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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Theme Time Radio Hour Season 2 Highlights

With Our Host announcing the close of Season 2 this Wednesday, April 2 with the "Cold" show, I thought I'd do a wrap-up of some of the notable moments of Theme Time Radio Hour Season 2:

September 5, 2007 - XM Radio announces the return of TTRH, beginning September 19. The press release says in part...

"Future shows will center on such motifs as "Young & Old," "California," "Dreams," "Fruit," "Something," "Nothing," "Streets," "Parties" and "Mail..."
The highlighted shows were not aired during Season 2.

September 19, 2007 - The first episode of Season 2 airs. The theme is "Hello."

October, 2007 - ISIS Magazine announces "The Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour," an unauthorized 2-CD compilation based on the TTRH Season 1 playlist.

October 2007 - Dylan delivers a rant about "commercial affiliations" during the "Days of the Week" episode. In response to supposed email criticizing Sheryl Crowe, Dylan lists a variety of artists, including himself, "proud to have commercial affiliation." Later that month, Cadillac would release two television commercials featuring Dylan.

October 2007 - The Washington Post publishes a detailed article on TTRH.

October 2007 - Cadillac and XM Radio release a cross-promotional advertising campaign featuring Bob Dylan and Theme Time Radio Hour. Elements of the campaign include :30 and :60 second television commercials for the 2008 Cadillac Escalade hybrid, and a web page featuring the first half of the TTRH "Cadillac" episode. As could be expected, Dylan's participation is greeted with criticism from both the mainstream press and Web writers.

October 2007 - TTRH producer Eddie Gorodetsky releases a promotional TTRH poster he commissioned from artist/illustrator Jaime Hernandez. Each of the scenes illustrated in the poster refer to Ellen Barkin's "It's Night in the Big City," introductions from Season 1. The poster is featured on the pop-culture site, BoingBoing. Apparently intended as a gift for online fans, the poster is only available through free download at

October 2007 - TTRH airs its long-promised "Classic Rock" show. The theme? Rocks of the mineral sort.

October 2007 - Fan Simon Nielsen (aka "ukulele.elvis") creates a multimedia walkthrough of the TTRH poster, using Ellen Barkin's introductions as the voiceover. The walkthrough is also featured on BoingBoing, and Nielsen receives a congratulatory email from XM CCO, Lee Abrams.

October 2007 - To the disappointment of many fans, the "Halloween" episode for Season 2 is a re-run from Season 1.

November 2007 - AOL Radio removes XM Radio's "Deep Tracks" station from its free online playlist.

November, 2007 - The Season 2 "Thanksgiving" episode is a re-run from Season 1, "Leftovers."

December, 2007 - TTRH does a second "Countdown" show, with all-new material.

December, 2007 - The Season 2 "Christmas/New Year" show is a re-run from Season 1.

January 2008 - AOL Radio returns the XM Radio "Deep Tracks" station to its free playlist.

January 2008 - Ace Records announces an authorized TTRH compilation, "Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host, Bob Dylan," to be released in March, 2008.

January 2008 - During the "Lock & Key" show, Dylan rants at a supposed telephone caller, Tim Ziegler, that Theme Time Radio Hour "isn't a classroom," after "Ziegler" complains that Dylan has gotten a record label wrong.

January 2008 - January marks the first full month during Season 2 where a new episode has aired each week.

February 2008 - The "President's Day" episode broadcast on February 13 is a two-hour show. While the first hour deals exclusively with that theme, the second hour more resembles the "Leftovers" or "Spring Cleaning" shows, with a compilation of songs touching various themes.

February 2008 - The Starbucks coffee house chain releases a Dylan "Artist's Choice" CD, featuring music chosen by Dylan. The credits note that the compilation was produced by "Tim Ziegler," the infamous caller from the "Lock & Key" show.

March 2008 - XM Radio announces that it is ending its relationship with AOL Radio and that no XM Radio channels will be available through AOL Radio after April 30, 2008.

March 2008 - The Simon and Schuster publishing house announces a hardcover book, The Theme Time Radio Hour Compendium, to be released October, 2008.

March 2008 - Lee Abrams, XM Radio Chief Creative Officer and the person who brought Dylan to the station, announces that he will be leaving XM and moving to a new job at the Tribune Company beginning April 1, 2008.

March 2008 - The U.S. Department of Justice announces that it has approved the buyout of XM Radio by Sirius.

April 2, 2008 - Bob Dylan closes the "Cold" show with the announcement that it is the last show of Season 2, noting that TTRH will be back "real soon" with Season 3. Curiously, no closing credits are read.


Some editorializing: All-in-all, it was a weird season, half the length of Season 1 and with three re-runs.

When TTRH began in 2006, no one really had a clue about what Dylan was going to do. Was he going to speak? Would he play his own music? Would it be a folkie history show? Contemporary music? Interviews with other artists?

No one knew. So each new show of Season 1 was a surprise. Plus you had unexpected continuing stuff like the "Night Time in the Big City" intro, def poetry readings, even the "Top Cat" closing theme.

I think once they ("they" being the TTRH team) got the formula down, they let things get a bit too predictable and started letting the show run on cruise control during Season 2. The production values of Season 2 seemed off, compared to Season 1. Some of the spoken segments sounded as if they were recorded in an empty steel drum or over a very bad VoiP connection. The research wasn't as crisp, or as interesting, even though the research team had expanded. Some things Dylan/Gorodetsky deliberately got wrong: the recounting of the Nixon/Khrushchev Kitchen debates, or the claim that every U.S. President with the the exception of Carter had been a Freemason. Jokes, obviously, but jokes that felt like in-jokes that fell flat. Partway through Season 2, the TTRH team seemed to give up on accurate research altogether... and more or less announced through "Tim Ziegler" that they didn't all that much care.

While the format for Season 2 wasn't that different from Season 1, the TTRH team took the emphasis off email and "def poetry" in favor of pseudo-telephone calls, which I personally think was a mistake. While several of those segments were quite funny, I think those calls were the most blatant examples of what seemed to me to be a different attitude in TTRH from the first season; that instead of being a retro radio show, which it was in Season 1, TTRH moved towards becoming more of a deliberate parody of a retro radio show.

While the emails were/are almost always a joke, they're usually a relatively subtle joke, and often allow Dylan to get a poke at some hobbyhorse, such as his "commercial affiliation" rant. And better, they fit into the illusion of "Well, Bob could really get emails, and he could read them on the show." But every time one of those phone calls played, it broke the willing suspension of disbelief and reminded us all that TRRH isn't real, and Dylan isn't sitting up in Studio B in the Abernathy broadcasting live, but instead is reading a script drafted by a comedy writer.

Having said all that, I still find much, much more to like in TTRH than dislike, and eagerly look forward to Season 3. Ultimately, Dylan has done what he set out to do, to introduce music and artists to listeners. I'll be along for the ride as long as he wants to continue.

With Our Host on hiatus, Dreamtime will be on semi-hiatus too, at least as far as the podcast goes. As with last year, we'll still release the intermittent audio show as the Spirit moves us, and more regularly be posting on the blog. So keep that Feed in your iTunes, and check here regularly for news.

Thanks to all of our listeners for a great Season 2, and Jailbait, Curly Lasagna, Shaggy Bear and I hope you'll also be along for the ride as long as TTRH and Dreamtime continue!



Unknown said...

Hey Fred, thanks again for a season of Dreamtime. My highlights for TTRH Season 2 included the Tom Waits stuff, the Doctors episode, and the Head to Toe episodes. Like you, I didn't love the phone calls; the idea should be dropped. I'll tell Eddie next time I see him. --Jennifer D

almax said...


We're all agreed that the phone calls are a weakness - but, beyond that, I haven't really noticed any diminution in quality in Season 2 - I still find our host to be amusing and informative, and above all, the records are a continuing revelation and, for me certainly, a complete education (or re-education) in 20th century music.

Easily the greatest radio shows I've ever heard (even better than John Peel !!)

Best wishes and enjoy your break


Kimberly said...

Hey, Thanks for filling me in on Bob's show. I'm still in Nursing school, so naturally I can't afford shit right now, but the 1st subscription to anything when I'm done is XM just for Bob's show!

(I just hope he's still doing it by then....)

Rory Sullivan said...

Season Two was wonderful.

TTRH is superb entertainment, as well as being like an extra catalogue of Bob Dylan albums.

I don't think the DJ has played more than a handful of songs that I "like", but, taken as a whole, each show is a masterpiece of its own. Everything is carefully constructed, each comment carefully scripted - even the emails and telephone calls are a humourous conceit designed to have a dig at regular radio shows.

TTRH easily goes into my short-list of favourite things!