National Geographic launches music unit

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National Geographic Ventures, the media wing of the venerable science and exploration society, is launching a music and radio division to accompany its existing TV, film, magazine and digital units.

The new enterprise comprises a record label, a music publishing house, a live-concert branch and a radio unit that will produce syndicated shows for over-the-air radio stations and Internet outlets, David Beal, the division's president, said Friday.

The radio venture is launching with several distribution partners, including commercial radio giant Clear Channel Communications, National Public Radio and leading Christian broadcaster Salem Communications Corp.

Beal said specifics of those deals would be unveiled in the fall.

"We'll be making an announcement very soon, which you'll see makes us very hungry for programming," he said. "It's more than a few hours, or a hundred hours -- it's a lot of programming."

National Geographic's long-running "Radio Expeditions" series, which takes listeners to far-flung corners of the Earth, also will continue in conjunction with NPR, Beal said.

The new venture's radio offerings, as well as its live and recorded music, will be geared toward an audience that he believes is underserved elsewhere.

"We're looking at people who are really interested in the planet," he said. "Our mission is to inspire people to care about the planet and those who live in it."

On the music front, National Geographic has been working with such artists as former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel, surfer-turned-rocker Jack Johnson and singer-songwriter Ben Harper.

"They all have a really interesting and passionate voice on the world," Beal said.

Until now, the 118-year-old National Geographic Society has been known mostly in the media for its vivid exploration of foreign cultures and the natural world as depicted in its monthly magazine and in film and TV documentaries.

With its new division, the organization hopes to expand beyond its status as a mostly visual and literary enterprise to an aural one.

"In my mind it's the listen division," Beal said.
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