NYF’s Grand Jury Confidential features profiles of New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards award-winning Grand Jury members and offer insights into the brilliant careers of prominent radio executives from around the globe who are recruited from all facets of the radio industry to select the World’s Best Radio Programs℠. This week, NYF takes a few moments to connect with 2016 Grand Jury member, Paul Bachmann, Host SiriusXM.
Paul Bachmann is one of SiriusXM’s “renaissance” personalities – starting with satellite radio at its inception in 2001, he has hosted/created stations for a diverse array of formats, ranging from Classical to Alternative Rock.
In 2015, Paul turned his talents to a new direction – building a new, dynamic audio playback and storage system with SiriusXM’s Engineers; and at the same time, delivering a weekly helping of “Couch Potato Stew” – spotlighting music from Movies, TV, Cartoons and more – to kids and families on Kids Place Live!
In the interview below, Paul shares early influences that shaped his career, lessons he’s learned from his first job, his evolution in the radio industry and more.
New York Festivals: Who or what were your early influences in your career?
Paul Bachmann: My early career was in Classical Radio, coming off of a collegiate music degree…and growing up in Maryland in the 80s, my parents used to listen to WGMS’
Dennis Owens from Washington, DC. He was one of those sorts of DJs who was “always on”. A deep, booming voice, full of high-intelligence humor. Dennis understood of the stereotypes about classical music and the people who prefer it, and instead of trying to counter-program his show to avoid ‘snobbery’, he decided to become an out-sized version of the stereotype. So flash forward, years pass, and in 1995 my first radio job was to be a Programming Assistant at WGMS and working with all of the hosts, including one Dennis Owens. We’ve been friendly for my entire career.
New York Festivals: What’s the most important thing you learned from your first job?
Paul Bachmann: My first radio job completely rewired my brain! The lesson learned was ALL about the WIDE range of opinion, enjoyment, and experience of the audience. This was 1995-96 at WGMS in Washington DC, and I was hired to be a Programming Assistant. WGMS wasn’t quite at the point on the internet back then to display what was playing in the moment, so a fair part of my job was to field phone questions from listeners about something they heard. With my fresh classical music degree in hand, I initially thought our presentation of classical music was nobly providing The Arts to people who loved the music as much as I did (picture me strutting around!). And that was true…for maybe 10% of the audience. It didn’t take long for me to realize there were nearly as many reasons for people to listen to our station as there were listeners. I can’t tell you how many times the station would play Pachelbel’s Canon – one of the most recognized pieces in the world, classical or otherwise – and could predict the two calls I would get: one from someone who was a longtime classical fan and hoped we’d give the poor Canon a year-long rest; and then inevitably I’d get a call from someone who had to know what that piece was…it’s something they heard at a wedding, or on a commercial, or on the radio station now and again and it’s-just-the-most-beautiful-thing-ever-and-I-have-to-have-it! And of course, both ideas are okay because those listeners were engaged. So to restate the lesson I learned: All Are Welcome, and I’ve spent a career trying to appeal to a wide audience with innovation and ‘live-experimentation’ without resorting to lowest-common denominator tricks that generally only work over the short-term.
New York Festivals: What qualities are the most important to have?
Paul Bachmann: I have a few ideas… for example the best host or DJ you can be, is yourself. And know that whatever “yourself” is, it’s not going to be for everybody. So, a thick skin is an ally – but not so thick to be complete immune to feedback. Also, at least it’s been true for me, a near-restless quality of seeking out education in our craft and networking has been most beneficial. Even though I’ve worked in Satellite Radio for nearly 15 years, I’ve had 3 or 4 different ‘careers’ within that span; it wasn’t simply moving up a corporate chain, but rather trying to shape my path based on new interests and leveraging relationships forged with colleagues I’ve met along the way.
New York Festivals: Tell us a bit about your evolution in the radio industry?
Paul Bachmann: Started from the bottom! A Programming Assistant for a year in the mid 90s, where I caught the DJ bug in Washington DC. Moved to Raleigh NC to get on the air at a public Classical station, and through hard work/luck/attrition made my way from the overnight guy to Morning Drive/Music Director over 4 years. During that stretch I did some Hot A/C work across town, following an article written about “this kid doing classical radio” in the local newspaper. In 2000, moved to Boston to do classical and news for WCRB, and then this upstart satellite radio company called XM got in touch in 2001, and asked me to be a part of their new adventure. So back to DC I went. Started as a director for Classical music, and did a live classic alt rock show on “Fred” for 4 years, and then started specialized in XM’s exclusive content, where I started a channel called “XMX” that featured XM-only shows from Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Bill Anderson and others, and we were on-scene at events like the Grammys, Bonnaroo, Farm Aid, etc. When XM merged with Sirius, I continued a classical show but moved my “day job” over to our Talk/Entertainment programming, where I ran DC Operations and fostered relationship with many of the third parties that service SiriusXM with content, like NPR, the BBC, CNN, Oprah, and more.
More recently, I transitioned away from the classical channels on-air, and instead focused my creative energy on a children’s show for Kids Place Live on SiriusXM, called “Couch Potato Stew” –a show that I’m happy to say has won a past New York Festival Award! And I spend most of my time these days as an Engineer for SiriusXM – with my 15 years of Programming experience, Engineering asked if I could help design a brand new playback and storage system to help Programming with our 200+ channels to continue innovating for the future.
New York Festivals: What’s your favorite radio program that created?
Paul Bachman: My current kids show, Couch Potato Stew, is a weekly blessing for me – maybe it’s because my 2 kids are in the demo, but the kid in me gets to come out and play on the radio once a week, and I never would have thought that would have been possible. That said, my favorite event I’ve ever covered, where the radio really seemed to convey what I was seeing perfectly was 10 years ago; I covered the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in Salzburg, Austria. My colleague Martin Goldsmith and I had a golden opportunity to tie in our experience of seeing Mozart’s birth home, his ongoing legacy in the buildings of Salzburg, and the excitement of all of the people and luminaries gathered in one place for such an occasion, into a 3 day broadcast. And when we aired the church bells pealing across Salzburg at the minute of Mozart’s birth….it’s actually indescribable in words. You’d have to hear it! And THAT’s why it’s great radio.
Visit 2016′s award winning entries and experience New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/worldsbestradio/2016/