FCC! Yeah, You Know Me
  • THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2007

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Payola, n: A form of commercial bribery in which record companies pay radio stations to broadcast certain songs, all under the guise of normal radio programming.



Good news for radio fans everywhere: The FCC is debating a proposal that would require broadcasters to set aside airtime for independently produced music. The reason? Payola, a supposedly illegal practice that has been rearing its ugly, capitalist head since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Payola is what destroyed Alan Freed’s career (remember him? We talked about him on Monday), and it gave Dick Clark some serious legal issues in the late '50s. These scandals have made a serious comeback recently, and – as SPIN.com reported today – "the proposal… marks the FCC's loss of confidence in major labels' ability to fairly manage radio wave access."


Payola becomes legal when the financial exchange is made public. In January 1998, for example, a Portland radio station received $5,000 to play one Limp Bizkit song 50 times over a five-week period. Before each airing of the song, a taped message would say, “The song you are about to hear is sponsored by Flip/Interscope.” Not very rock ‘n’ roll, but those 50 spins generated enough local interest for the band to play a successful Portland gig. Other radio stations caught on, “Counterfeit” started receiving countless plays all over the country, and Limp Bizkit rode their radio success to the top of the Billboard charts. While this “pay-for-play” practice is totally legal, it has negative results – such as Limp Bizkit’s introduction into the mainstream. Damn you, payola; you brought us Fred Durst!


But back to the issue at hand – more airtime for the indies! Less macho-aggressive versions of old George Michael hits! Alright! Maybe we'll start tuning our dials away from internet radio all the time.



Indie Radio: 1 , Major Broadcasters: 0.
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