Is It “Urbangate” or Just Business?
Relations grew strained recently between some broadcasters, their anointed independent promoters and record labels, as Radio One executives Mary Catherine Sneed and Alfred Liggins raised the specter of price-fixing and collusion in on-camera accusations taped for ABC’s 20/20, which is preparing a segment on how records break at radio.

Radio One maintains it is being treated differently by the labels than other broadcasters, while claiming its system will eliminate payola and kickbacks. Observers note that while Radio One’s “system” raised the ire of the labels by attempting to dictate what the labels pay for indies’ services (something labels prefer to figure out for themselves), causing a four-week stalemate, Ronnie Johnson and Atlantic appear to have made peace with the broadcast chain’s Urban indie Jodi Williams, as 14 Radio One stations add Fat Joe and/or Nappy Roots this week.

Meanwhile, there has been much talk about the approximately $25k price tag for a 20-station chainwide Radio One add, compared to some of the higher price tags generated by the approximately $150 million-per-year indie business. At $25K per record and about four records per week, Radio One’s indie is looking at $5 million a year. Many are wondering what the money split between Radio One and its indies really is and whether it’s a percentage or straight guarantee.

Given the number of music-business issues on politicians’ radars lately, some are wondering whether Radio One’s on-the-record rant could touch off an Urbangate scenario, ultimately providing the smoking gun that would enable the Big Five label groups to push for further government scrutiny and bring down promotion costs. The pending 20/20 coverage is already causing flashbacks to NBC reporter Brian Ross’ investigative work in 1986, which decimated the indie market. Said market has since rebounded far beyond pre-’86 levels—but is another “correction” now on the horizon? In addition to the 20/20 segment, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times pieces are said to be in the works. Something tells us this one’s just getting started.