That XM Audio Animation!
(Originally posted on my tribute site to “The Strange Case of the Sunday Stagebill.)
My time at XM Satellite Radio was the finest time in my professional life. From 2001 until the “suits” started wrecking the place in 2003, those of us on the programming side were given unfettered access to state-of-the-art audio equipment, our own channels and musical genre’s to play with, and the directive to create these channels according to the visions we each had.
My vision for a channel of Broadway music is the exact opposite of what had been heard on the radio up to that point. Most Broadway and musical theater radio shows had a stuffy, tweed jacket-wearing feel to them, hosted on a public radio station on a Sunday night by some college professor who KNEW more than you did. I hated that. I wanted “On Broadway, XM-28” to sound ALIVE! VIBRANT! I wanted to capture the experience of attending a Broadway show. And, as I explained on that day in 2001 when I was asked to define what direction this channel would take, “There’s more to a Broadway musical than the music. The stuff in between the music has to be just as entertaining.”
Here’s some of that “stuff between the music.” All of this is produced by Ben Krech. Most is written by myself, except where noted.
Let’s start with some of the show openers.
Our flagship show in the early days was “Onstage at the Eckington.” I did it live, 6 nights a week from 6-10 pm ET from one of the little voice-tracking studios at XM Satellite Radio’s broadcast facility on Eckington Place in DC. Just listen to the production work Ben put into this to make it sound as if people are rushing around getting ready to open the curtain on a live show.
Of course, we had a promo for the show that ran throughout the day.
After my show, a program featuring music from musical comedies of the past and present. Voiced here by Mark Parenteau, who was the program director of the Comedy channels on XM until a bad thing happened.
For a short time, until they burdened him with additional channels for which he had to do production work, Ben did his own voicetracked show from midnight until 2 am. Here’s the promo for “Stage 28.”
Then, during the dark hours of the night and early morning, we featured the darker music of Broadway in a show called “The Dark Side.” The brilliant producer known as “Taz” voiced this.
Other programs throughout our weekday schedule included…
Voiced by the incredible Johnny Williams, original PD of XM’s love music channel, “The Heart.”
This was a show that featured the big songs from the big shows of the present and recent past. Voiced by “Jawanza”, who turned out to be a very valuable asset to our production capabilities. He was also host of a program we did on Saturday nights that featured the work of African American theater talent.
Speaking of weekend shows, here’s Ben with two promos he did for our “Sounds of Sondheim” program.
When you’re broadcasting 24/7, you need to let folks know which shows are running and when. I think the promos we ran on XM-28 compared very favorably with the other original XM channels. When I relocated to our New York studios, we changed “Onstage at the Eckington” to “Demand Performance” and broadcast live daily from 10 until 2pm. Here’s Ben as himself, and as a stuffy Broadway show host. I’m in here, too!
Same promo idea, but this time with the remarkable “Kane” (currently the star of Hot 99.5 in Washington, DC) as a DJ who doesn’t play requests. Broadway Bill ALWAYS plays requests!
And here we all are with some of the other production directors (we called them “audio animators”) as the Eckington Theater Board of Directors insisting that I do a live call in show where I take requests.
Now, during the broadcast day we would break things up with little surprises and sweepers and things other than music to remind folks that there’s more than just “the music” to a Broadway musical.
In this one, we wonder what it would be like if life were more like a Broadway musical. I wrote it, Ben produced it, and he got a bunch of his fellow Audio Animators to voice it.
For this one — and this was one of our earliest production pieces, Ben took a recorder to Broadway and recorded some street performers.
Every now and then we’d feature the music of a cabaret singer. Of course, we had to create an annex to the Eckington Theater and call it the Eckington Lounge. This is voiced by the incomparable Lou Brutus.
We heard from “Taz” earlier. In this series of promos, I envisioned a homeless guy standing around outside a Broadway theater explaining what the show is about to passers-by.
This is a nice little promo to show that everyone knows and loves show tunes — even if they don’t know it.
We did a special show about the Billy Joel musical. Here’s the promo for it.
I’m not absolutely sure, but this is either Junior Marvin of the Wailers or the gent who was the first PD of the channel (whose name escapes me), but it has a definite Jamaican flavor!
Once again, Ben makes the connection between pop music and Broadway with this sweeper.
Emma Wilson, daughter of “The Weakest Link’s” Anne Robinson, describes a typical theater experience.
We had the occasional tune that just didn’t fit into a specific category. For instance, fans of “Jesus Christ Superstar” might be surprised to know that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the song originally as a pop tune in England called “Try it And See!” When we would play a song like that, the amazing Lou Brutus would introduce it.
And we had our share of old, old, old music from the early days of Broadway which would be introduced by Ken Smith, who was the original program director of XM’s “50s on 5”.
Of course, movie musicals had their place on the channel as this sweeper shows.
And for no other reason than we wanted to do it, Ben created a character based on a high school teacher of his, had Audio Animator Jim McBean voice the intro, and Vice President of Production, the astounding Dan Turner, perform as “Mr. Gillespie.”
And did we ever get visited by celebrities? OF COURSE WE DID! All roads lead to the Eckington Theater!
One of the biggest nights in my radio career? The night I hosted our Tony Awards coverage in 2002, live from the Rainbow Room atop the Rockerfeller Center in New York where we got to interview the winners after they received their awards. (It was the night they almost had to drag Elaine Stritch off the stage because her acceptance speech ran long, and she shared her anger — profanity-laced… with those of us in the press room. As we were not subject to language rules, I was able to air her entire remarks — unedited.) Here’s the intro from that show… Ben found a cool guy in the engineering department who had a cool accent and had him voice the promo.
And… of course… there’s the Sunday Stagebill. Here are some promos, voiced by Ken Smith, Ben as Eldon, yours truly as Walter.
We had a grand time, and you could hear it through your speakers. Then, as happens to all great ideas, the “suits” got their hands on it and ruined it. They merged XM and our arch-enemy Sirius into a single company and fired most of the talented XM program directors and audio animators. Listen to their Broadway channel now. They kept the channel name. But not its spirit.
But oh, the memories.
Ben’s in the Army now, serving his country. But we did live to produce again, although briefly. Here’s the only existing segment of a series we began but never finished… “Max Payload, King of the Gumshoes.” See if you recognize any of the characters.