Is it the Brawl of the Century, or Same Shit, Different Decade?
As the current label vs. radio battle heats up, with independent promoters—not surprisingly—right in the middle, students of the music biz will note that the current indie promo situation is not without historical precedent.

While not a perfect parallel (what is?), last week’s ABC News 20/20 segment on radio’s "dirty little secret," featuring Radio One’s Alfred Liggins and Mary Catherine Sneed (as well as a silent cameo by Radio One indie Joey Grossman), has prompted many to reminisce about Brian Ross’s 1986 NBC News report, which sprang from an alleged meeting of "The Network" (see Hit Men) at the Helmsley Palace in NY on the occasion of the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. That broadcast, sprinkled with Rolls Royces and bodyguards, strongly suggested an organized-crime element was behind a sex-, drugs- and cash-driven indie business—resulting in subpoenas, grand juries, indictments and the sudden, complete cessation of any kind of indie business for a prolonged period.

This time around, the worst insinuation seems to be that laws need reforming, and what smacked of underworld illegality in 1986 looks to many like plain old corporate greed in 2002, even if it's deemed legal by the FCC. Complaints from label insiders that they're not getting their money's worth from indie promoters have intensified, leading to the current call for legislation.

What, if anything, will come of the RIAA’s and others’ just-launched campaign to reduce the costs of promoting to radio remains to be seen. It’s worth noting, however, that the 1986 affair resulted in indie Joe Isgro suing the labels for colluding to put him out of business—an action that netted him settlements across the board.

Will this year’s version turn out to be as litigious? Action to come.