Broadcasters Threaten Independent Musicians with Payola Regulation Workaround


Payola. Pay-to-play. You may think these are issues that disappeared when American Bandstand went off the air, but the truth is they’re just as relevant–if not moreso–today.

Currently, broadcasters are allowed to accept payment in the form of cash or other enticements in exchange for airplay, so long as they disclose the sponsorship on-air.

A group of nine broadcasters, including major players like iHeartMedia, Cox, Emmis Communications, and Entercom have requested a waiver to this requirement, claiming that they will instead post these disclosures online. The broadcasters claim that this change would be in the public interest, because it “would result in listeners’ having access to more information in a more user-friendly and satisfying way.”

In their petition to the FCC, dated November 26, broadcasters describe an “education” initiative where, for a limited time, they would disclose music and sports sponsorships during peak listening hours. This initiative would soon be phased out in favor of a once-per-day disclosure.

So why does this matter? Payola distorts the marketplace and gives unfair advantage to just a few corporations, at the expense of everyone else — including the fans and independent musicians. Payola is the main reason why artists not associated with major labels have very little chance of receiving commercial airplay.

Think about it: you turn on the radio, spin the dial, and end up hearing the same five songs over and over again. This isn’t because the DJs somehow have the same great (or terrible, as the case may be) taste. The issue is really twofold: music companies are offering financial incentives for airtime, and all of the radio stations (with a few exceptions) are owned and run by a handful of corporations.

What can we do about this? For one, we can reclaim our airwaves. That’s right, radio space is owned by the American public–not by the media conglomerates that are using it. Radio space is held in a trust by the FCC, which allows media organizations to use the space for commercial purposes, provided that they uphold certain obligations.

“…that successful resolution of the payola issue is not enough to reform radio. Rather, payola is part of a broader reform agenda that includes holding the line on commercial consolidation, expanding and protecting noncommercial radio, and ensuring that the transition to terrestrial digital radio (HD Radio) is done in a way that benefits the music community and public.”
— Future of Music Coalition

The FCC is accepting public comments on the issue through April 13th. Speak up and let them know this “bait and switch” by Big Radio is unacceptable.