Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Effective April 1, I will be heading to Chicago. My new email (After April 1) will be:

Heard a lot of rumors about why I am leaving XM for the Tribune. There is only ONE reason: A remarkable opportunity. I guess I have this thing for danger. Going with FM at a time when FM was literally housed in closets playing Doctors Office music...Going with XM at a time when no-one said people would pay for radio (almost 20 million are FYI)...and now going to a business that some say is on life support. I think Randy Michaels, myself and the people I'll be working with are pretty good media surgeons...with high confidence that we'll do our part to help create a renaissance and a new level of health, happiness, well being and prosperity with the people and brands of Tribune. Lofty words, but that’s the plan. THAT'S why I am leaving XM. It has NOTHING to do with: Mergers, Firings, or any other high drama. The Tribune mission is an opportunity that you just can't pass up.

Leaving XM is hard. There are way, way too many memories (bad, good, strange, whacked and funny) to reminisce in this forum, but I can’t think of a place I've been that has been more memorable and magical. There WILL be a book.

The upside for me is now I can listen to XM as a fan...without a legal pad.

Ad astra per aspera

Monday, March 17, 2008



We signed a 24/7 George Strait Channel. Here’s a strange adventure and how that how that came down.

XM's Eric Logan, a Country music devotee and the guy who admittedly wears the suits around XM (and likes it), comes back from Nashville with stars in his eyes. He spent time with Erv Woolsey, George Strait’s manager and they talked about things we might do with George on XM. That evolves into us going to Cleveland to meet with Erv and George while they are playing an arena up there. problem. I’ll fly, you make the arrangements. We then recruited Sandy Girard. She’s the go-to person here that went with us to Cooperstown and did NOT have a good time babysitting two baseball fanatics who had better hotel rooms. Thought it would only be right to make amends. Gary Hahn from our marketing department was also going to come, but his wife won’t let him fly with me. So, Rob Johnston from XM Research joined the party. This was one hell of a trip.

Early in the morning, it looked bad. Snowstorm in Cleveland and ice all along the route. Every hour I emailed updates with a noon go/no go. At noon, the sky in Cleveland became scattered at 3000 feet. Still a lot of snow between us and Cleveland, but using every weather tool I could call up, it looked flyable. Ice would be an issue but the cloud tops were 8000, so we went at 10000. Upon arrival in Cleveland we’d have to descend through the icy clouds, but the plane has de-icing equipment and up there the clouds didn’t look too thick so it would be pretty easy. Hell, if everything went to shit, I could climb back to 10000 and come back to DC.

We met up at 2:30. Of course Sandy was late…but that’s OK as I calculated the departure time for that. Logan arrives with his cowboy boots. Uh Oh…it’s going to be THAT kind of trip. Departed at 3:15. Nasty turbulence up through 7000 feet. Sandy yipped every time we hit a bump. Lots of yips. Then it smoothed out and a nice uneventful flight with the snow and ice as advertised—well below us. Easy arrival into Cleveland’s Lakefront airport with a waiting Hertz car. Cleveland was polar cold.

Upon checking the tickets. Problem. There were tickets, passes and everything else….for Lexington Kentucky. Wrong date. Logan goes into his road manager routine, starts working the phones and gets things straightened out. I think/know one of the reasons he wanted me to come is to show me the Country world as I am known to be a rocker. He was at his best, working two cellphones and “organizing”. Arrived at the venue way before showtime. The Universal rep met us at the door with passes in hand and we met up with Erv. Erv’s a veteran. Met him ages ago. Has one client. George Strait. Since George has more #1 records than anyone on earth and sells out everywhere, you might say it’s a good gig. Then off to the catering room for dinner. Ran into some people I haven’t seen in years. Food was actually good. I was increasingly impressed with the low key organization backstage. Different from the intense near-panic you see at so many rock shows.

Then it was off to George’s bus. Nice ride. George looking cool and casual in pajamas meets us and is the nicest guy you’d meet. ZERO “I’m a star and you aren’t”….loves XM. Has it in his boat too. Eric did most of the talking as for Eric hanging with George is for anyone else like a private session with (put God-like figure here) . He did his best musical rap and stayed away from corporate speak (He’s a CEO in training). We had a great session though wanted to give him his space so we left him alone after a nice meeting. Then the danger started. We went back to Erv’s “quiet room”, a transportable bar and ultra VIP hang room. Being pilot I stuck with the greenish sludge Diet Mountain Dew. The others did not. An well stocked free bar opened the gates to an intensely alcoholic evening. Lots of hugging and hi fives, but then….a bunch of guys from WGAR showed up and it was like a flashback to a 1985 Radio & Records Convention. I had no clue who they were, but I guess Eric worked with them and it was “Hey Logan dude…whats up dude….” Hug hug chat chat. Logan probably loved it…he was a star to these guys. I thought it was hilarious. A caricature of FM in 2008. Finally they left and the room was simply abuzz with small talk, big plans and good times. Eric’s red cowboy boots attracted the attention of a member of the opening act. They traded boots. The sober me was thinking it was going downhill fast. We then went out to catch LITTLE BIG TOWN. Decent Fleetwood Mac type band. Nice. Caught a few tunes from the soundboard.

Through all of this, an increasingly buzzed Rob Johnston was a deer in the headlights. He’d never been backstage before and we were getting the VIP treatment. It was refreshing to see a research guy letting loose. “Hey whats that!?” (mixing board)…then “What’s in his ear”?! (Monitors)…”Is this food free”?! (yes)and “How do they do this”?! “Is that a REAL roadie”?! He was getting a taste of ‘the life’.

Then…the time comes and George takes the stage. It was electric. Erv was saying that there’s no-way they’d sell out the 20,000 seat venue. Times were tough. Huh? I saw two open seats in the place. The crowd was incredibly well behaved, and the usual concert aroma of reefer was nowhere to be found. No Frisbees, no barfing. The organization and politeness experienced backstage extended to the audience. Between songs, there was elated mayhem, but once George and his remarkable smile hit the notes, it was all reverence. The large band was tight as a drum and after a few rough spots sound wise they twiddled the knobs for a perfectly clear evening. Though I’m not a big Country guy(at least post 1970), it was an education. Total respect for what they do. I’ve been humming “Amarillo by Morning” for the past five days. Good thing George sold the show out as there must of been 20 well paid and beyond competent musicians on the stage.

As this was Eric’s night, he said we’d leave after three songs. We stayed about 10 songs. Bering a rock guy I forgot that 10 songs is only about an hour since there are no 20 minute epic or drum solos…just hit single after hit single that the crowd cherished.

We said thank you’s and goodbyes and then made a huge mistake. Rob drove the Hertz to the venue so out of habit, he drove us back to the airport. Big mistake. He and Eric were doing their best Beavis and Butthead after getting too drunk at a Slayer show. Driving 80 mph through Cleveland downtown…making wrong turns…cursing at each other “You pussy—go Left!”. Both the Cleveland police and Cleveland Memorial Hospital were racing through my head. How odd—I was actually the adult! Actually, Sandy was sort of an adult too, but Rob and Eric were 15 again…drunk, driving home from a Crue show where they struck out with chicks and expressing their manhood with dangerous road technique. And Gary Hahn’s wife is afraid of FLYING with me?

Finally found the airport. Rob overshoots it by 1/8 of a mile, then backs up at 80mph. There’s a buzzer and intercom to enter since it’s around midnight. I worked the buzzer. If any of those three did, the TSA would be there in about 30 seconds. Checked weather and filed a flight plan. Paid the fuel bill and the guy saw my all access pass, and asked if we wanted to see George’s plane, as he was hangared there too. I didn’t want to suffer plane inferiority, but Logan went nuts and kept reminding me how George could make it to Texas in the time it took us to go back to DC. Thanks.

Took off into a frozen black night. As the lights of Akron faded into the distance, we reached altitude and the compounded altitude induced effects of the alcohol of my passengers generated discussions that were beyond whacked. Primarily focused on the sexual orientation of every XM employee. Listening (and OK...contributing) to these bizarre and hilarious discussions---while simultaneously talking to the controllers at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center was…different. Then they had to pee. I wont say who, but the emergency pee bags were brought out and the cabin turned into a giant bathroom. We were doing close to 300mph so the trip wasn’t very long, but I’m still REAL glad I bought those bags.

Upon landing, there was additional peeing by the taxiway…and we all walked away thinking: We successfully organized a big deal with the biggest name in Country music...and survived Rob Johnston at the wheel....This is what it’s all about!

Gotta wonder if I'll be making these flight at Tribune. Yeah....probably!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Me ver 2.0

I love XM. Everybody from the guard I wave to every morning to the people here who have been through the pain and joy (and outrageous parties that literally destroyed my house) that come with building something new…from nothing. But I’m leaving. In upcoming blogs I’ll have some juicy XM stuff (all good), though on April 1, blogging will cease as I take on the ONLY thing that could ever peel me away from this place. An opportunity so profoundly “me” that I can’t help thinking the big guy is looking after my career. A three in a lifetime chance to re-invent (First there was FM, then there was XM, now there’s Tribune). Heading to Chicago on 4/1. I was hired by Randy Michaels. Three advantages there:

He’s possibly the smartest guy I’ve ever met
He MIGHT be crazier than me…at least I won’t have to fear being too out there.
We ARE going to re-write the future of media. He’s the kinda guy you want to do it with.

Here’s the press release:

Tribune Names Lee Abrams Chief Innovation Officer
CHICAGO Mar. 11, 2008 -- The sweeping change underway at Tribune Company today took another giant leap forward as the media giant announced the appointment of music and radio industry icon Lee Abrams as Chief Innovation Officer. Abrams will be responsible for innovation across Tribune’s publishing, broadcasting and interactive divisions, and will assume his duties April 1. He is the first person to hold the position in the company’s 160-year history.
“There is a remarkable opportunity for Tribune to design the future of American media with passion, intellect, and imagination that meets the spirit of the 21st century,” said Abrams. “We have the resources to pioneer a new age of information and entertainment that re-invents and enlightens—and that is exactly what we are going to do!”
Since 1998, Abrams has served as Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at XM Satellite Radio, overseeing the development and programming of more than 100 radio stations. At XM, Abrams developed programming with such diverse artists as Bob Dylan, Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.
“Lee is the most formidable creative thinker in the media business today,” said Randy Michaels, Tribune’s president of broadcasting and interactive. “He invented the modern FM radio format, got satellite radio off the ground when no one gave it a chance, and managed to advise on the redesign of “Rolling Stone” magazine and the launch of TNT Cable Network in his spare time. Lee’s going to pump new life into our content, re-energize our brands, and get people thinking and working together like they never have before.”
Abrams, 55, was the founding partner of Burkhart/Abrams, the Atlanta-based consulting giant, and is credited with inventing album rock, the first successful FM format. He pioneered the radio “morning show” and gave Howard Stern and Steve Dahl their first major market jobs. Abrams has also been a marketing and content consultant to MTV, Swatch and Coca-Cola.
:: :: ::
TRIBUNE is America’s largest employee-owned media company, operating businesses in publishing, interactive and broadcasting. In publishing, Tribune’s leading daily newspapers include the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.), The Sun (Baltimore), South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant. The company’s broadcasting group operates 23 television stations, Superstation WGN on national cable, Chicago’s WGN-AM and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Popular news and information websites complement Tribune’s print and broadcast properties and extend the company’s nationwide audience.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008



Went to the Doctor for a routine physical. He said that the fact I lost 70 pounds in 5 months borders on medically impossible. He suggested a book. I’m thinking infomercial…Nah. But I will say it does feel amazing. Now I’m going on a major workout program, now that I have the right approach to my passion for the culinary. Doctor says I should take a stress test first since I tend to OVER do everything. I’m on my “merger health plan”…whatever happens, I’m going to need to be in top mental and physical shape (and don’t ask about the merger---you read the same press releases I do)!

Funny thing about losing weight…it’s painless and really just about re-thinking food. A classic re-think. America is being tricked by the silly fads. It’s all SO simple.
Speaking of food, I’m a Food TV addict. My favorite is Anthony Bourdain. Guy smokes, drinks and has total character. Liked him ever since I read his best seller “Kitchen Confidential” which is a must read for anyone who goes to restaurants. I see that Emeril is joining up with Martha Stewart. Poor guy. She is pure evil. An Oprah wannabe, except she’s a convicted felon, a working wasp Leona Helmsley type who works the room better, but still is much more important than the “little people”. Responsible for hoodwinking the American Mainstream into thinking that here elitist lifestyle is attainable and correct. The ultimate Tele-snob.

Then there's William F Buckley. I always liked him. Also kind of a snob, but had a lot of class, intellect and eccentricity. Hey, the guy chartered a yacht so he could go into international waters to try marijuana to see what the fuss was about. Would have loved to see him sparring with Bill Maher--would kicked his uber-left ass. The guy had character that superseded his opinions. I sat next to him on a Pan Am flight to London many years ago. Couldn't understand a single word he said, but a real nice guy. Too bad he's gone. A real original. We need eccentric originals in EVERY area.

On a happier note…

Baseball season is upon us. Once again we are doing the PLAY BALL Channel for a couple of days leading up to Opening Day. It’s a trip. Classic calls, radio drama, baseball songs and plenty of audio from the classic Baseball Bugs starring Bugs Bunny. It’s THAT whacked. An audio nirvana for any fan. Lou Brutus is doing the legwork. Should be an interesting season. Of course there’s Roger Clemens who with each word, digs himself into a deeper hole than Hillary Clinton. They both need to study their presentation better.
Then there are the predictions. I can usually tell who’s going to suck by listening to the official statements from the team brass. Don’t bet on any team that’s:

Going after speed (Translation: No hitting or pitching)
Rebuilding (Translation: Not a prayer this year or next)
Going after youth: (Translation: The established stars are too expensive)
Confident in our Line-up (Translation: We couldn’t make any worthwhile trades)
Got some good live arms: (Translation: Gonna give up a lot of home runs)
The team is scrappy: (Can't hit a wiffle ball, but they try hard)

And for my White Sox? I am conditioned for the worst…

A team can’t really say “man, we suck”…Important to keep the eternal hope component alive and well that’s in the soul of every baseball fan. In media and music, denial is a real bad thing. Some of my favorite published denials:

“Home taping is the reason record sales are down”
(In the late 70’s---when the next year, Album sales hit an all time high…guess no-one taped anymore…)

“You can’t beat local radio’s coverage of local disasters”
(After Katrina when most of the local stations were blown off the air)

“FM?! You mean to say that an “FM “station will ever beat KHJ in Los Angeles in music?...hardly possible”
(at the Chicago NAB convention in 1969)

“The Internet is a fad…you can’t make any money with it”

...the first step in changing anything is eliminating denial. Gotta watch for that at XM.

How about those marketing short cuts called Slogans….In TV & Radio: They are usually ones that slide off the tongue well, but mean nothing. “The Best Hits”…”In it For You”. I doubt if those have any traction, and in fact might significantly contribute to the sameness and lameness.

In Newspapers: Most of them are old…real old “All The News That’s fit to Print”. Pretty harmless and I can’t imagine that they have any impact one way or another.

The Web: THIS is where they may contribute to definition and differentiation. For example, doesn’t say much other than it’s the website for the Daily Bugle. Big deal. EVERY newspaper has a website. Maybe a slogan that’s not hokey, marketing speak or typical, could help define the web strategy. I don’t see any papers doing this…it’s always simply the website of the paper whereas in reality, it’s SO much more.


A “statement” that defines the site. Gives it some “character” and suggests the unbelievable depth of information. NO-ONE is “selling” the newspaper website for the reality of what it is. A slogan/statement” can expedite this…and SET YOU APART.

Making up language: Google is SO perfect because they changed the name search to “Google it”. As new components are added to web sites , you have the OPPORTUNITY to invent words that describe web functions….just as every teen on earth knows what IM is. My point: THINK of words to describe functions.

There’s a new Rock Station in NYC. Hope it does well. the fact that there really isn't a rock station in NYC is symbolic of how radio has helped unwind music appreciation in America. Rock radio in particular has shot itself in the foot. Bowing to “laws of programming” that are insane. New CD by major artist comes out---you hear “the single”. Cool new sound comes out—Uh Oh…can’t play it because it didn’t “test well”. Let’s ‘trick’ listeners with marketing slogans about how we “really rock”! I sure still get a lot of heat for over sciencing radio…but when I was a consultant, it was really more about common sense than the “police-state” radio that exists now…plus there were always alternatives. I look around at how vanilla and junk culture it is now, and it’s sad…then again, it’s opened up the floodgates to amazing new technologies like satellite radio, Internet and I-Pods. BUT---in a hundred years, no doubt that radio’s creative death will be part of the study of American cultural downfall. I blame MANY (though of course not all) of the people running the stations. Sheep. McDonalds radio? No—McDonalds always innovates intelligently...most doesn't. Hell, they don't even WANT to.

Airplane wise, took John Stevens our production guy/musician who is always amusing to fly with as he looks like a cross between Satan and an Al Qaeda veteran. Also brought Liz Speer from our HR Department. Went to Phillips seafood overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. They drank heavily. Being the pilot I was doing straight Diet Coke. Enroute back to DC, they claimed they smelled smoke...twice. I had a little stuffed nose going, so culdn't smell anything. But the idea of smoke is enough to pay attention. I troubleshot every possibility...triple checked every gauge. Nothing. Nome base wasn't far, so I opted to trudge on and leave the plane with maintenance to have them look it over. They did. They kept it for three days and ran every imaginable test. Nothing. I chalk it up to the effects the alcohol had on them at 10,000 feet. Glad they bought lunch since the diagnostics far exceeded the lobster costs.

XM podcasts on I-Tunes are a hit. Just hit the millionth download mark. I do a “Green Room” feature that goes behind the scenes for Artist Confidential and tells the story of the signings and craziness that often goes into these. But I’m guessing that the vast majority of the downloads are for Opie and Anthony.

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, but he symbolizes the Patty Smith factor which in turn is why the Rock Hall is and always will be a dismal and sad reminder of how the "boys club" that oversees the thing is corrupt...they actually BELIEVE the Bullshit they put out. I guess you see I have a problem with many rock critics. SO disattached...a "club" that you are in...or not. Most people are not. Then there's the Maxim writer who reviewed the Black Crowes CD without listening to it. You see, the Black Crowes were doomed because they aren't in the club. And you wonder about the music business? It used to be amusing because it was successful. Now it's just plain sick. Savable...but it ain't gonna happen from "the club" members. Oh yeah, back to O&A. I always like going on their show. I can say Fuck...and they always bring up crazed but interesting topics. I'm really trying to get them into early YES and get them in my plane. Ain't gonna happen. DO check out Rick Wakeman on YouTube with his Grumpy Old Men skits. Hilarious. He came by XM many times and did “Rick Wakeman’s Keyboards n’ Komedy”---despite his image of orchestral music and capes, he’s actually one of the funniest guys on the planet…in a kind of John Cleese Brit way.

Inside the Actors Studio. What a great show. So non junk. we model Artist Confidential after it to a certain degree. Gives you a chance to get a feel for the talent and intelligence of some really great actors instead of what you see in the tabloids or watch on most TV shows. I was impressed by John Cusack. He was on the other night. What a shock--the guy had some very smart and insightful things to say. The junk culture merchants are helping ruin the film business too--s-l-o-w-l-y. that’s how junk works. It's a slow torture. Moments of titillation but in the long and big's a slow burn...out. You'd think that all of Hollywood is mindless, self absorbed and with significant mental issues...but when you see a real intelligent person who treats it like an art rather than a way to get laid and go to's pretty cool. Paul Newman and Robert DiNiro remind of that...and they're still very much around. There's a reason they are...and it's not salad dressings