Friday, September 24, 2010

Sirius/XM Radio and Kyle Cantrell

Bridgestone Arena Visitor Center

We arrived early for our 12:30 appointment with Kyle Cantrell to tour the new Sirius/XM satellite radio station located in the conical tower on the corner of 5th and Broadway at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville.  We decided to walk down Broadway to take a quick look in at Gruhn Guitars.  The two or three block entertainment district down a gently sloping hill is filled with pretty sleazy bars, country music hangouts, a few nice restaurants, and the distinct odor of old beer and garbage.  

South Broadway

 Gruhn Guitar Window

Gruhn Guitars was established in 1970 when George Gruhn, Tut Taylor, and Randy Wood decided to open a music store on Broadway in Nashville.  Eventually Taylor and Wood left to pursue other interests, and George Gruhn built a mecca for buyers and sellers of great acoustic instruments. Instruments hanging on the walls whet the interest of any person who seeks a fine instrument. I can only imagine the stock that's stored in a vault somewhere in this building.  Here are just a few pictures to give you an idea.




We both have instruments we love and neither of us have much interest in adding to our collection, but a visit to Gruhn Guitars is sort of like a pilgrimage.  If you're nearby, you have to go there. 

Sirius/XM Studios
Kyle Cantrell in His Office
Kyle came down to the entrance of the Visitor Center to take us up stairs to the studio.  Somehow, when you hear a voice nearly every day on the radio while driving around the country, you begin to think of the person as a star talking to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, a disembodied voice and not a real person.  Over the past three or four years, as we've come to know Kyle, he's emerged as very much a real person - thoughtful, warm, engaged, and extremely knowledgeable in his areas of country and bluegrass music as well as broadcasting, in which he's been involved since he was a teenager.  

The Sirius/XM studios and offices take up three floors in the conical Bridgestone Arena Visitor Center and can only be reached by elevator.  It's located on three levels of the cone. Kyle started us at the top where three voice tracking rooms are located.  These small, sound-proof studios are where much of the programming originating in Nashville is created.  Each room contains a microphone, a couple of computer screens, and some dials and slides for managing the songs being put together into a block of programming.  The computers allow the on-air host to access the complete Sirius/XM archive needed to select and order songs for air play.  Kyle showed us, on a screen a small segment where a song faded into his voice making an introduction and then faded up into another song.  Such a production facility allows the "jock" to put together a three hour block of programming in about an hour while sitting in a pleasant, quiet environment looking out on S. Broadway, the famed Ryman Auditorium, and the Nashville Convention Center, the epi-center of country music in America.  

Voice Tracking Room

Other studios in the Sirius/XM suite permit a variety of other kinds of performance and program assembly.  There's a room where Kyle conducts his track-by-track interviews in which members of a band come to the studio to chat about each track on a new or soon to be released recording.  Recently we've heard Kyle's interviews with Darin & Brooke Aldridge and Tim O'Brien.  In each case, Kyle's questioning allows the guest to tell the story of the album and its contents as well as their own stories.  While, having come to know Kyle over the years, I understand that he has his own taste and preferences in music, it's truly impossible to tell by the interview what his opinion might be.  He does his homework, knows the history and development of the group he's interviewing, and constructs questions designed to elicit the essence of the recording at hand.  

Interview Studio

Performance Studio

Live Performance Auditorium

The live performance auditorium has been designed to permit a small audience of fifty or so people to come to the studio to watch and listen to a band's live performance.  So far only two of these have been produced, and Kyle said that attendance had not been very good, although the bands gave very fine, professional performances.  If you should happen to be in or near Nashville when one of these events is scheduled to be recorded, it would provide an excellent opportunity to hear a great band close-up in an intimate and comfortable setting.  

We finished our visit in Kyle's office after seeing the electronic guts of the system. His office is cluttered by dozens of CD's which are ready to be added to the system or have recently been digitized.  They are then sent to a huge archive in Washington, D.C. where they are stored forever to fulfill an FCC requirement that all recordings played on radio must exist in hard copy somewhere the station's archives, even though all the actual recording work is done on a computer from digital files, which are also maintained in Washington with back-up servers around the country.  I'd like to thank Kyle for taking time from his busy schedule to show us around.  As we left, we took a look at the surrounding area and know we'll be around the same places all next week for IBMA's World of Bluegrass and the IBMA Awards Show, which will be carried live on Sirius/XM satellite radio.

Sirius/XM Studios, The Nashville Convention Center 
Ryman Auditorium - The Birthplace of Bluegrass Music