Dion Summers says “blessed” a lot. He’s “blessed” to work in radio, “blessed” to have met the very hip-hop, pop, and R&B personalities he grew up admiring, and “blessed” to program The Heat, SiriusXM’s premier urban station.
Most of all, however, Dion feels blessed to have a job where he “communicates with people.” “Radio is the most personal medium there is,” he says. “I’ve always believed that. It’s one-on-one. You’re talking to that one woman at the light. That one guy at his desk. It’s one-on-one in the way that TV can’t compare, and print can’t compare.”
It’s not just divine intervention. Dion is also an avid, endlessly enthusiastic music fan. Though he’s amassed a number of years in the industry, you immediately get the sense that he’s consistently grateful — never entitled — to meet world-famous celebrities day in and day out. …Celebrities like the late, great Whitney Houston.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I loooove Whitney Houston,” says Dion. “I was that dude that had her back when everybody was saying, ‘How dare she marry Bobby?’ and ‘I wonder if she’s on drugs?’ But it was always Dion who had Whitney’s back.”
“I’d just never heard a voice like that,” continues Dion. “She was so poised and beautiful. There was no one else like her. The more I’m involved in music and the more I’m in the industry, the more I see that that’s RARE. We ain’t gonna get another Michael Jackson. We ain’t gonna get another Whitney Houston. Those legends are gone.”
When asked if Dion had ever met Whitney in person, his face lights up.
“I did meet Whitney. It was a Playboy party I wasn’t even supposed to be at. It was like, 2002. Soul Train Awards weekend in Los Angeles. I saw a friend of mine at LAX, and she gave me a ride to the event. We get there, and Whitney and Bobby are there. And I’m buggin’. Buggin’, buggin’, buggin’. So I asked the woman who brought us there: ‘I know this isn’t that kind of event, but is there any way you could introduce me to Whitney Houston?” And she GOT it. She did it! And here’s the picture to this day!”
Though he claims to be a Whitney fan to the core, Dion also favors a variety of artists. When asked to recall his first-ever concert, Dion takes us back to the year 1990: “I was 16 years old. I saw MC Hammer, Oaktown’s 3.5.7, After 7, and Bobby Brown. It was so cool because every artist was on fire at that point. Every artist had hits on the radio.”
And it’s certainly not every day that a young music obsessive gets to interact with the artists he saw at his first concert. “One of the many blessings of being [at SXM] is that life and music become full circle,” expands Dion. “You meet the same people that you grew up idolizing. I would later in my walk in radio MEET MC Hammer. I would MEET the After 7s of the world. It’s such a blessing to get that full circle moment. It’s surreal. It’s the circle of life in our business.”
Perhaps the best thing about Dion’s job with SiriusXM, however, is the absolute and total freedom he has to handpick music on The Heat, which he admits is a rarity in radio.
“I’d grown a little frustrated with homogenized playlists and the sameness that had taken over a lot of different radio companies,” says Dion. “All of the Clear Channels of the world were becoming very cookie-cutter. What [Sirius]XM was promising was a certain degree of autonomy. You’re a programmer, but you’re also a music lover. So we’ll nourish that and have you build the radio station that you want to build, free of corporate wrangling and interference. Where music lovers can roam free.”
And roam free he has. Dion’s vibrant, enthusiastic personality shines through everything he does, and that includes the questions he encourages his staff to ask pop artists when they visit the studio.
“We’ve done some of the coolest content here that I’ve ever been a part of. [SiriusXM] and [terrestrial radio] may both get Rick Ross or John Legend in, but [what sets us apart from] FM radio is that instead of saying, ‘So, who’s on the album?,’ we ask the things that people care about. It goes back to that connection that I was talking about earlier. You’re able to take more liberties with your audience because they trust you.”