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Senator presses pay-for-play pact

Wisconsin wants stations to honor agreement

WASHINGTON — Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) has pressed the four largest radio broadcasters to demonstrate that they are honoring a recent consent agreement with the Federal Communications Commission to stop pay-for-play practices.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the heads of CBS Radio, Entercom, Clear Channel and Citadel, the senior senator singled out Clear Channel as possibly having violated the agreement already.

All four broadcasters agreed in April to pay a $12.5 million collective fine to settle payola allegations and to abide by a voluntary set of “rules of engagement,” which mapped out standards for business dealings with labels, artists and their representatives. Included was an agreement to give airplay to local, unsigned bands and musicians.

But Feingold said he has received reports that some stations owned by Clear Channel “are requiring local, unsigned and independent musicians to grant a royalty-free right and license to the music upon submission to the radio programmers, which would appear to violate the voluntary agreement they entered into following the settlement.”

Feingold praised the consent agreement and the voluntary rules as encouraging steps, but added, “It seems that simply relying on good faith to end the pervasive practice of payola may not be enough. The major radio companies should reaffirm their commitment to making air-play decisions based on artistic merit instead of on the musicians’ or labels’ willingness to provide thinly veiled bribes through payola.”

Radio consolidation and payola “have long kept deserving local and independent artists off the nation’s airwaves,” Future of Music Coalition policy director Michael Bracy said in a statement. “Earlier this year, Clear Channel agreed to address the problem of payola, but its latest actions show it wasn’t sincere. Clear Channel has substituted one brand of payola for another type of pay-to-play. This is just payola under a different name.”

In his letter to the four radio companies, Feingold sought detailed updates on how effectively they were honoring two rules of engagement — establishing and publicizing “clear and nondiscriminatory procedures” for submission of music and for access to a station’s music programmers; and prohibiting the sale or barter of access to music programmers.

“Have you taken any efforts to increase the amount of access provided and to facilitate submissions? I’d also be interested in knowing whether this access is through each individual station, to the corporate playlists and testing pools, if applicable, or both,” Feingold wrote.

“The required royalty waiver seems to violate the April commitment not to barter access to music programmers. I encourage you all, and Clear Channel in particular, to clarify this issue,” the letter continued.

Feingold implied he may introduce legislation to enforce the rules of engagement if necessary.

Clear Channel did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday.

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