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Signing Off at XM
As XM matured, Abrams's day-to-day responsibilities changed.
"He's created this beautiful piece of art, which is our programming lineup, and now he's more of a curator, making sure the new people who join the XM family don't mess it up," XM spokesman Chance Patterson said.
Abrams was one of the planners of the notorious Disco Demolition Night between games of a 1979 double-header at Comiskey Park in Chicago that resulted in an on-field riot and a White Sox forfeit. He hired Howard Stern to one of his first big jobs and has been instrumental in popularizing a number of rock bands via the FM airwaves. Abrams is largely responsible for introducing British prog-rockers Yes to U.S. audiences.
He also has been blamed for radio's demise, as having been one of the fathers of consultant-generated radio playlists, which critics said created a homogeneity among stations.
XM is awaiting a decision from regulators on a proposed merger with its New York satellite radio rival, Sirius. Abrams said his departure is not related to the pending merger, but he added that his job at XM may not be filled because it would be redundant in a merged XM-Sirius.
Satellite businesses are expensive, especially to start. As such, XM and Sirius have hemorrhaged money on a quarterly basis. For 2007, XM had a net loss of $682 million, compared with $719 million in 2006. Both companies say a merger would help keep satellite radio viable.
XM is the larger of the two companies, with 9 million subscribers. It has more than 170 channels of music, news, sports and talk programming, and charges $12.95 a month to subscribe. The service has four $250 million satellites in geostationary orbit over North America, beaming programming to XM radios. XM is headquartered in the District at the intersection of Florida and New York avenues.
Now it's a $3.5 billion company, but when Abrams and former chief executive Hugh Panero launched the business out of a basement office in Dupont Circle in 1998, all they had was a concept and a list of radio format ideas that Abrams had scrawled on a white board.
"Lee's mark on our medium will be remembered forever, and we are grateful to have had Lee as one of our founding programmers and architect of our programming philosophy," XM programming vice president Eric Logan said in an e-mail to staff members yesterday.