FCC asked to fight payola in radio biz

Informal complaint lodged today with lawmakers, regulators

The Recording Industry Assn. of America may ask the Federal Communications Commission for an official proceeding aimed at tightening rules against payola in the radio biz.

Such a request by the RIAA would follow a more informal complaint being lodged today with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and regulators at the FCC regarding payola.

The coalition of artists groups and labels — including AFTRA, the American Federation of Musicians, the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, the Future of Music Coalition and the Assn. for Independent Music — say the practice has flourished in recent years with massive consolidation of the radio biz.

“New rules must be written by the FCC to prohibit payments to radio stations for ‘independent promoters’ unless such payments are announced,” the coalition said.

“The FCC must seriously evaluate whether a radio station is even satisfying the current license requirement that sponsorship identification or disclosure must accompany any material that is broadcast in exchange for money, service or anything else of value paid to a station either directly or indirectly.”

Payments ‘disguised’

The coalition said the ban is needed to cover “subtle and disguised” payments not aimed at a specific song. It also called on Congress to be “vigilant” in its FCC oversight.

The RIAA has made no decision yet whether it will go one step further and petition the FCC to launch what is known as a rule-making procedure. “We are trying to figure out the best strategy,” one RIAA staffer said. “We aren’t just trying to make noise.”

AFTRA prexy John Connolly said artists have been harmed by homogenization of playlists, sharing in the costs of independent promotion and being forced to perform in venues and for promoters owned by radio station owners.

“All of these issues severely impact the ability of artists to succeed,” he added.

The coalition has found more than one sympathetic lawmaker on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) considering legislation that would reform certain practices resulting from massive consolidation of the industry, including payola.

The pol also wants to study whether ownership rules should be stiffened to prevent companies such as Clear Channel from buying up more and more stations. “When they get hungry, they just keep getting hungrier,” Feingold told Daily Variety.