Dion Summers/VP Music Programming-Urban/SiriusXM
Dion Summers started out as a high school intern at Baltimore’s Top 40, WBSB (B104). The station changed format to AC when he was 15 and he called to complain. The on-air Radio DJ referred his complaint to the GM. Within 10 minutes of speaking with him, he offered Dion an internship! Summers said he learned two things from the situation: “Radio could be kinda cool…and my big mouth may actually get me somewhere in the world!”
From B104, he attended Syracuse University where he was very involved in the student-run radio station, WJPZ. During the Summer before his senior year, he began doing PT on-air work at WERQ back home in Bmore. Upon graduation, he returned to WERQ, where he remained for nine years, as an on-air talent, APD, and within six years, Program Director.
Dion left Baltimore in 2003 for an opportunity with (what used to be called) Clear Channel, where he programmed WMIB in Miami for three years. After three years in Miami, he desired a professional change and chose to accept an offer from XM Satellite Radio in 2006 to oversee their Urban channels. After XM merged with former rival Sirius in 2009, he was promoted to Vice President of Music Programming, where he manages the Sirius-XM’s twelve Urban-targeted radio channels.
Give us a general idea of what you do?
Vice President, Urban Programming. I oversee our 12 Urban channels, managing our Hip-Hop, R&B, Gospel & Reggae formats. I work with a team of programmers on branding their channels and creating compelling and exclusive artist-centric content to appeal to our subscribers. I directly program SiriusXM’s flagship Mainstream R&B and Hip-Hop channel, The Heat, where I also perform on-air duties (by choice! :)). At The Heat, in addition to playing the hits, we are also heavily involved in Music Discovery, having been the first to support artists like Tory Lanez, Miguel, Jidenna, among others. Also, as VP, I work with our Marketing teams on creating new radio formats within our genre and building artist-branded channels from icons like Michael Jackson & Prince.
What’s the best part of your job?
Finding the next… “(artist name here)”. Discovering new music. WE are the culture-creators for the next generation. WE are trusted with discovering, cultivating and managing the sound of our culture. Our work will create the next Beyonce, the next Whitney, the next MJ…and I love that I am Blessed to play a part in that.
What’s the best interview you ever did?
Patti LaBelle. 1997. The night before the interview my mother had a dream about Patti. Because of her dream, my mother insisted that I ask Ms. LaBelle her favorite number. (either you get that or you don’t…LOL). I initially refused to ask her because…she’s Patti LaBelle. But, I eventually relented. Before the interview I reluctantly asked her. “Before we begin … Ms. LaBelle … my mother had a dream about you last night, and …” Patti immediately cut me off. “TELL HER I SAID PLAY 3-5-7! THAT’S MY GIRL!!” That was the moment! I was buggin’! After that point, the interview was smooth, funny, informative, and compelling. She was awesome. It taught me a valuable lesson….if someone as legendary as “Patti” can give me a down-to-earth, real one-on-one conversation with no ego, then, so should everyone! Of course they all don’t – but she set the standard for me!
What’s the worst?
Rashaan Patterson. When he first came out in 1997. (ironically, a week after Patti.). Came off very arrogant. (which was confusing, as he was JUST starting to break…he was like my “Bizzaro-Patti”). Oh … and Young Thug. He was there physically … but mentally …. he was on Jupiter …
I noticed at the BET Radio Room last year, everyone was very selective of who they let on the air and interviewed? Do you ever think that people might be turning down tomorrow’s Beyonce or Jay Z?
Absolutely! I remember when I was in the BET Radio Room three years ago, there were two teenage boys who had a song out. Unfortunately, no one wanted to speak with them. Knowing the power of Music Discovery, I OK’ed them for an interview with us. Those kids were and are Rae Sremmurd – so you really never know in that room – today’s “WHO” is tomorrow’s superstars! It’s our job to find them.
You were in few car commercials (online?) how did that come about?
Through GOD. I’ve been working diligently on building my brand over the years. When Lincoln chose V. Bozeman (another artist The Heat first supported, and still, does) as the first artist on their “First Listen” campaign, she mentioned she wanted to work with me on the campaign. From there, the stage was set. I’m really grateful and proud to now have been a part of four artist commercials for Lincoln now. Shout to Datu Faison!
We are working in several different music and radio industries right now. Do you think it will remain this way?
Yep! Consumers love options…and the more options, the more businesses will rise to meet the demand. Consolidation may occur on some level, but overall we will need to adapt to and succeed in an evolving and layered industry. Programmers, for example, have access to record data and metrics that didn’t exist ten years ago. And it changes daily. We’ve just got to keep up.
It was around 7:50pm, Saturday evening. My friend Adam, who is also in the industry, texted me. “Whitney Houston died…call me!”. I’ve known Adam since college and he KNOWS how much I love Whitney … so I knew it was real. I ran to my TV and turned CNN on … and there it was. I couldn’t believe it. This caused a crossroads between my career and life. As a music lover and true fan of Whitney’s rare and incredible gift, I had to grapple with her untimely death. But, as VP for a major cultural lifestyle brand, I had to also anchor the moment, remain objective and become a radio version of “CNN” to our subscribers. It was a delicate balance, but a feat that I felt I was more than prepared for. Sounds cocky, but there was no one else that I wanted to be responsible for celebrating her life to our listeners than me. Almost felt as if God allowed me the opportunity to say goodbye to my favorite artist in the world, with an audience of 20+ million. I handled her passing with grace and respect. I personally anchored SiriusXM’s radio simulcast of her funeral – and built our “Whitney Houston Tribute Channel”, which ran on our platform in the weeks following her death. The channel served as a musical reminder of Whitney’s accomplishments and legacy. This is The Purpose To Our Profession: to preserve and grow our music culture!
Do you think we will ever see another Whitney?
Eventually. I just hope I’m still around when she breaks through. Talent like Whitney’s comes once in a generation. I just hope I’ll have all my teeth when “she” shows up so I can grin to you and say, “I told you so!”
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
Convincing others to see your vision. To see the cultural AND financial benefit to the content that I and my team work hard and diligently to create. My mission is to make sure the diverse, eclectic and talented voices I come across are fairly and evenly represented. It’s all about the culture and the mark we leave behind. It’s up to us to tell our story – and sometimes it’s a challenge to have others see what you see. But that’s the part of the job I love … I enjoy rising to the challenge. It’s kinda fun, actually.
If you could program five artists to play all day every day, who would they be?
Whitney. Michael. Prince. Janet. and A Tribe Called Quest.
What are some of your other passions besides radio?
I Love writing screenplays. There are way too many ideas in my head! I love my family. They are the ones that take me away from this thing called Radio – and remind me that I’m just Lorise’s little boy. Also – love taking care of my almost five-year-old pitbull Reign – who is almost used to the fact that she now lives in a place where grass doesn’t grow.
Do you think it’s important that people separate their personal lives from industry life?
It’s vital! You have to separate the two. While I love my industry life – it’s a Blessing that I never take for granted and cherish … you need to be able to connect with what’s real … where no one wants a song played, or Kendrick Lamar tickets! You have to “fill yourself up” with personal support to allow the professional stuff to flow. I didn’t get that early on – but the more I’m lucky to still be in the game, the more I know how critical it is to live in that balance.
Who are some of the best Radio DJs you have heard recently?
Besides the ones who currently work for me, I love listening to Dre Johnson on WERQ. He’s a pro!
Who do you think are some of the best programmers in the industry?
Doc Wynter. Thea Mitchem. Two individuals who love radio and truly fight for its integrity. Also, Ron Triana, BK Kirkland, BJ Stone, Pat McKay, Kory Bartholomew and Dave Dickinson are my SiriusXM star programmers that truly get it.
How do you keep in touch with the listeners working for a company that does national radio?
Through our internal research and surveys, we are able to communicate with subscribers in our target demos. To be a large company, we really drill down to satisfy individual subscriber needs. Also, our DJ’s are nationally-known but regional. They tell us who’s big & who’s breaking in their specific areas. Additionally, we are able to be at major events annually (Coachella, Essence Festival, etc.) which also allows us access to music fans and their tastes.