Activists, musicians, students and independent broadcasters are joining to stop payola and reclaim the public airwaves for more diverse, independent artists.
The FCC and New York Attorney General’s office are now investigating reported payola deals at large recording labels and local stations. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has subpoenaed the records of the nation's biggest radio station chains. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is drafting legislation that would foster more independently produced radio programming while forcing radio giants to better serve local markets.
A storm is brewing against payola. With action likely in the courts, the FCC and Congress, Americans need to act now to turn the tides against big radio and protect our airwaves from corporate greed.
Sony has already agreed to pay $10 million for payola abuses after Attorney General Spitzer found they had funneled millions in money and prizes to radio broadcasters. FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told reporters that Spitzer gave the agency “an arsenal of smoking guns” to ramp up enforcement against payola broadcasters. Several days later, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pledged to do just that.
“We need to investigate each particular instance that Spitzer has uncovered to see if it is a violation of federal law," Adelstein said. "This is a potentially massive scandal.” But Spitzer and the FCC's remedies -- small fines for big radio and record labels -- may not be enough to change the radio landscape.
It has been 40 years since enactment of the payola statutes. It’s time the FCC and Congress determined whether the existing rules adequately stop payola in the age of big radio.
There’s no better time to become involved. While payola has been around since the early days of broadcasting, it takes on a particularly insidious form in an era of massive radio consolidation.
The payola landscape changed after Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act that lifted the national caps on radio ownership. Sony understood that in striking deals with companies that dominated local radio across the country, it could blanket the airwaves with its artists. The success of the campaign to scrub payola from the airwaves hinges on the public’s ability to force FCC and others to create stronger accountability and enforcement across an industry that has become dominated by a handful of such conglomerates. Here are four steps you can take to support the campaign:
1. Act locally against the hundreds of conglomerate-owned stations that were implicated in Spitzer’s investigation. Use Free Press' interactive map to find implicated stations near you and contact them with your concerns.
2. Support homegrown acts and independent radio stations by buying CDs from the local bin at your independent music store, going to local performances, and encouraging your favorite local stations to add these artists to their playlists.
3. Urge the FCC to launch federal investigations, review payola abuses by local broadcasters and impose harsher penalties.