Radio shows had been a big part of my consciousness back in the Midwest, back when it seemed like I was living in perpetual youth," Bob Dylan wrote in his memoir Chronicles; Volume One. "They gave me clues to how the world worked." On May 3rd, just a few weeks shy of his sixty-fifth birthday, Dylan will start repaying this debt with the debut of Theme Time Radio Hour — a weekly XM Satellite Radio show on which Dylan spins a wildly eclectic set of favorite tunes (from Judy Garland to LL Cool J) and provides amazing, old-timey-sounding introductions to the songs. ("This is Julia Lee, one of those singer/piano players. Lots of double-entendres, making her very popular in Kansas City.")
"The show is modeled after the way radio was in the Fifties," says XM chief programmer Lee Abrams. Each episode is organized into a theme: The first show — which was previewed for journalists and has since been widely bootlegged on the Internet — is all songs about the weather; the second episode, about mothers, will air a few days before Mothers' Day (listen for Dylan's hilarious intro to "Mama Said Knock You Out"). Future episodes are about cars, dancing, police and whiskey. "I have no idea what it's going to sound like next week, which is part of the magic," Abrams says. "There's no format. He can do anything he wants to do as long as it's legal."
Dylan, who had long been contemplating hosting a radio show, came up with the concept himself of assigning themes to every episode. Dylan's song choices are impressively varied (choice cuts from the "weather" show include "Just Walking in the Rain," by the Prisonaires, "Summer Wind," by Frank Sinatra and "The Wind Cries Mary," by Jimi Hendrix). Between songs, Dylan drops nuggets of obscure knowledge ("Chicago's known as the Windy City, but it's not. That's Dodge City, Kansas") and will spend part of each show responding to e-mail from fans, a surprising move from a notoriously inaccessible musician. "I can't imagine he's going to answer personal e-mails," says a source close to the show. "It will be more stuff that relates to the music, but, really, who knows?"
On the second episode, Penn Jillette drops by to talk about being a "mama's boy"; future guests include Charlie Sheen, Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman. "When he runs into people he knows, he'll just invite them to join in," XM's Abrams says. "I don't think it will be the traditional interview, though. Often the guest will just be spouting out on the theme." Details of exactly how the show is assembled remain tightly guarded. A source claims that it is taped at "the Abernathy Building," a fictional location occasionally referred to on the show. "To get specific would ruin some of the flavor we're trying to accomplish," the source says. But according to Abrams, Dylan records his part of the show wherever he wants to. "We provided him with a state-of-the-art setup," Abrams says. "He can record on his bus, in his house and even hotel rooms."
As for the rest of Dylan's plans for 2006, on May 11th he wraps up the current leg of his Never Ending Tour in Hollywood, Florida; later in the month a major exhibition, "Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966," opens at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum; and a new album is likely for August. But one thing's for sure: For the next year, according to a source close to the show, Dylan will be broadcasting a weekly dose of "dreams, schemes and themes."
DJ Dylan's Picks: Bluegrass to hip-hop: highlights from the "Mothers" episode
Mama Don't Allow It
Mama Didn't Lie
I'll Go to Church Again With Momma
Mama Told Me Not to Come
Mama Get Your Hammer
Bobby Peterson Quintet
(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean
Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way
Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?
The Rolling Stones
Mama Said Knock You Out
LL Cool J
This is a story from the May 18th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.