Friday, March 16, 2007

Payola smackdown

There is something about payola that is so 1950s. Sure, a law was made in 1960 that forbid record companies from giving money or gifts in exchange for radio play, but we are so far from the notion that the airwaves belong to the people, the law seems pointless. But maybe the law is pointless because it has never been enforced. Personally I think the FCC should reassess the ownership rules and deal with what is clearly a monopoly. At this point four companies own 99% of the commercial radio stations in the country, and probably the same could be said for the record companies that control the majority of the market. When you have billions and billions of dollars controlling an industry, I get pretty skeptical about any change. That all changed last week when Clear Channel, CBS, Entercom and Citadel (the aforementioned companies) agreed to pay the FCC a total of $12.5 million dollars in fines and offer 8,400 half hour segments for independent record labels and local artists.

What does it mean? I won't go far as to say it means nothing, and at the very least it is a good start. It does requires the big four to think a little differently about the way they program music, but not much. As mentioned in the City Pages article, the amount of time that stations have to give to local music is really just a drop in the bucket. The evidence in the case points the pay-for-play finger at J-Lo, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Jessica Simpson, and Franz Ferdinand. (I don't even know where to start with the irony of that list...) I don't think we will see those five just drop off the charts, and in reality, I don't think anyone cares about payola. People who like John Mayer are still going to like John Mayer, and people who listen to commercial radio don't want any change or they wouldn't be listening.

Fortunately in the Twin Cities we do have some options, especially when it comes to stations that do support local music. My love for Radio K knows no bounds, and if you like music, you will hear something new everyday. The Current is the other station in town that play lots of local music and highlight lots of local events. And of course there is also KFAI that is all local in one way or another; if it is not your neighbor at the mic then it is your neighbor they are talking about or playing. And, hey, what do you know! All those stations are non-commercial radio. So I say let the FCC have their fun and maybe they can get a little money to help out with national debt. Me, I'll stay out of it and support the stations that actually have roots in Minnesota.

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