[JPL] nice article on XM's Russ Davis

JazzCorner at aol.com JazzCorner at aol.com
Sun Apr 16 15:41:48 EDT 2006

Birmingham's Russ Davis is XM's jazz guy 

Sunday, April 16, 2006

For XM Satellite Radio's Russ Davis, it's sort of like he never left 
Birmingham. Davis programs XM's Beyond Jazz and AudioVisions channels out of New York 
City, and almost every week, he hears from listeners in his old hometown. "I 
get e-mail all the time from Birmingham," he says. "It's almost like I'm a 
local radio guy. It's the same as if I was doing radio at WERC-FM in 1975." Davis, 
whose parents, Jessie and Beverly Davis, still live in Pleasant Grove, also 
features such Birmingham artists as Eric Essix and Meteorite on his modern jazz 
channel, which is on XM 72. "I know the musicians are all thrilled that it 
exists because it gives them a chance to be heard," Davis says. "So many of 
these artists aren't heard on straight-ahead jazz stations." 

A West End High School and University of Alabama graduate, Davis worked here 
at the old WERC-FM album-rock station from 1975 to 1977, just when FM radio 
was starting to challenge AM for listeners. He started out as the overnight guy 
and later moved to afternoons. "I did an hour called `The Hour of Release,' 
and after a while, it became pretty popular," he recalls. "It was mostly men 
(listeners) because it was an hour of nothing but rocking, up-tempo stuff. We're 
talking David Bowie and Queen's `Tie Your Mother Down' and all that kind of 
stuff. "The audience was just wild for it. I remember one day saying, `I'm sorry 
I have to get off the air at 6 o'clock. Let's all meet down at Kelly Ingram 
Park and keep this going.'" And that's just what they did. "I drove down there 
and I swear there were dozen of cars there," Davis goes on. "Everybody is 
blowing their horns and stuff. That's the kind of thing that makes being on the 
radio just so cool." Davis left Birmingham to join WQXI-FM in Atlanta in 1977. A 
year later, he got into jazz when the station asked him to program a Sunday 
jazz show. "I said, `OK, I'll do that, but I don't know anything about jazz,'" 
he says. "They said, `Just do a jazz show.' "It was called `Jazz Flavors,' and 
I'll be doggone if, after a while, it became popular." 

After 11 years in Atlanta, he moved to New York City in 1988 to start 
contemporary jazz station WQCD-FM and then got in on the ground floor with XM 
Satellite Radio in 2001. It now has 6.5 million subscribers. "It's slowly creeping 
into the fabric of society, whether people like it or not," Davis says. Since 
1999, Davis also has programmed a jazz program for the international Voice of 
America radio network, which reaches 94 million listeners. "That's an audience," 
he says. "I get e-mail from Thailand and Iran and Nigeria and Australia and 
China. That's a whole different world, literally." As a kid growing up in 
Birmingham, Davis would go downtown to meet the "Good Guys" from WSGN-AM and he 
thought what a cool job that would be. Now, after more than three decades in the 
business, radio is still a cool job for the 54-year-old Davis. "You better 
believe it is," he says. Bob Carlton's media column appears on Sundays. 

Lois Gilbert


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