It was announced this morning that SiriusXM will be changing the musical format of channel 61, Bluegrass Junction, for 9 days. Instead of the 24/7 bluegrass signal so many listeners have come to love, they will broadcast Hanukkah Radio, in honor of the Jewish celebration of lights.
The network chooses from among its nearly 400 channels (80+ music channels via satellite) to pre-empt for seasonal programming each year. Why they chose one so prominent as bluegrass is an open question, and repeated attempts to reach someone this morning in their programming department have been unsuccessful.
The change will occur at midnight on Sunday, December 6, and Bluegrass Junction programming is set to resume on the 15th. During the interim, subscribers will only be able to access the bluegrass channel online.
This is another sign of the diminished value the company sees in its bluegrass product since Sirius and XM merged in 2008. The two satellite radio players had both experienced difficulty penetrating the market sufficiently to become profitable, and it is widely believed that the merger saved them both.
Prior to the merger, when Joe Clayton was CEO of Sirius, the bluegrass channel was a Golden Child within the company. Clayton had regularly remarked that it was his favorite channel, and often used live bluegrass in his press conferences. His promotion of bluegrass was universally recognized in our industry, and he was given a Distinguished Achievement Award by the IBMA in 2005 for his efforts.
But following the merger, and Clayton’s departure, bluegrass’s lustre began to fade. New CEO Mel Karmizan brought in a number of supervisors whose opinion of bluegrass was notably less elevated, and it became just another minor format among the network’s offerings. Bluegrass Today readers will recall when staff cuts were announced for Bluegrass Junction in February 2014 that took popular hosts Chris Jones and Ned Luberecki down to one day a week each.
Other niche market music formats have also been affected, with some being moved to online only.
If you are a regular listener to Bluegrass Junction, and fear that bluegrass could eventually be on the SiriusXM chopping block, you may not be completely paranoid. Letting the company know of your displeasure about the channel being preempted like this is a fine idea, but regular complaint channels rarely reach the actual decision makers.
In this case, the most likely executive responsible is Steve Blatter, Senior Vice President of Music Programming in New York.
It would be helpful to inform Mr. Blatter if Bluegrass Junction is the primary, or sole reason why you subscribe to SiriusXM, and how important a resource it is for our entire community. Bluegrass Junction reports to our Bluegrass Today Weekly Airplay Chart, and is a major asset for artists trying to break new music – including the many bluegrass Christmas albums released this Fall, and the many others of recent vintage.
There are worse outcomes imaginable than SiriusXM brass being afraid of getting the bluegrass world in a tizzy by mucking around with Bluegrass Junction. Let them know how you feel, and tell a friend.
Blatter’s company email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The SiriusXM switchboard at their NY office is 212-584-5100. Please be courteous but clear in your communication.
Should we be able to reach him for comment, we will be sure to publish his remarks.
Editor’s note: a few minor changes have been made to this post for clarification.