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Until a few years ago, people could call their local radio station, request a song, and the station would likely play it.

For instance, WAPE radio in Jacksonville promotes itself as the nation's oldest Top-40 station and takes great pride in the role it played in promoting the city's Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But song requests are a thing of the past. Young people want to know why, and one of them wrote this report.

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Record Industry Payola
Tuesday, May 28, 2002   By: Robert Rosario

Payola, the practice of paying radio stations to play recordings, is supposed to be illegal, right? Wrong.

For those of you who missed 20/20 this past Friday evening on ABC, you missed a very good and informative episode regarding the current Radio Payola System that is corrupting and damaging our music society!  And, let me tell you… it was informative!

Our very wise friend Nick Blazer has mentioned this subject before on numerous occasions, and now, I saw first hand what this payola system is all about.  I'm going to try my best and recall everything I comprehended within the 15-minute segment, so bear with me.  I think you'll find the information well to your surprise.

The interview, which was 2nd in its 4-segments, started off with Barbara Walters describing how do you ever wonder why you hear the same songs over and over again on the radio.  It then went into the segment, which ABC Reporter Arnold Diaz covered (and might I add, he did a great job doing).

He basically described how in today’s pathetic music society, an artist, even established ones like Gloria Estefan, Madonna, Janet Jackson, and Elton John, couldn't just rely on the quality of music to get airplay.It’s all about the money!

Back in 1996, the Federal Communications Commission passed a law known as the Communications Act of 1996, legalizing the payola system, in which record companies hire big independent music producers known as “Indies” who pay radio stations to get an artist’s song played, despite it even being the dumbest song you ever heard!

They even showed a receipt of the payola system of Pink’s “Get The Party Started.”  You won't believe this…. They spent over $500,000 just for one month of airplay for just one song!  They said that a record company pays anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 just for one song/one month of airplay! Is that ridiculous or what??? 

No wonder Gloria refuses to pay the amount because she doesn't want to sell out like everyone else tends to be doing today.  It’s not just shipping the single to radio stations and they play it.  It doesn't work that way anymore.  It’s all about the money, unfortunately.

To support this evidence, they did a spotlight on a new artist named Matthew Harrison, who released an album last year and how he tried desperately in getting radio stations to play it.  He lived in Las Vegas, and sadly, his own city where he grew up all his life wouldn't even play it!  The reason because was that he refused to pay a huge lump some just to get his material played.

The way it does work, they say, is that those with big bankrolls are the ones who get most stations just to listen to their music.

"It seems like now, [for] corporate-owned radio stations, it's not about the music so much as what compensation they are getting for playing the records," says Robinson.

Industry critics call it pay for play, and they say it's happening throughout the music business.  And the industry itself is apparently responding to the criticism. A coalition representing everyone from singers to record labels and consumers is expected to release a statement Friday acknowledging the problem, and asking the Federal Communications Commission to ban compensation in exchange for the playing of certain records.

"The system is crooked," says Jerry Del Coliano, who publishes Inside Radio. "You pay for access to radio stations and it's basically legalized payola."   "Payola" was outlawed in 1960, after a number of disc jockeys were charged with taking bribes from record companies to play their songs.

"In those days, you could learn to love a record that had a $100 bill on it," says Del Coliano. "If it had a $200 bill on it, … the disc jockey says, 'So nice, I'll play it twice.' "  Since it's now illegal for radio stations to take money directly from record companies in exchange for airplay, they have found a loophole in the law by using middlemen.

 Record companies say they're being forced to pay independent promoters, so-called Indies. The Indies then pay the radio stations, buying access to get the songs heard. And it's all legal!

"You look at the radio and they got the same 30 records circulating. These 30 records are paid for, and the minute you stop hearing a record, that means that records not paid for anymore," says Chuck D, a rapper with Public Enemy. "It's a different type of payola."

Getting the Party Started

According to documents obtained by 20/20, Work Records, a now-defunct division of Sony Music, paid Indies more than $400,000 in one year after Fiona Apple's song "Criminal" got nationwide airplay.

The price tag for Jamiroquai's CD? More than a quarter-million dollars in fees paid to Indies for weekly retainers and in bonuses for getting airplay, according to documents.

Even for a monster hit that would seem to need no help getting played — like Pink's "Get This Party Started" — the record label still gets a hefty bill from Indies, according to Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

"There's this sort of implied fear that if you don't play the game with them, you're not going to be able to be at the table," she says. "Maybe the next time you've got a record you want the stations to consider, they won't."

Artists like Harrison and Robinson say that since they don't have a seat at the table, radio stations aren't even considering playing their CD. "They're not even listening to it because we're not going through an independent radio promoter," says Robinson.

'Purchasing a Relationship'

Several of the Indies who have become major players in the radio business by buying access declined to speak with 20/20. Most radio stations wouldn't speak about it either.

But the executives of Radio One, which owns 65 stations across the country, had no problem admitting that they're taking money — an amount reported to be millions of dollars a year — from Indies.

"It's legal," says Mary Katherine Snead, Radio One's chief operating officer. "It's also another revenue stream. And so are we going to be the only major broadcasting group out there not taking advantage of that?"

Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins says the Indies offer a valuable service by working as middlemen. "The phone rings too much. There's too many other people calling and you can't talk to everybody."

He says the Indie pays for the right to consult with stations' program directors about which songs are chosen to be played. But Liggins insists that the Indies do not dictate which records get on the air.

Driving Away Listeners?

Whether or not a song gets played, and how long it stays on the radio, Liggins says, depends on how good it is. While an Indie gives some artists an advantage, record companies don't necessarily have to go through one in
order to get their songs played.

But many artists disagree: "Who's going to give the grass-roots person a chance?" asks Chuck D. "They can't get on the airwaves, which is supposed to belong to the people. That's a damn shame."

Record company representatives say they have no choice but to keep paying the ever-increasing price to get a song played.  But critics say the industry is shooting itself in the foot, because it results in boring, sound-alike music that drives listeners away.

"What does the next generation say? 'Radio sucks,' " says Del Coliano. "The younger listeners are saying, 'I don't need radio.' And they don't."   But commercial radio remains the best way for musicians to get their songs heard. If the airwaves are virtually closed to people without deep pockets, it's next to impossible for them to sell their music.

"I can't even get played on the radio in Vegas, my hometown," says Harrison.  

I hope all of you enjoyed reading what I wrote regarding today’s sad radio payola system, and hopefully it brought to you some much endear insight as to how corrupt our music is today!





(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren