A 24-Hour Dead Channel? Get Sirius!
By Blair Jackson
An interview with David Gans about satellite radio’s all-Dead network
I’m sure I’m not the only one who, upon hearing about the development of satellite radio a number of years ago and seeing all the niche programming that was being aired, immediately thought: “Of course! 24-hour Grateful Dead!” But it’s just in the last few weeks that the 24-hour Dead channel dream has become a reality, thanks to Sirius Satellite Radio and the support of the Dead’s record label, Rhino Entertainment.
Putting together a 24/7 Dead channel probably sounds like it would be a breeze, right? Just pick some hot shows, toss on some CDs, whatever. But think about it: all day, every day…in perpetuity. It’s not an easy programming task at all, and as there are no DJs the heavy lifting of deciding what to play when is left up to computers… and to a guy like Grateful Dead Hour producer/host David Gans, who has been insanely busy trying to make sure that there’s plenty of variety in what gets played, lots of cool features, and basically is as cool as we all want it to be. David probably needs no introduction to most of you. He’s been shepherding his Grateful Dead radio show for more than 20 years, broadcasting hundreds of hours of quality Dead and Dead family music, plus interviews and other assorted strangeness. He’s also written several books about the Dead, including the classic Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead, and produced or co-produced Dead-related CDs including Might As Well: The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead, the So Many Roads Grateful Dead box set, and others.
I spoke with David recently about some of the challenges of establishing Sirius’ Grateful Dead channel.
How did you come to be involved in all this?
Rhino made a deal with Sirius to create an all-Grateful Dead channel. I got a call in May, while I was on vacation in Hawaii, asking me if I’d be interested in participating, and I said, “Of course!” I had a phone meeting with one of the programming VPs there and with Peter McQuaid, who’s managing Grateful Dead stuff for Rhino, and I immediately started spitting out ideas, most of which they seemed to like. They said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you.” Six weeks later, the deal was in place, but then the window to create the preview was kind of short because they were committed to running a sneak preview of it on the Jam On channel from August 1 through August 9th, which some Deadheads call “The Days Between” [Jerry’s birthday and the day of his death], and that was kind of fun. I came up with 18 concerts, and they ran complete live shows four times a day. I had to come up with nine interviews from my own archive. They also had a pretty good library in place at the start—they had all the Dick’s Picks, all the studio albums and live albums, side projects, and other stuff.
I know they don’t have DJs per se. Is everything computer-programmed?
There are people who control the flow of the music and what goes on the air but a database stores all of the song information, of course. There’s a woman at Sirius named Jessica Besack who’s the hands-on manager of what goes out, and I spent a day with her when I was back in New York [where Sirius has its headquarters] last August, and what we’re doing slowly is tweaking that library. There are thousands of tracks in there. One of the first things I did was send off a box of all the tribute records—Deadicated, Stolen Roses, the reggae tributes, Pickin’ on the Dead, and I’d gone through and picked out a few tracks from each I thought were good, instead of the whole things. We want there to be lots of variety, obviously. So all that gets put into the computer.
Then there’s the matter of how you tie tracks together. “China Cat Sunflower” always goes into something else, so you’ve got know that if you play “China Cat Sunflower” you have to play the next track, too.
When I listen tothe Grateful Dead Channel I like the quasi random nature of it—that you can hear a track from American Beauty followed by The Persuasions’ version of “Ripple,” and then something from a Dick’s Picks. And there’s really no other way to do it, because what would you do? You can’t get somebody in a room and have them smoke a joint and program the perfect virtual Grateful Dead concert for six hours every day of his life. Jessica’s job, assisted by me, is to program the categories so they make sense, and it’s a been a lot of fun working on that—adding new things to it all the time, and trying to figure out how to make it flow nicely. Like on most Dick’s Picks, you’ll get most of a second set on a disc, but you can’t play the whole thing usually—it has to be broken up a little bit—so I’ve been going through and saying, “These three tunes need to go together, but then you can fade it out here before the ‘drums.’” You want a nice chunk that has some integrity. You don’t want an isolated “drums” that then hard-cuts into “Attics of My Life,” which could happen if it was totally random. You want “drums” and the “space” that follows, and the “Morning Dew” it goes into after that.
I’ve also gone through and just deleted a bunch of stuff, because really, how many 1983 “Me and My Uncle”s do you need? I’m trying to keep it representative. You want that song to turn up occasionally, but you probably don’t want it to turn up as often in the programming day of Sirius as it turned up in the Grateful Dead’s catalog.
Ouch! But how true…And then you toss in interview segments and other things occasionally?
Right. Like I interviewed Donna Jean and she told me this sweet little story about how “Saint Stephen” from Live Dead changed her life, so we'll pair that with the “Saint Stephen” from Live Dead. That little segment should run a couple of times a year. It’s not something you want to hear all the time, but you don’t want to use it once and throw it away. So it goes into a category of stuff that gets trotted out infrequently. Given that Grateful Dead has a 30 year-history with this gigantic collection of stuff, there’s nothing that’s going to be heard all the time. There are certain kinds of touchstones in there that people are always going to be glad to hear.
A lot of people are going to turn on the Grateful Dead Channel and leave it on for 18 hours a day. Some people are going to listen at work. You don’t want to bore those people; there’s no reason you should have to.
So we’re tweaking the playlist so that cool, rare stuff gets played every once in a while and doesn’t get overused, and standards get played frequently—you probably want to play a “Truckin’” every day, but you don’t have to play the same versions all the time of course. I want to make sure lots of “Dark Stars” are in there.
Is all the material from your radio show through the years fair game to put up on Sirius?
Sure, everything is fair game.
How about unreleased things from the vault?
Actually, there isn’t that much in the vault that isn’t already out there in some form. When we started this, they wanted something out of the vault that nobody has, and I requested 5/3/77 from the New York Palladium for that purpose.
To me it’s more about musical quality than collector value anyway. Something I learned a long time ago is you can’t program your radio show for the hard-core collectors because they don’t really care. They don’t listen to you anyway, because they already have it—and if they don't, they don’t want to get it off the radio; they want to get it in digits. You can’t let those guys determine what you do.
I make the distinction between listeners and collectors. You want to please the collectors when you can, but you can’t let them dictate the course of what you’re doing because it’s a losing proposition. My watchword is: “It’s the music, stupid!” To me if the music’s good, it goes on the air. I try to keep it interesting, I try to mix it up—I play music from all eras on my show, and that's how this works, too. We have to remember that there are people who never saw a Dead show before 1992, say, and to them it’s important to hear something from 1993 that you and I might not think is as interesting as something from 1979 or whatever. I’m always conscious of that, so one of the challenges is to listen to a later tour where Jerry maybe wasn’t in the best shape and find something presentable.
So that’s part of what you’re doing—digging through 1994 shows and feeding them possible tracks?
I’m responsible for picking complete shows. There’s been a new one every day for a couple of weeks, we air complete concerts three times a day.Some of it will be things that are commercially available—like a full Dick’s Picks show, or View from the Vault, a full concert from the Fillmore West box—but most of what we air are unreleased shows. So I do that, and then I also send individual tracks from shows. We want there to be a huge base to draw from.
We’re not just programming for the old guard—though you certainly want them to enjoy it. You’re programming for the future, for new people to discover it.
And you don’t need to back–announce because there’s a digital song readout?
That’s actually an issue, because it varies from player to player. My receiver shows me the name of the song and the date of the song, but I think it depends on what the car’s manufacturer puts in the dashboard and other factors.
There’s been talk that the band members are interested in having shows on Sirius. I know Bobby did one already…
Right. They grabbed Bobby when he was on the East Coast and he did a show about some of the country influences on the Grateful Dead—he played Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” and then a Dead version; stuff like that. Kreutzmann has already sent in the first episode of his show, Drumming into the Light. Mickey is promising some serious magic, of course. Each of those guys can contribute as he sees fit and as often as he wants to, and we’ll provide the production assistance they need. It remains to be seen who will do what.
Another thing we’re working on is exclusive live performances. Sirius has a studio right there in their building, and of course we could also do a remote from anywhere. We’re hoping to inspire these guys to do some unique live stuff.
How about the “family” bands—RatDog, Phil & Friends. Are there slots for those here?
Damn straight. There are Phil & Friends tracks in the rotation, there are RatDog tracks in the rotation, there are Jerry and Bob solo projects in the rotation. I put a whole bunch of Mickey stuff in the system. He’s about to release remastered versions of Diga and various other albums, and we’ll make sure they’re represented as well. We've aired some complete RatDog shows, and we’ll get some complete Phil & Friends shows up there, too.
Basically, anything that relates to those guys and we can use is fair game. Railroad Earth has been doing “The Wheel” and I’m waiting for them to come up with a performance of that we can put on. Hot Buttered Rum did a nice version of “Cumberland Blues.” The Waybacks’ do some Dead songs, and they've performed with Weir. Ollabelle, which was part of “The American Beauty Project” in January, do a beautiful version of “Brokedown Palace,” and I’m hoping to get that. And so on.
There’s no shortage of material…and now there’s no shortage of air time.
That’s right. There’s still a lot to be done and other areas I’m hoping we’ll be able to explore through various specials and other programming. It’s too early to know exactly where this thing is going to go, but so far it’s been pretty cool.
For a free online trial of Sirius’s Grateful Dead channel, go to www.sirius.com/gratefuldead.
My wife and I LOVE the 24/7 GD channel on Sirius. At first I thought, "Gee, I already have so much recorded Dead music, not to mention every concert DVD they've put out. How can this new channel be that great?" Then we happened to catch parts of the August preview on Jam_ON. We were blown away! Apparently there's LOTS out there that we don't have!
My 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee came with Sirius. That has been the extent of our Sirius listening for the past two years. Thanks to the new GD channel, we now have Sirius throughout the house, in my wife's car, at our summer cabin on the lake and I just got a Stiletto for when I go out for my daily one-hour jog. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd spend so much money on radio! Like the subject line says, "Broke But Happy"!
I'll check those products out. Hopefully they work as advertised. FM transmitters have been around for a while and sounds like what I will need. Thanks again for taking the time to help.
The Dude Abides!
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At the risk of sounding like nothing more than a shill, I hope you find something here you can work with....L8r.
Here are a couple places that may be of help to you in getting connected at the crib. I can see your point and understand your skepticism regarding a merger of these content providers, but I think Mel Karmazin is an honest guy who is doing what is best for his stockholders- of which I am one. So I may be biased...
Thanks DooDah for your response. I'm not familiar with the modulator units of which you speak. Do you have any more info that might be useful? I'll do a search to see what I can find but nonetheless I still have issue with this whole mess. That said, I do agree that traditional radio is using scare tactics to "protect" what they see as their declining market, of which little will actually be gained, save some time. But they have valid points to their arguments, as well.
My disagreement over this argument (other than the obvious monopoly issues) revolve around the fact that the original business plans for both XM and Sirius were based on losing money which allowed them to collect fees for service while filing HUGE loses on tax returns, which we all pay for regardless of actually having the service or not. This is not uncommon with fledgling industries but historically the intent was to expand that industry in terms of business owners and operators. This has all the markings of what could easily become state run radio. I have a huge problem with just rolling over for this issue while saying, "well it's worth it - for now". In addition, I must have been absent during my college economics class (for that matter, my high school version) the day they described how limiting a market could translate to more profits (only in America, it seems). My belief is that the function of satellite radio is separate from the "service" which could have been offered a la carte through both XM, Sirius and many other companies, thus having real competition. Instead, the "industry" was born as a heavily $$$ leveraged dualopoly that has become burdensome to investors to the tune of several billion dollars, which in turn, has become the burden of anyone that pays taxes. If regulators get this correct, which I have my doubts, they will force the spin off of the nuts and bolts part of the business, like the actual satellites, receivers, transmission stations, etc. and the associated costs, and force the service side to pay those expenses and for all programs available to the industry, and pass those costs to the subscribers. Why won't that happen? Because the start up costs for this business far exceeded the potential return at a reasonable price for service. That fact, coupled with the mistake of attempting to keep the entire business to themselves or greed (the satellite companies both knew they were going to try to merge from the beginning, imo) scared the millions of potential customers away that were confused by what they were "buying" in the first place and the inherent risks involved. Again, just my opinion and I'm not blaming anyone here at dead.net, neither fans of the services or those that are working for the industry, in fact, I think these are questions that must be answered to protect all involved.
The Dude Abides!
Sure, a monopoly of 'satellite' radio providers would exist. But the content would still be available from OTHER sources. Satellite radio is NOT the only means by which to acquire news/ music/ sports/ talk radio. There is some 'exclusive' content available on XM or Sirius, i.e; Howard Stern, GD Channel, NFL, MLB, NHL, etc... This is specialized content that is available by subscription, much like you would subscribe to Rolling Stone, or the Wall Street Journal. You can still listen to radio without buying a thing, just turn it on. If you want the good stuff, it will cost you, but let me submit to you that it IS worth it.
It IS a bummer that you cannot access Sirius with your system. Have you tried one of the FM modulator units? My sister uses her internet account (free w/ a subscription, or sold alone at a discounted rate) to connect to her Bose...sounds great.
The truth is, the biggest opposition to this merger comes from the NAB, a group that represents the interests of traditional, open air radio. They are spending millions of dollars trying to convince people that this merger would harm the public, as the broadcast industry crumbles due to lack of ad dollars. I'm not worried about rates going up since I bought a lifetime subscription almost 3 years ago. A merger would also allow XM and Sirius to stop going broke trying beat the shit out of each other so they can work on new innovations in the industry. Sirius is already talking about providing video through it's network as soon as next year.
Good luck to you...
If XM and Sirius merge, there will be a monopoly of satellite radio providers, period. Read your own definitions, also, read the whole post that I took time to write. I'm not blaming anyone here, I'm just bummed that after waiting 20 years to replace my home entertainment system, I won't be hearing the Grateful Dead Channel. Is that so hard for folks to understand? I'm not trying to scam anyone, I'd just like to hear something like, "Sorry man, it's a bummer but we can't do anything to help." I believe that's what most folks that have written anything negative (about Sirius Radio) would LIKE to hear but I don't expect anything and it won't change how I feel about the folks here, working their asses off providing the web site and lots of free entertainment. I wasn't going to even expand on my legal ideas regarding what the US Government has allowed to occur in regards to this issue, but, alas, you've woken the sleeping capitalist in me and now have only yourself to blame.
The simple fact that illustrates wrong doing by the industry involved in this satellite radio issue, is a simple one, called the Clayton (Antitrust) Act, which prohibits "sales on the condition that (A) the buyer or lessee not deal with the competitors of the seller or lesser ("exclusive dealings"), or that the buyer also purchase another different product ("tying", also covered by the Sherman Act, Section 1), but only when these acts substantially lessen competition (Act Section 3, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 14)." Seems fairly clear cut to me that manufacturers of equipment cannot enter into an exclusive arrangement with one satellite provider or other, without offering remedy, like an adapter or other provision for capturing other such frequencies or signals that exist within that market or industry. Imagine buying a TV set that only receives NBC channels. Sounds ludicrous but that's what this industry has been allowed to do, in the post Bill Gates/Microsoft reality we all must engage, at some point. I don't know what the answer is to this problem, but somehow creating another sanctioned monopoly doesn't seem like a good long term solution, to me. That's just my opinion, man.
The Dude Abides!
'The idea we constantly have to make a "choice" feels a bit like a burn when you find your money on the wrong horse, is all. Then to be asked to embrace a dreaded monopoly as a remedy leaves one feeling bewildered as a side course to the bitter pill, once known as free enterprise. '
Umm....Sorry, no. The medium is digital entertainment. These days, we have many providers competeing for our time; broadcast radio, CD's, ipods and the like. How could a merger of satellite radio providers be considered a 'dreaded monopoly'?
mo·nop·o·ly /məˈnɒpəli/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[muh-nop-uh-lee] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun, plural -lies. 1. exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices. Compare duopoly, oligopoly.
2. an exclusive privilege to carry on a business, traffic, or service, granted by a government.
3. the exclusive possession or control of something.
4. something that is the subject of such control, as a commodity or service.
5. a company or group that has such control.
6. the market condition that exists when there is only one seller.
7. (initial capital letter) a board game in which a player attempts to gain a monopoly of real estate by advancing around the board and purchasing property, acquiring capital by collecting rent from other players whose pieces land on that property.
While one could argue that a merger would 'monopolize' the distribution of satellite radio transmissions, the content would still be accessible through other means. Or if you don't like what you pay for, you can still listen to the commercials for free.
I loved the interview, btw. Great job guys. All these features makes coming here a real treat and distraction from the "real" world and I want to start by thanking everyone for their contributions.
"Victim or Crime?"
We're generally neither (Us, the Deadheads, the Dead and their corporate identity, I mean) and I was just trying to say so much, in my post. This scene is still more inclusive than exclusive, in my mind anyway. The fact that all business relies on the latter, from time to time, shouldn't frighten anyone. Hell, I remember the $250 "Golden Circle" seats at the MSG Rainforest benefit show back in the 80's (I also remember Jerry trying to eat that cereal made from pulverized rainforest - what a fuckin' hoot!). We all feel a bit left out from time to time though, including myself. The idea we constantly have to make a "choice" feels a bit like a burn when you find your money on the wrong horse, is all. Then to be asked to embrace a dreaded monopoly as a remedy leaves one feeling bewildered as a side course to the bitter pill, once known as free enterprise. As I get older, I'm embarrassed to find (and admit) that was just another Madison Ave. sugar coat for another wolf in sheep's clothing and I fell for the ploy, hook, line and stinker. But like GR said, that's no one's fault here, in this dimension.
I don't know about all that other shite GR posted (GRTUD leans over, places one hand over mouth while rotating index finger in circular motion near his molted, pumpkin like skull's temple and whispers), "mad scientist 'At Work'". Now there's a victim, imo.
That room really tied the rug together...did it not?
I apologize David, for my fragile friend's last post. We attempted to sedate him and restrict his internet access for as long as possible but it appears he "tongued" his meds and feigned sleep to gain access to the administration office, where he hacked into the mainframe computer and then accessed his favorite internet stomping grounds. When we realized the breach and attempted to contain him, he boarded a commuter bus, with several "friends" from our facility, escaping to the country, where he commandeered a rather expensive fishing yacht to which he treated his "friends" to half day of trolling for striped bass, otherwise known as Rockfish. After the recent Phil & Friends show, he hasn't been himself, not to say that means very much to those who know and love him, what few of us exist.
In any event, he has been spouting off such nonsense that otherwise lie buried far in the distant past, like galaxies in the night sky. Not to bother, he'll be fine. In fact I think the Healy and Helen A. Bucket interview from your GDH No. 86 has him grounded and calm. Keep up the good work, Mr. Gans, as you now "see" it may be more important than you previously knew.
As for the Denon issue, I bought the device not knowing there would soon exist this 24/7 GD channel for which you are collaborating and wasn't even concerned about such things as "paid radio", so it was my own fault. The fact that I invented radio, in the first place, then was conned by an associate by the name of Marconi and never received my rightful share of proceeds from the patents, is of no concern to you sir. It was one of a multitude of injustices which I endured during my "life". GRTUD has taken up my cause as he sees some sort of parallels taking place during your "time". I find it admirable that you are placing these "streams" on the web site for folks to hear that otherwise have no access. As for GRTUD, his efforts are admirable but as much foolish, as well. He doesn't know The Industrial Machine the way I do and I fear he may suffer the same fate as myself. I've attempted to discourage him, as much as possible but he is determined, as are many of the "afflicted". Thanks again.
"All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy him."