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It is hard to believe, however, that the total sales of all the albums and singles in our broadcast area would be anywhere near as much the value to the radio station of getting such a major programming component essentially free.
PERFORMANCE RIGHTS REMAINS BUZZ ISSUE
Ex-Radio DJ Dale Bobo is on Labels’ Side in This Fight

Dale Bobo, who describes himself as a one-time radio DJ and “independent music professional” based in Nashville, weighs in on this week’s House Judiciary vote on the Performance Rights Act:

Those who know me well know my penchant for not using more words than necessary, so they are usually surprised when I reveal my previous career as a radio disc jockey. I don’t really think about it much anymore, but every once in a while something will trigger a memory from those days. 

I recently surfed a few industry sites reading about the Performance Rights Act that proposes terrestrial radio pay to artists, musicians, and master rights holders a performance royalty similar to that which is paid by terrestrial radio to songwriters and publishers. As I looked at the sites, I recalled a conversation with a radio station manager I once worked for.

We were going through the two-week period in which we had to log by hand every song we played and the writers of that song for BMI as a part of their survey to determine song airplay.  During that time, we became pretty good at spotting the name of the songwriter on a spinning 45rpm record.  Given we were a station that played music 23 hours a day, this became tedious fairly quickly, but it was also when I learned the names of many of the hit songwriters of the day.

One day, a few minutes into my shift, the station manager walked into the control room and, noticing the BMI log on the console, said: “BMI, what bunch of crooks.  I hate them!”.  At the time, I had a fairly foggy idea what BMI did, but just the fact that my station manager didn’t like them made BMI OK with me. “Why do you hate them?” I asked. “Because they are a bunch of crooks and we have to pay them money just to play *^&%^# music” came the typically informative response. 

I knew the reason the manager, who also owned a portion of the station, really hated BMI: he was cheap. I had gleaned enough information from the sales manager and the station’s bookkeeper to think that the station was making a good amount of money, so it didn’t seem to me that paying BMI was going to put us out of business.

So of course, I couldn’t let it drop.  “Don’t we pay BMI and then they pay the people who write the songs that we’re logging? That seems fair.” 

The manager glared at me. I kept going. “I mean, this is what we’re selling, right? That we play the best music, people listen to us, and we sell advertising to businesses so they can reach those people. So if we pay whoever writes the music, then that’s fair, right?”

“Listen, I’ll run this station. You just read the &^$%#  weather when you’re supposed to.”  With that pearl of wisdom, the manager walked out of the room.

I don’t have to imagine what he would say about the current discussion for radio to pay the artist and master performance fees or the reason why he would say it. Although writing down every song for BMI belongs to the past, the issue of compensating creators of content used for commercial purposes remains very much alive today. My former boss never articulated an argument against songwriter performance fees other than it cost him money he didn’t want to pay. I listen to the radio lobby today and I hear arguments not any more substantial than that.

I don’t argue that radio provides promotional value to artists and record companies. I just think that, for radio, the value of having such a major programming component be provided essentially free of cost has been a far greater value, probably by many orders of magnitude. In other words, I think radio has benefited far more than artists and labels over the years.

When I was in radio, I was very attuned to the local retail music market. I know that often a hit record played on our station would result in more sales of the title in our area. It is hard to believe, however, that the total sales of all the albums and singles in our broadcast area would be anywhere near as much the value to the radio station of getting such a major programming component essentially free. I do not believe we caused that much product to move.

The United States is practically alone in the world in not having an artist performance right for terrestrial radio. Terrestrial radio is practically alone among media in the U.S. for not compensating artists for using their recordings. All other media that plays music pays artists and the master owner.

It seems to me that if terrestrial radio pays this royalty, then an inequity will be corrected and the music industry will have more resources to invest in new artists and music. Radio can then play those new artists, bringing back some of the audience that have defected to other media because the audience is tired of hearing the same sounds over and over. Advertising will increase and radio will make more money. A win-win for everyone.

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