Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I was going through some notes...old notes…scribbled stuff on legal pads. I wrote out the "notes" seen below in 1998 in preparation for joining XM. I also remember talking to other “programmers” from other National media to get some feedback. The only thing is, none of them were really programmers. They were “deal guys” who SIGNED stuff but rarely created anything. Often Smart guys, but it quickly became apparent that we were on our own when putting a staff together for XM. Law degrees and track records weren’t really going to move the needle. There was really no staffing model. Or any kind of model. We had to find people to CREATE more than aggregate content. It was helpful that Hugh Panero, our CEO, told me “Get people with green hair and rings in their noses…not your old pals…”. I never let on that most of my pals HAD green hair. These notes refer to the creative side as some of these below mentioned characteristics might be TOO out there for people with more traditional responsibilities (I had to transcribe these from scribbles--I think I got most of it):

WE ARE NOT BRINGING IN A STAFF....WE ARE SIGNING UP A CAST. Once You have the blueprints, the company support of the Vision. You have the makings of the ultimate Operations team that has a prayer to execute some crazy ideas.

People running the creative have to have a great mind. More mind than track record. Then the tools to REVOLUTIONIZE Broadcasting are secondary.

What could possibly fuck things up???
HIRING AVERAGE PEOPLE! OR—creating an environment not conducive to creativity, imagination, freedom and passion.

Look at it like a movie. XM should sound like a soundtrack to life...not "radio".... there's already radio and it's free.

Fabulous Script. Studio Support. Critics tensed and ready. Great Directors & Producers.

Everything is in place.

What could fuck that up???

THE WRONG ACTORS.....Average casting.
With the right Actors, ya got an Oscar coming.

Look at any GREAT movie. It's got the Story.....It's got the Sound.....It's got the RIGHT ACTORS. Great casting

..Broadcasting is the same thing. We gotta hire AMAZING individuals.
That means:
*Brilliant dreamers
*The right person for the plot. The wrong DJ on an XM channel is like casting Woody Allen for the Rocky part.
*People that have "it"
*Eccentrics......all the way to the bank
*Warriors. Ready to accept and complete the mission of revolutionizing. In XM's case, we preached: Liberating Radio listeners with the same Moxie as a motivated group of Rangers freeing up a village. XM IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THE MEEK OR FOR THE "K-109 PLAYS THE HITS” CROWD......its war out there. WE HAVE THE THANKS. WE HAVE THE STRATEGY AND TACTICS...WE JUST NEED THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO CAN WIN THIS DAMN THING!

Nothing will sabotage the mission more than an "average" hire to execute. Nothing will speed up total creative victory than a great hire.
Gotta keep a place runnin' on eccentric energy....hyper creativity...otherworldly brilliance.......it's the spirit that's going to take a place through the stratosphere...it's an energy...an intensity...a cleverness...a "way of thinking" that separates you from the rest of the pack.

I have nightmares about pukers, Joe Radios and average types polluting an inventive environment. Innovative turf is sacred....hiring is an art....as we recruit, you must maintain the standards, high values and”it" radar that got YOU hired in the first place.

At XM, and I'd think with most inventive media companies:

Out Of Work....pretty average, but "available...cheap, and can come quickly." NO!
Out of Work because they got drunk with Jimmy Page after the Zep show in '73, and barfed on the GM while giving him a lift back to the station in Jimmy's limo. YES!
A fried of yours who is a nice, reliable guy but not amazing NO!
A friend of yours that happens to be amazing... (C’mon you know that's rare) YES!
...the point is we'll raise a big red flag with out of work or personal friends who's merit id your friendship.......I worry about convenience over brilliance.

Natural voices. No Pukers...No forced "Big Voices"...we're all about reality not balls
Format Passion. Livers of the format lifestyle. Not "Generalists".....but guys & gals who live and breathe your formats. Never: "Hey, I can do AC, Country,...passion what's that?...I'm a "radio guy". Test them! Play Fawlty Towers and Three Stooges to potential hires to check if a candidate "got it"....

Eccentricity. “Getting” the things that aren’t so obvious. Most don't...we don't want them if they don't.
*New Ideas. Already doing a call without "10th Caller" cliché?? Hmmm.thats good.
*Unhireables...weirdos.....Bring 'em on! 85% may be TOO weird...but 15% might be BRILLIANTLY weird.
*Smart People...real smart people. Not necessarily “educated" smart....but life smart.
*Experienced pros? 90% are tired burn outs. Experience is often Bullshit. It's where your mind is now and where it can GO. (Now—as far as a Doctor or Airline Pilot—I’ll take experience every time…but in our world, experience can mean baggage)
*Strange Accents? Yes! What’s with this thing radio has about hiring nice clear voices? Let’s get some street in there.
THINK!....Does the candidate:
A) REALLY AND TRULY show potential for greatness...or is their tape and mind maxed out. BE HONEST!
We need people who
CAN HOLD UP, JOIN IN and CONTRIBUTE. This is the "creative" majors. No creative minor leaguers in this camp, pal! This is not the place for the creatively weak, suit n tie, normal Americans. Bring us your brilliance...not your average.
c) Live in the same space we do? Most people don't.
We can't pollute XM or the Airwaves with anything less than brilliant people.....
*Whiners, Boring or Negative people will not last here. Grumpy is OK....Goofy is OK.....Out There is OK...Boring or Negative are unacceptable.
99.99999999% of Americas radio guys are in the Evil Average Zone...AVOID THEM.
Seek people who can stand up to the intensity of "The Mission" and help you take it higher and further. Working at creative places is hard, challenging, insane, tiring...but there is no other gig in the World as cool as a place that's re-inventing. HIRE ONLY SPECIAL PEOPLE!

OK…so much for the note scribbles…now a few some random thoughts:

*Flew Southwest Airlines recently. Couldn't take my plane because of a snowstorm brewing. THOSE GUYS get it. Smooth...reliable and extremely impressive. No wonder they actually make money. From uniformity of their aircraft and route structure to the simple basics of happy employees...they are a hell of an airline--Quite a story in today's environment. Google Herb Kelleher. You'll see the kind of thinking that set the pattern for this successful company.

*Got feedback on my disdain for political polls and "traditional research". Well, I think most Focus groups, auditorium tests and polling that most media does is flawed. The NON TRADITIONAL research that is mind blowingly GOOD is the R&D that goes into Mars Landings, Cancer cures, new technology and new thinking that makes a difference. If media got into researching on that level--you WILL see change


At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came to XM in 2003 and found all of these principles alive and well. But given the hires of Jon Zellner and Kingston, there's no way the credos outlined here are still being followed. The dumbing down and FMization of the playlists are the only legacies these two have left on XM. This blog increasingly feels like either a) a timewarp back to 2002 or b) a utopic intrepetation of a slowly degrading XM mission.
Chad in DM, IA

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous soundsalvation said...

i WILL work for you one of these days ,when I man up and quit the terrestrial radio exercise wheel...

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with what you're saying - but I don't always see it in practice. The Loft, Deep Tracks, Soul Street, XM Country? They get it. But why is Flight 26 so mediocre? Why has 60's on 6 lost its buzz?

Great words - but I'd like to hear them executed on more channels.

At 1:49 AM, Blogger Kirsten said...

Allow me to help you out with your non-traditional research.

1. I have a Mac. My web browser is Safari. The XM Radio Online Player does not function properly for me. I cannot listen online except when I'm at work with my crappy Windoze computer. Seriously, this should be fixed. Apple users are a natural market for XM radio. Please show us some love.

2. Find a way to sell me Loft Sessions. I would love to put some money in other people's pockets (especially the musicians!) for the privilege of having my very own DRM-free copy of my favorite Loft Sessions. I love what Mike and the gang over on XM 50 do, but sometimes I want to be able to play those special shows at certain times with certain people with me.

3. Do NOT scew up The Loft. Leave them to do their thing as they please. Always. I occasionally flip around to and enjoy other channels, but my heart belongs on XM 50. I would still subscribe to XM Radio if The Loft was the only channel. If The Loft were to go away or get f'd up, I would almost certainly drop my subscription.

Thank you.

At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Spydee said...

Chad and the third anonymous poster are right on. And I believe it will get worse if/when Sirius takes over. I have been a huge XM supporter for years, but now find myself listening more and more to CDs and KFI.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Spydee said...

Part two.
Lee - you know I like what you say, however I don't hear XM AFDI. The satellite radio ship has come and gone. I think kids perceive SatRad as regular radio; group it in that category. Kids equate “radio” to “old”, “unhip”, "out of touch"; too much Oprah and not enough Squizz; DJs that sound like any other other small market jock (with the exception of the X-tronauts on 60s on 6). Satellite radio has played to stockholders instead of to young adults (the future), just like terrestrial radio.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Marty said...

Dear Lee: I do one phone interview a week with media icons. This week was talk radio host Jim Bohannon. Would you consider it? Like ten minutes and I type as I go along.
Marty Davis
Hope all is well!



At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm all for reverting back to old ideas if it really works. But all of the FM Think Zellner and Kingston brought to XM hasn't made much of an impact.

Ethel simply does not connect to its audience. 90% of the music on Ethel is FAR from "point-of-entry," so why try to put it in that box?

As Bob Lefsetz says, the casual fan is not monolithic anymore. The entertainment universe is fractured in a million pieces, and the result is that the "casual fan" isn't paying attention anymore.

And if they are, they sure as heck aren't forking over cash to subscribe to a service that is merely a commercial free FM clone like Ethel.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger Kirsten said...

Kids equate “radio” to “old”, “unhip”, "out of touch"; too much Oprah and not enough Squizz

I'm 35 and I agree that there's too much Oprah and not enough Squizz. Oprah ranks in my Top Five Dumbest Things That Have Ever Happened on XM Radio. Possibly at the top of that list.

I do not watch her vacuous and inane programming on television for free, and I sure as hell am not paying to listen to it on XM. That's a waste of a perfectly good channel.

Here's a thought. Dump Oprah and bring XM Music Lab back to the dial.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to second the Squizz comments. I'm not an 8 hour a day listener of Squizz, but I love the station for what it represents. It is truly how a new music station should be run. Low repetition, deep album cuts of popular artists, great production, and most importantly, DJs whose passion for the music shines through without them telling us. Grant Random and Bodhi clearly know their musical genre inside and out, and it's the kind of intelligence I expected when I joined XM in 2003. Sadly, they are the exception- Ethel has been completely trashed from the gem of an alternative station that it was four years ago (thanks, Kingston), and still no Top 40 station that plays the newest music without repeating songs 105 times a week. Top 40 is the frontier most in need of reengineering, and XM has NEVER even TRIED, let alone revolutionize. And the phony so-called "voter-driven countdowns" sham adds insult to injury.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write: "*Strange Accents? Yes! What’s with this thing radio has about hiring nice clear voices? Let’s get some street in there."

Radio is a COMMUNICATIONS medium, Lee. I don't want to hear channel IDs done by someone with a thick Jamaican accent, or announcements of past musical selections done by someone who pronounces CD as "sidDEE," mumbles and swallows the ends of sentences, as a certain announcer on Cafe does.

I agree that the forced Tom Brokaw/Ted Baxter voice is a negative. (Although Scott Walterman has a lot of Ted Baxter in him, and you seem to have no problem putting his voice on the air.) But please, Lee, put voices on the air that the average XM subscriber -- male, educated, born in this country -- can easily comprehend, not mumblers and thickly accented folks hired just because they sound "street."

It also seems hypocritical to champion the cause of global accents on a service that, on your watch, eliminated WorldZone and Ngoma, the service's only true world music stations.

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sat in on Opie & Anthony show via phone for awhile. They called on me to comment that "the revealing Science of God" by Yes was voted the all time #1 long song that should be shorter. I went into my strong defense of Yes' early music and reminded them that Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed or Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd is more worthy of that award, though Interstellar Overdrive is SO out there, it's cool. Lou Reed? Never liked him. Don’t get it. One of those Rock n Roll Hall of Fame types that the critics like as well as a few New York club types, but that's it. Nothing against the guy, he had an interesting song or three about 40 years ago,..

Lee, Lou Reed solo and with the Velvet Underground are the most prolific artists today. Lou's songs are as amazing as they were back in the 60's; his body of work is unreal. Ten or more albums with the VU and 40 solo albums with only 1 or 2 that are not masterpieces!. Other than the Beatles, the VU is quoted as an influence by more bands than anyone else. i.e. REM, U2, Replacements and so on. BTW, Ahmet Ertgum kept the VU out of the HOF for years because of politics. And another bone, Lee! You should never open your mouth praising Underground radio. You almost singlehandedly killed it when WRNO tried to take over when Mother Radio and other Prog stations went off. You are basically the creator of AOR, the "only play 1 or 2 hits" format that destroyed FM radio. Playlist! Playlist! You may regret what you did and are doing a good ob at ZM, but Lou never had any regrets. So climb back in your plane and stop dis'ing Lou Reed. And tell Ant, Jimmy and Opie to back off of him too. Although this time, Opie did come to Lou's defense with his KIllers duet. Linger on.... velvetfan@aol.com

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee I take exception to your comments about the "Old Guys" after all you are I fit that category! We came in with lots of enthusiasm and over the years radio MADE us conform to their tired ways. Many of us didn't invent the system we just had to work in the confines of it. We still have the passion and desire to paint with sound, we just need some direction and encouragement to make it happen.

I don't know if anybody ever reads this stuff but I am a fan of XM and what you guys are doing. I love Watercolors and '60's. I also think that it's great that The Grand Ole Opry has a home on XM. The Opry is the first place I ever heard live music on the radio!

The one thing where you guys need help is doing an additional channel that does "Standards". I have a passion for the format since doing it at WFTL, WSOC and WBT. Some of the greatest love songs ever recorded are Standards. Yet you guys are locked into a very narrow niche of the format. It's not bad just narrow.

Mike Miranda


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