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RADIO, FEDS GET READY TO RUMBLE
RIAA, Others Request Revision of Payola Laws
This time it’s not Beethoven rolling over, it’s Alan Freed.

Last week’s unprecedented request by the RIAA and nine other organizations for the FCC and Congress to revise payola laws and look into the effects of unbridled radio consolidation has set the stage for a new round of music-business bluster on Capitol Hill.

The "Joint Statement on Current Issues in Radio" was also signed by the American Federation of Musicians, AFTRA, the Nashville Songwriters Association, NARM and NARAS, among others. Its delivery with the RIAA’s name on it, however, seems to be the latest indication that the balance of power has shifted away from the labels.

And we thought the Internet was the problem.

"What’s happening here is a process that the record labels once thought helped facilitate getting radio airplay has now become so coercive and expensive that they’ve finally decided to come forward publicly to expose a practice they participated in for a long time," Rep. Howard Berman told the Los Angeles Times. Indeed, as radio groups have become larger and larger, so has their thirst for labels’ promotional dollars.

The Joint Statement calls for the FCC to "undertake a comprehensive review of…aspects of the radio industry that are anti-trust, anti-competition and anti-consumer." These aspects take the shape of established "payola-like" practices "unprecedented increases" in radio consolidation and "vertical integration of ownership" in radio, concert promotion and live venue operation.

The statement singles out Clear Channel repeatedly, complaining that the radio giant has considered charging labels for back-announcing and asking that the FCC "study the role that national playlist decisions have had on the skyrocketing cost of radio promotion." It also suggests that Clear Channel has "an interest in limiting the promotional support of bands and artists who are performing for other companies."

For its part, Clear Channel maintains that independent promotion is the labels’ problem and that it has done nothing wrong in consolidating the radio and concert businesses.

The Joint Statement’s signatories, however, feel differently. Said AFTRA president John Connolly, "With the homogenization of radio playlists, fewer…artists now receive airplay. Artists are harmed further by having to share in the costs incurred for independent promotion." Added AFM President Tom Lee, "When you add to that the potential for a handful of radio station groups to lock up huge portions of the live music business by owning concert promoters and live performance venues…the effect is ruinous."

"The issues in this complaint raise critical First Amendment and communications law issues," Rep. John Conyers Jr., a vocal advocate for radio reform, told the Times. Meanwhile, Sen. Russell Feingold is said to be planning to introduce legislation to tighten existing payola law.

Meanwhile, ABC News’ May 24 20/20 piece on "legal payola" seems to have had all the impact of a helium balloon, pointing more to a need for lobbying and legislation than arrests and prosecution, as was the case with reporter Brian Ross’ business-busting 1986 NBC News payola expose.

Nevertheless, will all the words soon turn into deeds? Stay tuned.

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