After 11 years, Bob Dylan is returning to his fabled Theme Time Radio Hour series, which will take over SiriusXM’s Deep Tracks (Ch. 27) with a brand-new show and a one-week limited-run channel featuring every episode of the original Theme Time, starting Monday, September 21 at 12pm ET.
First introduced in May 2006, Theme Time Radio Hour was a weekly one-hour radio show hosted by Bob Dylan, with each episode dedicated to a different topic, including “Money,” “Presidents,” and “Spring Cleaning.” The show was among the most-listened-to programs on all of satellite radio.
All of Dylan’s classic satellite Theme Time shows will air back to back during the week, including a brand new, never-before-heard episode titled “Whiskey” a tie-in to his whiskey collection, Heaven’s Door Spirits.
In honor of Bourbon Heritage Month, the all-new two-hour episode discusses how whiskey has shaped the world — from music to sports and everything in between.
The remainder of the week — until Monday, September 28 — the channel will play a 24/7 stream of past Theme Time Radio Hour episodes with songs dedicated to themes like “Dogs,” “The Devil,” “Weather,” and more.
Reviewing Theme Time, The New York Times wrote, “As DJ, Mr. Dylan vamps on the lyrics of his chosen songs, and makes observations that often amount to something like what he does musically: He taps America’s musical heritage with words that veer from the logically linear to the abstract,” and the Washington Post observed, “He’s voluble, generous, articulate. He’s liable to quote a poem, give tips on hanging drywall or pass along a recipe.”
Whether you’re a Constant Theme Time fan or a brand-new listener, here’s what you need to know to get prepared for the return of the greatest show on satellite radio.
“Whiskey” isn’t Theme Time’s first commercial affiliation
In October 2007, Theme Time Radio Hour began opening with a “sponsored by Cadillac” announcement. That same month, the show’s 56th episode centered around the theme of “Cadillac,” with some 15-odd songs — from “A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac And Some Money)” to “Be Thankful For What You Got” — all name-checking the car in one way or another. Tie-in complementary television commercials featuring Dylan behind the wheel of a Cadillac promoting the car, XM Radio, and “Theme Time” were also aired during 2007.
Theme Time Radio Hour was first pitched as the “Bob Dylan Channel”
XM Radio’s then-Chief Creative Officer Lee Abrams pitched Dylan’s offices in 2005 on a “Bob Dylan Channel” — either exclusively playing Dylan’s recordings or folk/rock classics in a format similar to “Willie’s Roadhouse” — but the idea was rejected. During ongoing talks the concept of Dylan hosting a weekly radio show evolved, and a deal for Theme Time Radio Hour was signed in December 2005.
XM Radio wanted Dylan to audition
Concerned with Dylan’s inexperience deejaying and with his relevancy to their audience, some XM Radio execs campaigned to have him send in an audition tape before the satellite radio station committed to Theme Time Radio Hour. The idea was shot down by XM’s CEO before ever reaching Dylan.
Theme Time Radio Hour turned into XM Radio’s biggest music show
As it turned out, Theme Time became XM’s second-biggest moneymaker, with an audience share topped only by XM’s broadcasts of Major League Baseball.
Dylan may have gotten the idea for Theme Time from Woody Guthrie
Sixty-six years before the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour there was another radio series organized around themes, a program titled Back Where I Come From that featured Woody Guthrie, was written by Alan Lomax and directed by Nicholas Ray, who would later go on to direct Rebel Without a Cause.
Just like the first episode of Theme Time Radio Hour sixty-six years later, the theme of the first episode of Back Where I Come From would be… the Weather.
You can read more about Back Where I Come From here.
There were 100 episodes of Theme Time broadcast over three years
Dylan recorded the narrative for 100 episodes of the show broadcast from 2006 through 2009; an amazing feat for a man who was on tour, recording albums, and involved in numerous other projects during the same period.
A “lost” episode of Theme Time was broadcast on German radio six years after the show ended
In early February 2015, Berlin radio station Radio Eins broadcast an unknown episode of Theme Time Radio Hour, titled “Kiss.” Unlike “Whiskey,” “Kiss” was an older episode, recorded during Theme Time’s third season, but never aired.
Theme Time was introduced by Ellen Barkin and produced by Eddie Gorodetsky, producer of Two and a Half Men
Ellen Barkin introduced every episode in Seasons 1 and 2 except the “Halloween” show, which was introduced by comedian Steven Wright. Barkin remained anonymous until the show’s Christmas episode and announced to listeners in Theme Time’s finale, “This is Ellen Barkin. It’s time to go…”
Theme Time Radio Hour’s executive producer Eddie Gorodetsky’s résumé includes stints as disc jockey, comedian, and television writer/producer, including as producer of Two and a Half Men and Dharma & Greg. An avid collector of obscure and rare recordings, Gorodetsky’s music library is legendary, with over 10,000 albums and 140,000 digital files. Much of the music played on the show came from his collection.
Before Theme Time, Gorodetsky’s connection to Dylan was best-known through the television series, Dharma & Greg, where Gorodetsky arranged for a Dylan cameo appearance on the show.
Callers and commentators on Theme Time Radio Hour ranged from Penn Jillette to Tom Waits
Guests on Theme Time Radio Hour included Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Astrid Gilberto, Ricky Jay, Keb Mo, Marianne Faithfull, Jack White, Amy Sedaris, Cat Power, T Bone Burnett, John Cusack, Mick Jones, and Steve Earle.
Dylan played Blowin’ in the Wind live on a recorder
While Bob Dylan got through three years and 100 episodes without once playing any of his recordings on Theme Time Radio Hour, he did break out a recorder and launched into Blowin’ in the Wind on one show (“Days of the Week”)
Here’s Dylan on his recorder performing with Harry Dean Stanton and Peter Himmelman at the 25th Chabad Telethon in 1989.
Dylan also sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game a capella
Dylan opened the “Baseball” episode by reciting…
Nelly Kelly loved baseball games,
Knew the players, knew all their names,
You could see her there ev’ry day,
Shout ‘Hurray’ when they’d play.
Her boyfriend by the name of Joe
Said, ‘To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go,’
Then Nelly started to fret and pout,
And to him I heard her shout.
and then sang the song’s better known second lyric…
Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.
before going back to reciting…
Nelly Kelly was sure some fan,
She would root just like any man,
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along, good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Nelly Kelly knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the game sing this song.
“. . . and I just sung it fer ya,” Dylan closed.
Dylan did dozens of “def poetry” readings on Theme Time
Dylan quoted from over fifty poets’ works during Theme Time’s original run, ranging from W.H. Auden to William Butler Yeats, and would often read a complete poem aloud, including “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” and “Annabel Lee.” “Oh, this is a long poem,” Dylan remarked during his reading of Poe’s work.
The “Flowers” episode from Season 1 leads in Dylan poetry readings with four separate poems from authors ranging from Christopher Marlowe to Anonymous. Willy the Shake wins hands down as “most quoted,” with Dylan reading selections from Shakespeare more than a dozen times during Theme Time’s 100-episode run. “The kid is good,” as Dylan remarks.
You can hear a selection of Dylan’s poetry readings at the Dreamtime podcast.
Tom Waits and Dinah Washington were Theme Time’s most played artists
Both were played 10 times during the show’s three years. Elvis Costello, George Jones, Van Morrison, and The Rolling Stones all tied for second place with nine plays each.
Bob Dylan liked giving helpful tips on Theme Time
His advice on various shows included “How to Hang Dry Wall,” “ How to Walk Like A Runway Model,” and “How to Give Yourself Dreadlocks.” He also provided recipes for Mint Juleps; Barbecue Sauce; and Figgy Pudding.
A listener called him “Mr. Sixties”
In the “Money Part 2” show, a listener from Carbondale, Illinois told Dylan, “I know you’re Mr. Sixties but…” as she insisted that the name of the Beatles song she wanted played was “Can Buy Me Love.”