If you separated the front from the back of a dollar bill, only the front would be considered legal tender. Another fact: A million bucks in hundred-dollar bills weigh a tidy 20.4 pounds. Such are the things you might learn in the third season of Bob Dylan's satellite-radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, which premieres October 8th.
"We've had a lot of fun the last couple of years presenting the greats and near-greats, the fondly remembered and the almost forgotten, performing a wide variety of music on a veritable cornucopia of subjects," Dylan patters, welcoming listeners back to his XM Radio set. Eclecticism continues to be the guiding principle: This season's themes include war, sugar, carnivals and furniture. The topic of the first show, of course, is money. He spins records by Ray Charles ("Greenbacks"), Mel Blanc ("Money"), Lefty Frizzell ("My Baby's Just Like Money") and Puff Daddy ("It's All About the Benjamins"). The Dylan of the 1980s was born-again; this Dylan is Catholic.
Which is why programmer Lee Abrams first recruited him to XM. "I'd heard that Bob is into the romantic aspects of radio, the way it was in the Fifties," says Abrams, who left XM earlier this year. In Chronicles, Volume One, Dylan describes himself "always fishing for something on the radio," thrilling to Judy Garland and Roy Orbison. (Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie once helped host a radio show. The theme of his first program? Same as Dylan's: weather.) "This is in his musical DNA," says Abrams.
On November 19th, Dylan will debut a 90-minute war-themed show that will give him plenty to chew on — Dylan, assisted by his researchers, holds forth on the Spanish-American War, the death of Attila the Hun and technological advances brought on by the Civil War.
The FCC-approved merger of XM and Sirius was finally completed in July, and shares of Sirius XM have plunged 65 percent. But Sirius XM president Scott Greenstein says Dylan's show is in no danger. As Dylan himself says, "All we can do is keep our eyes open and hope for the best. And sometimes music can help."
This story is from the October 16th, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone.
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