Friday, October 3, 2008

Behind the Scenes of XMU's "Student Exchange Program"

I've written a lot about the satellite radio show "The Student Exchange Program," which airs every Sunday afternoon on the indie music/college radio themed channel XMU. I think it's awesome that every week they feature college radio stations from all over the country, by airing a 2-hour program put together especially for XMU. These segments aren't just list of songs, but include DJ commentary (and banter), so you actually get a flavor for each station, even if at times the music is similar from week to week.

To get a bit more insight about the inner-workings of the program, earlier this week I chatted by email with Josiah Lambert, who manages the "Student Exchange" project for XMU. He talked to me about how he recruits stations for the show, reveals some of his favorite stations, and hints at some of the guidelines that college radio stations need to follow when crafting their XMU shows.

As he mentions, there's still time to make a pitch to XMU for your own station. I've been thrilled to see some new participants recently, including Villanova Station WXVU this coming Sunday, October 5th. So, I'd encourage you to continue that pattern by applying if you've never been on the show before in order to help provide some different voices and sounds on the show.

On to the interview...

Spinning Indie: What's your role at XMU and on the Student Exchange Program?

Josiah: I am the on-air host for NiGHTtiming, our late-night indie show on XMU ch. 43 airing at 9pm West / Midnight EST every weeknight. I also work on many of our specialty shows including "The Radar Report" (for unsigned and small-time independent music), "XMU A.I.R. Time: Artists In Residency" (a weekly indie artist takeover show which has featured The New Pornographers, The Black Keys, Albert Hammond Jr, and many others -- this month it's The Kooks), and "1234 More, More, More!" (our weekly takeover show by John Davis of Georgie James, Q and not U, and Title Tracks).

My pet project, however, is the XMU Student Exchange Program, which allows college radio stations to take over the satellite radio airwaves. I recruit college radio stations for the show, coach them through the process, and assemble their selected songs and voice breaks for airing every Sunday afternoon at 1pm West/4pm East.

Spinning Indie: Were you a college radio DJ?

Josiah: Surprisingly, I was not! I began as an intern for XM Satellite Radio (now SIRIUS XM Radio) two years ago. After working on back-end stuff for XMU ch. 43 for a time, I was invited on-board as the evening host by Billy Zero and Tobi (XMU's Program Director and Dean of Music, respectively). Internships are available for all departments in XM's Washington, DC-based headquarters. Details are online at A fantastic experience for college radio talent.

Spinning Indie: How do you select the college radio stations that you feature on the "Student Exchange Program"?

Josiah: Our first preference is to use colleges who take the initiative to contact us directly with a pitch for their station (email us at Schools which take this initiative tend to deliver a better show than those we contact on our own effort. When we resort to personal recruiting, we typically bring on schools which have received CMJ coverage or have caught the eye of one of our XMU staff members.

Spinning Indie: Do you have rules or guidelines that you require stations to follow when coming up with their playlists?

Josiah: We send out a detailed "Syllabus" with instructions. A few guidelines regarding playlists spring to mind:

* keep most of it within the general indie rock/electronic cannon (The Shins, Spoon, Justice, The Knife, etc. etc.)
* make your playlist reflect a "snapshot" of your station's tastes
* flavor the playlist occasionally with local bands or artists you have an interesting back story with

Spinning Indie: Which stations have been your favorite contributors to the show?

Josiah: If I were forced to pick two, I would go with WERS from Emerson College in Boston, MA (one of the nation's most prominent college stations -- always top-notch music and DJ banter); and RadioUTD from University of Texas at Dallas (a smaller-but-growing Internet-only station -- to use a car commercial cliche, "the best in its class").

Spinning Indie: Have you gotten turned on to new music through the program? Which bands?

Josiah: Some of the left-field remixes I discover on the XMU Student Exchange Program often make their way into my own evening show... some examples include Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' "My Man Is A Mean Man (DJ Spinna Remix)", Astrud Gilberto's "Bim Bom (Psapp Remix)", and Kings of Leon's "My Party (Kenna And Chad Hugo Remix)".

Spinning Indie: Have you ever had to remove a song from a station's playlist? Why?

Josiah: Unless the audio is corrupted/missing or the song contains highly explicit content (as outlined in the syllabus), we have never removed a song from a station's playlist.

Spinning Indie: If stations want to participate, what's your best advice for how to get on the show?

Josiah: Get a feel for XMU's on-air style with a free online trial. Then email us directly at and let us know why you think your station could churn out a great show for us. College stations who demonstrate a willingness to take initiative over an on-campus promotional campaign are almost always brought on-board (or invited back for return shows).

Spinning Indie: Can you share with me the fall schedule for the program?

Josiah: It's still coming together as we speak! There's still room in the schedule for first-time college stations, so schools should email us right away they want in. It's a tremendous opportunity to garner big attention from your on-campus community, your school administration, CMJ, your local press, and your online network.

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