One thing the music programming of SiriusXM satellite radio has in abundance is variety. It seems like there’s practically a channel for every genre and style, including Albanian Jazz-Inflected Death Metal Featuring Klezmers.
But when Senior Director of Talk Programming Roger Coletti went to The Powers That Be in 2016 with an idea about a new channel dedicated to just talking about music, some probably thought he was nuts. But TPTB didn’t.
“They were already looking to do something in the talk space about music, and I had an idea of how it could work,” Coletti says. “I really wanted it to be like sports radio for music fans.”
Thus was born the Volume channel. Its bevy of programming includes regular series, specials, and shows hosted by musicians, producers, writers, and DJs. The three tentpole shows that broadcast on Day 1 are still there: Feedback with Nik Carter and Lori Majewski, Trunk Nation with Eddie Trunk, and Debatable with Alan Light and Mark Goodman.
On paper, the Feedback hosts seemed like an odd pairing. Carter was a brash DJ with more than two decades of experience behind the mike on both live and syndicated shows. Majewski came from the print world as an editor/writer for titles like Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and Teen People, and as co-author of the new wave oral history Mad World.
Coletti already knew Carter after hiring him as a VJ for VH-1 Classic (“The channel hired a spiky haired black guy to play classic rock to a bunch of red states,” Carter laughs today. “What could possibly go wrong?”).
“When I was at VH-1, Roger and I would talk about music all the time. And he said ‘What would you think about a channel that talked about music but didn’t play it?’” Carter recalls on a Zoom interview with Majewski. “And, me being me, I said ‘Dumbest idea ever!’ But then I thought about it. If you made it like sports talk for music dorks, it would work. And that’s what we try to do.”
In seeking talent for Volume, Coletti was impressed by Majewski’s music commentary on the CNN series The Eighties. The two had auditioned for other shows with other co-hosts before they were put together for Feedback.
“I was excited, but I didn’t see how it would work never having done radio before! They wanted me to talk about my life and as a journalist. I’m used to keeping myself out of the story,” Majewski says. “But Nik had a wide-eyed and an unjaded enthusiasm for things. And I wanted to work with someone who was that passionate.”
Of course, sometimes — though not too often — that passion spills over into disagreements. For the audience, it’s like being kids listening to Mommy and Daddy fight.
“We actually agree more than we don’t, but when we disagree, we vehemently disagree. But that shows passion,” Majewski says. After one particularly heated argument, Carter says a friend called him to ask exasperatedly “What can you fight about? You’re talking about music!” It made Carter reflect. “No one should leave the studio upset,” he says. “It’s all opinion. There’s no wrong answer.”
And when interviewing musicians, producers, and authors, the pair always strive to have actual conversations rather than rapid fire Q&A’s. What Carter calls “real human moments” with guests.
That passion also comes to the pair from the diehard fans of the channel, dubbed “Volumaniacs.” These are callers often known to the DJs and each other. During the pandemic, they’ve had Zoom meetings, continued the post-show conversation online, and on social media. And they’re now starting to meet up at concerts.
“We’re a family even if we haven’t ever met,“ Majewski adds. “It’s not only music that we have in common, it’s that everybody has to get up and go to work in the morning. You get to start your day with people, and you’re the first person who they hear.”
That sense of tight community has surprised the hosts in other ways. When Carter’s beloved dog Lola — who had become a star of her own on his social media — recently died, a group of 50 Volumaniacs got together and donated $1,350 to the ASPCA in Lola’s name. “That really knocked me over,” Carter says. And when Majewski’s mother died, another group planted hundreds of trees in her honor, and even sent a Duran Duran T-shirt when she and her husband became foster parents (they are currently going through the adoption process).
Grieving together has also been part of the show, as with the dual suicides of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and later, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. The hosts and listeners shared memories and shed tears. Bennington in particular was tough to handle, especially since he had been in the Feedback studio just a few weeks before.
“He was so full of hope with his new record and this polished direction Linkin Park was going in. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years. He saw me and said ‘Dude!’ and came right over and hugged me,” Carter recalls. "He was so joyful and happy and full of hope for the future. And then when he passed, we were devastated. It was just tragic.”
The show often veers down what’s been dubbed the “Rabbit Hole.” That’s when one topic will spark another unexpected train of conversation that can go deep. A recent discussion about John Mayer’s ‘80s-inspired new album cover led to dissecting a New York Times interview with him, which led to 45 minutes about “Divorce Core.” That’s the genre in the ’80s when middle aged rockers like Phil Collins and Don Henley mined broken mature love for gold (see “Against All Odds” and “The End of the Innocence”).
“I’m Type A and I like to have everything planned to the minute. The Rabbit Hole was born out of [Producer Matt Ianni] trying to take the training wheels off of me,” Majewski says.
“No, that’s not it at all!” Carter jumps in. “The Hole was born with Matt. He’s a little younger than us and I used to joke we should do a segment ‘Things Matt Doesn’t Know.’ Lori and I would talk about things we just assume everyone knows. Our heads are a never-ending storehouse of weird music info. And then Matt would pose a question, and we’d go down the Hole.”
“Like when Matt would say he first knew about Elton John because of The Lion King!” Majewski laughs. “‘80s kids have a better take of things that happened before. In the ‘90s, everyone starts looking at their belly buttons.”
“We’re in a click bait, it’s trending, microwave society. People can’t remember what happened five years ago,” Carter adds. “But there’s not much of a reason to look back, because there’s so much stimulation coming at you every day. You can go to streaming or Soundcloud or YouTube or the radio now for new music. We’ve never seen this much choice.”
Coletti says he’d like for the shows to be hosted live in the studio again as soon as it’s safely possible, in both the New York and Los Angeles studios. “The environment, the vibe, and the energy there in those hallways is missing,” he says.
But since March 2020, Feedback has been produced remotely, with the hosts and guests only seeing each other on Zoom. Coordinating it all is Ianni. He’s had a lot of on-the-fly job training this year for sure calling up guest and host Zoom cameras, commercials, music drops, and remote feeds timed to the second from his home set-up, all while being an active part of the conversation as well.
“We didn’t miss a beat too much, and in the beginning we’d record the show at nights and I’d do post work. But our engineering and IT team set up a great system to do a live show with broadcast quality,” Ianni says, adding that he’s got what is basically a “virtual mixing board”—though admitting it only takes “one push of a button” to cause big problems.
For the future, he foresees doing some shows back in the studio and some with the remote setup. “If I felt our show was losing something by the way we’re doing it now, I’d say we need to get back in the studio full time,” he offers. “But I think it’s as good now as it’s ever been.”
Majewski says she’s gotten quite used to not having to get up quite so early and travel into New York City to the Sirius studios, but she does pine for the staff’s famed Karaoke Battles. Carter misses the in-person camaraderie, and a greater work/home delineation. Majewski thinks she and Carter “are even closer now,” though they’re physically farther apart.
The years together on air and in exchange with each other and the listeners have also moved the needle in other ways. Majewski (aka The World’s No. 1 Duran Duran fan) has a greater appreciation (if not necessarily interest) of Rush and the grunge music of the ‘90s.“I still won’t put on an Alice in Chains record, but I will listen to Soundgarden,” Majewski says.
“Lori certainly turned me around on Duran Duran,” Ianni adds. “I had the idea about them that a lot of [men] have, and I only knew them from the hits. Now, I think they belong in the Rock Hall.”
Carter can now at least respect the music and community of the Grateful Dead. And even Ed Sheeran. “He’s Kris Kringle from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town!” Carter says in just one of a bevy of non-music pop culture references. “But I have respect that the kid does it all on his own. And he knows how to write a good pop song.”
When asked if they could jump in a time-traveling DeLorean what their June 2021 selves would tell their October 2016 selves, the pair get especially reflective.
“I would tell myself not to take things so personally. It’s like an arranged marriage with Nik. When we were first thrown together, he was defending his corner and I was defending mine. But before we could be married, we had to have an engagement.” For his part, Carter says “I would be a little less strident in my approach. Be more open to certain perspectives that aren’t my own. Hers, mainly!”
In the end, Feedback is about music. But in the end, it’s also not.
“It is a music show, but we’re really talking about life. Music is just the vehicle,” Majewski sums up. “We let the listeners into our lives, they let us into theirs, and that’s a real privilege. That’s what Feedback really is.”
Feedback is heard 6-9 a.m. Houston time, Monday through Friday, on SiriusXM Volume channel 106.
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