On The Radio Columns: January 2009 Archives

On The RadioSince the November merger of XM with Sirius, listeners have been experiencing what seems like constant change to a channel that had always been among the top three most popular on the XM service, the 60s on 6. Post-merger, Sirius subscribers heard an entirely new personality lineup and were exposed to a much larger selection of songs from the decade than they were used to on Sirius. XM subscribers weren't immune to upheaval either- many of the songs from before 1964 were lopped off the combined channel's playlist and sent over to the 50's on 5 Sirius XM offering. The Wolfman Jack program was inserted for middays (in the eastern time zones) - a strange move that nearly no one understood as these programs are reruns of a nighttime syndicated oldies show from a jock that died in 1995 - long before there was an XM or Sirius.

The station has continued to evolve rapidly- just weeks ago, the jock lineup shifted yet again, with Wolfman Jack being moved back to late nights and Terry 'Motormouth' Young being bumped from afternoon drive, a slot he'd held since the launch of XM, to evenings. A voicetracked program from WCBS-FM New York jock Broadway Bill Lee was plugged in for middays/afternoons (yes, one can hear Lee live on CBS-FM during afternoon drive while simultaneously listening to his voicetracked show on Sirius XM).

Only morning jock Phlash Phelps has maintained his timeslot, 6am - noon eastern. The day after the merger, there was relief expressed from XM listeners when Phelps took to the airwaves and his program sounded essentially the same as it had the day before. He continued to interact with his many phans, play requests and pass on tidbits of info from current events.

Listening to the channel this week, it has now been stripped of all special programming and features. Its only two live jocks, Phelps and Young, have had their microphone time severely curtailed. Their personalities, which helped drive the popularity of the channel, have nearly been muted as programmers have decided to heavily focus on music. At the same time, the number of songs in current rotation has been dramatically cut. At one time, it was virtually unheard of to hear the same song repeated during the same daypart on consecutive days, let alone more than a couple of times each week. Now, it's common to hear many of the same songs during the same program every day.

Gone, at least for now, are specialty programs like Young's popular 'Sonic Sound Salutes' and 'Sweet 16 Music Machine' along with weekend shows Wax Your Woody, Here and There, and My Top 6. In-show features like the Top 6 Countdown, Nam Jam, American Band, 'Chickenman', and the top of the hour Beatles Bell have all been shelved.

In their defense, it's clear that programmers Kid Kelly and Jon Zellner are trying to figure out what they'd like 60's on 6 to be. On the one hand, there are indeed listeners that aren't interested in hearing jock chatter or songs they aren't totally familiar with, thanks to those tracks being pounded in their heads over and over again by terrestrial oldies stations for years.

On the other side of that fence are listeners like me that crave personality, deep playlists, and lots of fun features. The music is important of course, but its everything around that music that really makes it radio.

Zellner comments, "As you can imagine, merging the two networks was not an easy task and the libraries on the XM decades channels were larger than their Sirius counterparts. The challenge is simply keeping both sets of subscribers happy. For every listener that enjoys the deeper playlists, there are others who simply want to hear their favorite oldies every time they tune in and complain about 'B sides' as they call them, or less familiar songs. There are some songs that did very well at the time that our listeners tell us they just don't want to hear or don't expect to hear on the decades channels."

Zellner concludes, "The libraries will increase again. We're in the process of going through feedback, music studies and the like and hope we find the happy medium between where Sirius and XM were. Some of the other stuff will return as well. We wanted to flush it out and see what the best features were."

I've been a subscriber since November 2002 and post-merger I've become discouraged about what I feel is the gutting of my favorite parts of the XM service. The fun of the decades channels wasn't just the music, but also (and more importantly) the hosts live interaction with listeners and current events. If I want to hear Honky Tonk Women or Baby Love 14 times a week, I can do that in numerous other places for free. Not only am I paying for commercial-free music, I thought I was paying for real radio hosted by real people I can relate to. I was getting that, especially from Phelps in the morning.

Now listening as the 60s on 6 continues to evolve into something any MP3 player could be easily programmed for is increasingly hard to for me to do.

As my passion for XM grew, I found myself hating to miss the breaks in between songs because it was great to feel like you were part of something -- and for many listeners that was just it. We felt like we were actually part of the 60s channel and it was so much more than any Internet or FM station had ever offered for me.

I really don't understand the Sirius XM's programmers current obsession with focusing on listeners that might only tune in for 15 or 20 minutes in their car when they are not selling advertising based on cume. Doesn't time spent listening mean anything?

Aren't passionate listeners that help market SiriusXM worth a lot more than passive listeners that wouldn't know if they were listening to some unnamed terrestrial station or a decades channel if it weren't for the lack of commercials? Shouldn't SiriusXM crave listeners that care about the personalities, the features, the music and share their passion with others?

My colleague Art Vuolo also weighed in on this and fired off a letter to Sirius XM execs:

OK....now you've done it! I am (or was) perhaps one of the biggest walking ads for satellite radio. I have BOTH an XM and Sirius Radio in my home and car and, for the first time since I first met Hugh Panero in his 23rd Street DC office in 1999, I now wonder why I would even recommend it to anyone.

If it wasn't for the beautiful music on Escape or the excellent locally produced talk shows on 700 WLW from Cincinnati, I do not feel much of a need for the service anymore. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they'll tell you that I nearly put my coveted moniker (radio's best friend) in sirius jeopardy because of my adoration and strong belief in this exciting new medium! Now, those who are in charge have been successful in making (at least the decades channels) as dull, lifeless and boring as terrestrial radio on it's best day. It is somewhat known that I helped two of the "surviving" 60's jocks; Phlash Phelps and Terry Young, get their jobs at XM. They are probably two of the most popular PERSONALITIES on Sirius XM. Other beloved voices you have let go (for "budgetary reasons") include; Matt the Cat and Ken Smith on the 50's Channel and Country Dan Dixon from XM 10 America, which is also gone. Dan is heavily missed and generated over 4,500 signatures from fans. aka subscribers, who want him back, or have threatened to leave!

Who is making the decisions on who goes and who stays and what is played on the air and what is not? Why would anyone PAY for an ultra-tight playlist when that type of radio is available free of charge on most oldies stations across America? Do the suits in the front office not realize that we've heard all of these songs over and over for years? We listen for what lies between the "safe oldies." We seek entertainment and a refreshing blend of, dare I say it, creativity. All of the elements that drew us to radio that we pay for have been gutted and we are left with boring segue-serenade radio. We can get that very easily from an iPod or the Internet. In fact I recently bought a WiFi Internet Radio and honestly it offers a lot of exciting alternatives. Right now I'm listening to www.richbroradio.com with a far better mix of oldies!

All of the wonderful aspects of the 60's channel are gone...Sweet 16, Nam Jam, Flashbacks, Request Hours etc. Only Cousin Brucie, another of my personal favorites, has been allowed to retain any degree of on-air personality.

Does anyone at Sirius XM care about us...the listener, the customer, those of us investing our hard-earned dollars, during a dreadful economic period, for a service that doesn't even resemble the superb service it represented prior to the "merger," (take-over) a few months ago.

Right now, Sirius XM needs all the customers it can attain. Stripping out most of the elements which made this service so attractive, is NOT the way to keep us happy. Please think about what you've done and what you are doing to a concept that once had so much potential.

Recently I noticed that most of the big radio conglomerates all start with the letter "C"....Clear Channel, CBS, Cumulus, Citadel, Cox etc. which could be why radio is so "average" these days. We, who support satellite radio, are looking for something with more to offer than the "average stations," which are free and bountiful. Please consider doing something unique that would truly be appreciated by all of us who care.

Listen to the 20 million people who seek something better.

On behalf of all those who don't take the time to write, I hope that I can speak for them, and more importantly....that you will listen to the listeners. I surely hope to receive a response.

With respect and concern, Art Vuolo, Jr.

So Sirius XM, where did our love go?







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This page is a archive of entries in the On The Radio Columns category from January 2009.

On The Radio Columns: February 2009 is the next archive.

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