From KHIP to the Grateful Dead Channel to voice the voice of Pearl Jam Radio
You’re fresh off the high that is the Pearl Jam live experience. Perhaps its was attending this past August’s Home and Away shows. Or maybe, your summer vacation included touring Europe so you can catch part of (and for some, all) the band’s epic 15-date run. Now what do you do? Well, in an effort to keep riding the wave, you look out for the concert re-run on Sirius XM’s Pearl Jam Radio and the always engaging, Faithful Forum. Hosted by the voice of the channel, Rob Bleetstein, this special live show allows fans from all over the world to reconnect and share their special memories — like that Boston version of “Immortality” referencing lyrics from 1994, or the moment during “Yellow Ledbetter” where you gather with fellow Ten Club Members, drape your flag over your shoulders, lock arms in a circle and sing together at the top of your lungs. The Faithful Forum offers an opportunity to relive your thrill, explain it to others who were not there and build excitement for the next time around.
In addition to this unique segment, Bleetstein has taken the reins of Pearl Jam radio and steered us towards the clear since it’s inception in 2010. His philosophy, which he also brings to the Grateful Dead channel and the New Riders of the Purple Sage archive, is not to be the man behind the scenes, but to literally be right in the middle of the scene in an effort to translate and captain the exuding passion. With that, we are thrilled to have Bleetstein invite us into his inspiring radio journey.
I’ve had a passion for radio since I was teenager. I grew up on Long Island and had two great stations at my disposal that were progressive in the world of FM radio, WLIR and WNEW, which provided great exposure to so many different kinds of music. Radio wasn’t so genre specific back then and both stations did live broadcasts frequently. I would go out and see bands live and then a few days later I would be home recording it on my cassette deck. That spawned me into being a taper and a collector. Music was my salvation and I just followed it from there.
In high school, I interned at a college radio station. I moved to California for college and jumped into radio there and worked in a record store at the same time. My first radio job out of college was at KHIP, a renegade country station that played a lot of rock as well. It was an incredible learning experience and it’s where I first met many of the artists I’ve befriended over the years. I was introduced to various contacts in Nashville and ended up moving there for a year, and then the same thing happened with Austin, Texas — I spent a year there in the early 90’s. But the San Francisco Bay area is definitely my home. I’ve also had various radio, record label and management gigs. I also started the Americana music chart in 1995 at the radio trade publication The Gavin Report. I’ll always love that music and be entwined in it somehow. Internet radio entered my world in the early 2000’s.
I’ve been a Pearl Jam fan since Vs. came out. They recorded that record in the town I live in, and the Vs. tour started here in San Francisco on October 28th, 1993 at the Warfield Theatre, which was also my first show. A friend took me and I was blown away. I was sitting in the first row of the balcony and I thought I was going to fall out. I could not believe their energy. I ended up going to their show in Berkeley three nights later and it was completely different. They were covering Neil Young and The Who and it felt like the band was really talking to me, so I went to the tour ending shows in Seattle and that completely sealed the deal for me. I knew at that point, I will see this band as much as I possibly can.
In 2010, I started Pearl Jam radio on the band’s website, which is now referred to as Ten Club radio. I had pitched the idea to them in 2009. We kept the dialog going, figured out the best way to make it work in terms of marketing their bootleg program, and we launched the website radio channel on May 3, 2010 — the day their tour started in Kansas City.
SiriusXM’s Pearl Jam channel came several months later in October of 2010. I’ve been a producer on the Grateful Dead channel on SiriusXM since 2007, so with things already aligned with me working for them, we launched on channel 22 the same day the band played The Bridge School Benefit.
A Day in the Life:
In addition to the two Pearl Jam radio channels, I produce for the Grateful Dead channel and am also the archivist for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, an alt-country psychedelic rock band. I oversee their archive, website, and online store. And I’m always working on something in the Americana world in one way or another.
Ever since we started PJ radio I felt doing show reports and capturing the live experience from the fans was a huge element of the channel. I try to get to as many shows on a given tour as I can. I am not part of the crew, I am not on a tour bus, so, it’s more of something I do on my own with other fans. If I can make it work, I go for it. What I really like to do is talk to somebody who was up front right after the show and capture that energy. It’s tricky, because at the end of a really great show, your mind is completely blown. Sometimes it translates and sometimes people have a hard time articulating the feeling, which is understandable. It’s all about trying to capture the emotion of the show for people who were not there.
Fan vs. Radio Host:
Sometimes I definitely have separate being a fan of the band I’m doing radio for, especially with Pearl Jam because they don’t have bad shows. Each show is intense in its own way. Then they have nights that are on another level. That’s another similarity with the Grateful Dead, it’s why you go to so many shows. They never play the same set twice. There are those nights where these unbelievable things happen, and you can’t even describe it. The most unique thing is the show is different for every person. Your environment has a lot to do with it. For me, from a radio perspective, whether it’s Pearl Jam or Grateful Dead, I have to make sure I submerse myself into the overall experience, not just my favorite songs. If I’m not at a show, I make sure I listen closely to the bootleg to get a proper feel — that’s the crowd, the setlist, the flow of the songs and the energy.
From the Stage to the Airwaves:
Every show gets recorded professionally on a multi-track system and then it gets mixed and mastered. That’s why you get it three weeks later as opposed to the next day. As one would expect, Pearl Jam wants to make sure it’s the best quality possible.
Most Memorable PJ Radio Moments:
Interviewing Eddie Vedder in Mexico City was certainly one of them. Getting to work with Steve Gleason and doing a guest DJ piece with him was incredibly meaningful. Steve is probably the most inspiring human I’ve ever come across. He’s been battling ALS for years now and he has such an amazing outlook. How much he gave to make that show happen and then how great it turned out, was really special. He had fascinating stories showing us how much of a fan he is. Another one was when I got to interview Damien Echols from the West Memphis Three when he got released from prison. To have been involved when Ed, Natalie Maines and Ben Harper did the benefit show in Little Rock, Arkansas, was a super-moving. It was an emotional and intense night. Then to see a year later, those guys get released, it was like — Wow, that thing worked. People put so much energy into this effort to help these kids out. Interviewing Damien, I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous on the radio. But once we connected after a few minutes, it all went away, and it became easy and natural.
Tour-wise, I would say the most memorable was the first Europe tour in 2010. I did the whole tour for PJ radio and connected with so many great people who are close friends today. That will be in my head forever. European tours are always so much fun. It’s all about getting to meet so many cool people and making new friends all over the globe. It’s the greatest thing this gig has brought to me.
Favorite Pearl Jam Show:
While I’m convinced the band gets better and better every tour, I don’t know how I can ever replace November 6th, 2000 in Seattle as my all time #1. It was the last show of the Binaural tour and an unbelievably heavy and emotional night. You didn’t know if the band would carry on after that. It was the end of a really tough year. I always go for the emotional shows — where things are happening along side the concert. That night seemed to have it all.
Favorite Pearl Jam Song:
“In Hiding” — it was at Seattle 2000 show where “In Hiding” became my favorite song. When the fans kick in, it becomes this anthemic movement. When you are in an enclosed building and everybody is screaming the chorus at the top of their lungs, it’s incredibly powerful.
Current Pearl Jam Show Count: 292
Catch Rob Bleetstein on Pearl Jam radio channel 22 on Sirius XM or on Grateful Dead radio channel 23.
*all photos courtesy of Rob Bleetstein
In collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra