DJ as legend: Culture god mixes for mortals

Since Bob Dylan took to XM’s airwaves in May, he has been proffering some of the most obscure music any of the channels plays. Thematically arranging his hourlong show, he digs through ancient bins of gospel, blues, folk and the R&B of his childhood.

No other channel is devoting an hour to music about baseball or mother or drinking, but Dylan’s weekly potpourri is pulling in 1.7 million listeners per show, XM’s research shows. That’s a staggering number considering the satellite radio service has only 7 million subscribers.

“You look at (the show) on paper and it looks very odd; it’s too out there,” says Lee Abrams, XM’s chief creative officer. “But plenty of people get turned on by that.”

XM has made its name by offering 170 carefully delineated channels that are defined by musical genres or topics. While they do have celebrities with their own shows — Dylan’s buddy Tom Petty has one, for example — the “Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host Bob Dylan” is XM’s most iconoclastic.

When he debuted, he chose the theme of weather and included “A Place in the Sun” by Stevie Wonder and Dean Martin’s “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine,” which Martin recorded With Paul Weston and his Dixieland 8.

As in all his shows, Dylan provides a few biographical details and recites lyrics that catch his fancy in his own gruff and nasally drawl.

XM execs won’t discuss how long Dylan plans to do the show or how long his contract lasts. They figure he’ll stay on the air until it no longer interests him. For now, as he tours minor-league baseball stadiums for the second year in a row and prepares for the Aug. 29 of his album “Modern Times,” Dylan records his show on the road.

Dylan, 65, has yet to talk about the show with any media. Abrams says the emails and letters have been unique. “Almost all the responses have been reverential — people see it as a god of culture has chosen to speak with us.”

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