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Just Ask: Kenny Curtis, XM Satellite Radio

By Claire S. Green

Parents’ Choice Foundation presents Just Ask, a kitchen-table interview with writers, artists, personalities, producers and performers involved in the world of quality children’s media. Our series begins with Kenny Curtis, Director of Children’s Programming for XM Satellite Radio.


PC: Why is Kids Music Suddenly “In?”

KC: For the 15 years I’ve been in Children’s Programming, this industry has been mostly under the conventional radar. But now – all of that has changed. To put it country simple: There’s a lot out there folks, and more is being added to the pile everyday.

PC: And Why Is The Pile Growing Sky High?

KC: Technology has made it easier to make a quality product, the internet has made it possible to sustain a business, and new media outlets (from Noggin to PBS Kids to internet radio to -- at the risk of tooting my own horn -- satellite radio) have brought exposure to some truly wonderful content.

PC: It’s All Wonderful Content?

KC: Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of mediocre mush going around. Some folks seem to be jumping enthusiastically into the Kids realm simply because they think they could be the next Wiggle – not out of any real desire to affect kids, just a misdirected desire to be famous.

PC: What Kind Of “Content” Is Being Released?

KC: Much of the product being released these days is of the singer/songwriter genre (Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Ralph’s World, etc) In most cases, these folks are writing really good songs. It just so happens, these songs are about temper tantrums, dinosaurs and vegetables.

PC: So Just Because A Song Is About A Temper Tantrum Or A Lima Bean It’s A Good Song?

KC: It’s clear that some people are jumping on the bandwagon – and some folks are leading the charge.

PC: You’ve Used The Term “Disaffected Rock-Parents.”  Who Are They?

KC: Talented contemporary musicians who had kids and embraced the enthusiasm and sense of wonder with which children approach music… Among these, you have MilkShake, Daddy a Go-Go, Imagination Movers, the always intriguing They Might Be Giants and scores of others...

Trout Fishing in AmericaPC: Are All These Musicians New Comers?

KC: Not at all. Veterans like Trout Fishing in America, Cathy & Marcy, Tom Chapin, and Joanie Bartels are alive and well – and producing terrific stuff. Cathy and Marcy actually won (finally!) a Grammy after being nominated umpteen times.

PC: Are All the Kids Musicians Homespun, Or Have Celebrities Been Invited to the Party?

KC: Celebrity-driven projects from the last couple of years like Netwerk Records’ “For the Kids” and For the Kids, Too” or SONY Wonder’s “Mary Had a Little Amp” have brought both up-and-comers and established rock musicians into the fold. And Sandra Boynton & Michael Ford’s delightfully whacky musical storybooks (“Rhinoceros Tap”, “Philadelphia Chickens” and “Dog Train”) have so many celebrities the book should come with a Paparazzi warning.

PC: What Are Kids Requesting?

KC: 9 times out of 10, the kids who call-in to XMKiDS ask for a specific song, not an artist…

PC: Do They Request The Same Songs Over And Over And Over?

KC: Some days, sure. As a rule, kids don’t really care how famous a singer is. Kids have wonderfully open minds, they are receptive to our suggestions. Yesterday, I took a request on the air from a kid asking for Bob Seger’s “Katmandu”. When I told him I’d have to listen to the song’s lyrics first he said, “OK, how about “The Cat Came Back” by Fred Penner?” 

PC: Kids Don’t Ask For The Latest Greatest “Hottest” Artist?

KC: No, not always. But when they do, it’s for a name they know: Laurie Berkner, Hilary Duff (yes, her), The Wiggles, Hi-5, and the theme song to every cartoon show currently on the air… If you’re in the Kids Biz, you want to “catch on”. Kids will ask their parents to buy your CD’s, people will pay more money to see you in concert; you can quit your teaching job and do this full-time. Catching on is good.

Rhinoceros TapPC: Are You Pleased That Kids Music Has Become The Hot Trend?

KC: Call me selfish, but I don’t want kids music to be a trend that bursts onto the scene and goes the way of the Tamogotchi. (Or “Pogs”… Remember pogs? What the heck WERE those things, anyway?) It seems like lots of folks are trying to be the next Wiggles.

PC: What Would You Like To See Happen From The Current Search Light On Kids Music?

KC: My sincere hope is just that this is the time… finally… when people are beginning to notice all of the good content that talented musicians are making for kids.

PC: And People Noticing Good Content Is Enough For You? 

KC: Maybe good songwriters will keep writing good songs; good musicians will make good recordings; the labels will make and distribute good albums; we’ll play them on the radio and TV… and the good people of the world will buy them.

PC: Any Other Reason To Keep Promoting High Quality Kids Music?

Because Dan Zanes would sure make one funny-looking Wiggle.



Justin Roberts Dan Zanes Dan Zanes Cathy & Marcy Trout Fishing in America Trout Fishing in America

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