Public radio and satellite radio have something in common: the ability to offer niche programming without the worry of sponsors, ratings, or critics. That's a freedom commercial radio cannot afford to have because of the nature of its revenue stream. Public radio has underwriters, grants, and donations. Sirius XM Radio is subscription-driven with an addition of advertising and sponsors. These two business models provide the leeway to offer programming the masses might not necessarily support but, a discernable amount of people will.
Such is the case with the Sirius XM "Town Hall" events. The service describes the broadcasts as "...intimate gatherings with iconic leaders, newsmakers and entertainers sitting down with a studio audience of SiriusXM listeners."
The idea behind the Town Hall format is a pretty good solution to providing access to extraordinary people while placing it in the right place to be heard. For instance, a recent "Sirius XM Town Hall with Tony Bennett" was moderated by Alec Baldwin and it aired on Siriusly Sinatra (channel 71). But, an upcoming Town Hall featuring former Vice President Al Gore will air on SiriusXM Left (channel 27) the progressive talk channel.
So, the Town Hall format is a "vehicle" SiriusXM uses to highlight celebrities, stars, musicians, authors, directors, etc. which can be aired as a special on a channel most appropriate. It would be near impossible with today's narrowly-formatted commercial radio to do something like this unless you dropped it on an early or late Sunday time slot and tried to pass it off as "public affairs" programming or something like that. The fact is, there's little room for "long form" programming like the Sirius XM Town Hall.
Previous SiriusXM Town Hall specials have featured Bruce Springsteen, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Quentin Tarantino, Tony Bennett, Oliver Stone, Carol Burnett, Tom Petty, KISS, Coldplay, Ringo Starr, Roger Waters, the surviving members of Nirvana, Renee Fleming, Gregg Allman, Usher, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Tony Hawk among others.
Actually, guest and hosts change on Town Hall. When Al Gore is guest this Thursday (2/28/13), the host will be Ari Rabin-Havt, the regular host for Sirius XM's The Agenda. Rabin-Havt works with Media matters and is involved in progressive politics. During this upcoming Town Hall Gore will talk about his new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, and take questions from a live audience. In January, 2012 Ringo Starr promoted a new album with an appearance on a Town Hall event hosted by Russell Brand.