Friday Noon: Chat Room Besides smaller studios in New York and Nashville, Washington is where XM is attempting to transform radio into something listenable again. Responsible for this barefoot, uphill, both-ways-in-the-snow trek are the programmers - all 150 of them. You see, there are actual human beings programming the channels. And these humans are happy.
Given the state of commercial radio, most of them are probably glad they're not sleeping in a bus station - and here they are programming their very own radio channels. These aren't your happy-go-lucky types. From Smithereens founder and eternal rocker Pat DiNizio to 30-year radio vet Mark Parenteau, they all know that the entertainment industry can often be a fickle little hellcat. Yet they're really, really excited to be part of XM, mostly because they have the freedom to play whatever they want. That's the beauty of something completely new like satellite radio:
There aren't any rules yet.
"Regular radio is focused only on what to do to get more listeners," said Scott Struber, the programmer of XM's "college" channel, XMU, who looked like he just stepped off the street-luge track at the X-Games. "We don't have that placed upon us. We don't have to water things down. We can keep it pure and all about the music."
Friday Early Afternoon: Why Don't We Do It in the Road? Where do you start when you have 100 channels to choose from? It's like the first day you get DirecTV or digital cable. Sure, you brag to everyone that you've got 500 stations, but you end up watching the same three you've watched since cable was invented. Dave Logan, XM's vice president of programming operations and the former head programmer of New York's WNEW-FM when it was a great rock station (I stress, was), hitched a ride with us to make sure we didn't get lost either on the road or the radio.
We decided to start with Deep Tracks, which was programmed as an all-day tribute to George Harrison, featuring live interviews and rare songs along with the hits. We caught part of a jam session, and it was as if the band was in the car with us. The minimally compressed sound was so clean and clear through the Caddy's eight Bose speakers, it was almost disorienting.
Deep Tracks is XM's album-rock channel. If it's playing Elton John, you might hear "Border Song" or "All the Young Girls Love Alice." If you wanna hear "Bennie and the Jets," turn to Top Tracks, which is the Top 500 songs played over and over again.
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