gets this. In fact, I think the over researched sheep mentality is good—for anyone with new ideas. While everyone is asleep on the research drug---innovators can have at it….and succeed.

Something over-research forces is communicating with people in marketing speak instead of real words. Simple “memorable” slogans that in MOST cases have NO traction—in fact they are plain silly to anyone over 8. Do you think ANYONE believes words like “Biggest…best…most…”…but you still see “Biggest, best, most” and other nonsense. Focus group slogans worked…back in the 70’s…but “enough already” just TALK and explain. Normal. Super Action News You Can Trust That’s on your Side….yeah right!

XM did several early content oriented research projects...Thank God we didn’t follow that information---It proved 90% dead wrong from “Comedy wont work” to a complete misfire on predicting who our early adopters would be. One disclaimer here---We have a research person here named Rob Johnston—He’s great. He knows WHERE to use data…delivers it and it’s a good thing.

Newspapers continue to slide. A BIG Part of the problem is that the PAPER is still the center of their universe. They are often incredible news gathering operations, but are betting the farm on print instead of print being a component in the distribution of their content. It also hurts when the print part hasn’t been truly reinvented beyond a few band-aids since 1888. Personally, I think Newspapers are among THE most attractive media today—because of the opportunities to re-invent these insituitions.

Here are two article links worth checking out. The first one is pretty funny from THE ONION, who is “in on” the junk culture joke:

This one is from the Wall Street Journal. About our Country’s #1 problem…dumbing down.


At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Ted Utz said...

I couldn't agree with you more!! Research is the root of the homogenized era we are in today! As one of your "Biggest, Best, and Most" successful of believers from the 70's and 80's (actually I invented AOR, and the Internet) the balance between science and emotion is waaaaay off! During the birth of FM Album Radio in the late 60's and early 70's, it was 100% emotion. No ratings! Great stories, but no ratings. Research was phased-in later in the decade and results improved. But, emotion was still driving the train. During the second, third and subsequent generations of FM Radio, the pendulum moved too far to the science side of the equation. It has never moved back! The balance of Science and Emotion is the key to providing entertainment, ratings and success.
Today's consumers never stood a chance. If you are younger than 50, you never knew the days of free-form thinking. You've been brainwashed by mediocrity, radio and television alike. And yes, even "broadcast websites" are becoming cookie cutter. Hey, I should know, I proudly work for a company that has created the template for 150 television news sites. At least the stations are online! We did the same thing for Clear Channel and SFX in the late 90's.
The problem with television's online presence lies in the fact that General Mangers don't get it! Their focus is on core revenue and expenses. This Internet thing is intimidating! The editorial control is in the newsroom. Corporate mandates being sent down from Avenue of the Americas, 30 Rock and W 66th St may look good in the trades, but try to get anything done on the station level. The wrong guys are in control of the sites. If Randy Michaels can fix this issue, then I'm sure his TV stations will set an interesting tempo online. WE look forward to working with him.
XMX sounds like a great channel. As a fan of XM 40, where I still can name most of the tunes, I look forward to what appears to be a lot of very special "radio" all in one place. It may just get me away from my iTunes, which now has a cume of 25 of my friends' iPods. For your copy of the Utz Channel, send a self addressed envelope to Lee Abrams.

At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Marty said...

XMX is a great idea. You are right, the amazing original content has been buried and hard to find. I think in the future though, individual channels need to be promoted as an individual entity. For example, NHL Home Ice comercials on during hockey and not just the play by play but the 24/7 unique talk.

I guess the was the new Ch. 45 is promoted now. Check out Starbucks on XM.

At 11:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homogenization is driven by national media like cable, network TV, and syndication. It's a fact of life today. The only way to end it is the atomic bomb.

Frank Magid in Nebraska was teaching homogenization in the 70s. He taught newscasters that local accents would limit their ability to get jobs in bigger markets. He was right.

As for Ted Utz, love your potato chips, dude.


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