May 24, 2002
7:39 PM   Subscribe

This evening 20/20 broadcast a report on the new payola.Names are named. This explains a lot about the current state of music radio. Ironically, one of those complaining the loudest was good ol' Hilary Rosen of the RIAA who are doing their damnedest to destroy internet radio, along with college and public radio, the only alternative to the institutional corruption she decries. But in this case, she's on the side of the angels, it would seem. This report is timely though and does illustrate what's wrong with concentrating media power in too few hands.
posted by jonmc (22 comments total)
I was looking forward to the story, i've been following this payola thing discussion on The Velvet Rope and it was on slashot today, one of the better criticisms i've read of the 20/20 piece is that they should of used a stronger example of a band that can't get on the radio.

For example, Guided By Voices, can sell out large venues but can't get on the radio because of the payola thing, and they are a lot more popular than somthing like Andrew W.K. which isn't selling but gets played because someones throwing money around.
posted by bobo123 at 8:02 PM on May 24, 2002

bobo123- exactly, and with some airplay GbV would be even bigger. I've often said that it isn't so much a matter of the public's taste as the fact that, for people without the time or money to prowl through CD bins or download off of WinMX, the rado is where you get exposed to new music-theoretically. I think people are just picking the least offensive morsels from a lousy buffet table.

I was listening to my local "classic rock" station do a Memorial Day top 500 hundred countdown on the way home. Lots of old warhorses, yes, but in this context you're reminded why they're called classics. In one 45 minute road trip I heard Bowie, Tull, Skynyrd, David Essex and Blackfoot. It now occurs to me that under today's system, all these bands would be considered too rough or odd* to get any airplay without someone coughing up a crapload of money.

*in historical context.
posted by jonmc at 8:18 PM on May 24, 2002

this is a story that eric boehlert of has been following for a while now, with some really fantastic articles. it's hard to have too much sympathy for the labels, since they've essentially created this system that is eating their profits.
posted by jimw at 8:39 PM on May 24, 2002

jonmc, a top 500 hundred? Top 50,000? Heh. Kidding.

Remember when Mtv wasn't a complete corporate shill, though? When nobody knew if this whole "music video" thing would work out? In one hour you'd see Michael Jackson, Scorpions, Talking Heads, the Cars, Godley and Creme, B-52's, Devo, Van Halen, and Bowie, kind of like when radio used to be cool. Same old story, I guess.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:24 PM on May 24, 2002

jonmc, a top 500 hundred? Top 50,000?

Gimme a week, crash I could come up with that many.

I hear you on the old MTV. In the real early days, they only had so many videos so the played whatever people sent 'em. I distinctly remember seing videos by Killing Joke, Jason and The Scorchers, and Joe "King" Carrasco (at least once or twice) right nect to bar-band warhorses like Duke Jupiter and Blackfoot. 'Twas a cool time, my freind.

Sad story is none of the above bands would get any play today on MTV or commercial radio. Where're Scott Muni, Pete Fornatale and Vin Scelsa when we need 'em.
NTM, Wolfman Jack and Tom Donahue must be spinning in their graves.
posted by jonmc at 9:30 PM on May 24, 2002 [1 favorite]

Thank (insert deity here) for non-commercial radio, AKA the left of the dial.

"On and on and on and on
What side are you on?
On and on and on and on and..."
posted by bmarkey at 9:41 PM on May 24, 2002

David Essex

jonmc: You have NO idea how many flashbacks you just triggered!

posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:54 PM on May 24, 2002

Rock on, Kevin.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:59 PM on May 24, 2002

posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:00 PM on May 24, 2002

This is new? I'm pretty sure the middleman/favor system has been around since the hour payola became illegal. I'll give in and be the cynic, I think the labels are complaining because the price has simply gotten too steep. They can't promote their next Jewel if some other label is willing to take a big loss just to get name recognition for their artists.

Look at pop music, its value added. Merchandising, commercials, and other non-music related junk generates revenue just as well as the CDs. It would have been crazy not to have dropped a few mil on Britney a few years ago.

Even for a monster hit that would seem to need no help getting played — like Pink's "Get This Party Started" — the record label still gets a hefty bill from indies, according to Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

This is bullshit. Pink exists because of the marketing efforts of her label. Looks like Hilary is pissed that her conspirators still want their payola or else. Tis exotortion pure and simple. The RIAA knows the radio stations and MTV are more powerful than they are and they don't like it. Honestly, if radio was "open" the playlist space Pink takes upwould quickly be replaced by superior artists.

This isn't about opening or cleaning up radio, its a power struggle between the labels and the radio. If radio opens up it'll because fans demand more than the handful of artists they get exposed to over and over. In the meantime I'll stick to college radio, audiogalaxy, and indie bands who I can see live for about ten bucks in a small venue.
posted by skallas at 10:08 PM on May 24, 2002

I hear you on the old MTV. In the real early days, they only had so many videos so the played whatever people sent 'em.

Well, to a degree. They wouldn't play any rap stuff until 1986 (Run DMC).
posted by gluechunk at 10:59 PM on May 24, 2002

True Dat, gluechunk. That was Pittman's narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Up until Thriller you were lucky if you saw any black music at all on MTV.

It's all just depressing. Maybe we should do something besides bitch, though. Shoutcast and all that are great, but it's like sending a cockroach up against Godzilla. Perhaps some colective action either by forming economic/political allianes between casters or finding some like-minded investors with deep pockets would help.

I'm just thinking out loud, but I am truly worried...

Do You remember Murray the K?
Allan Freed and High Energy
It's the end, the end of the seventies
It's the end the end of the century...

We Need Change and We Need it Fast
Before Rock's just part of the past
Cos lately it all sounds the same to me...


posted by jonmc at 11:09 PM on May 24, 2002

I miss my Yo MTV Raps.

Which seems like only five seconds ago to me.

I could pull rank here and muse nostalgic over the days when Slim Harpo shared the Top 40 with the likes of Buck Owens and the Stones--but why bother? You live long enough and you see the strings on the puppets, the bunraku handlers right there onstage, trying to create something predictably profitable. The Beatles became the Monkees, Herman's Hermits, the Bay City Rollers, as the Stones became Aerosmith and so on and so forth.

Now there is simply too much out there to listen to closely and in detail. Too much has happened, too many genres created. There is no common culture, no us vs. them duality but niche after niche after niche after niche--like Mickey and the marching brooms in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Which explains the malaise of current radio to me far more than any neo-payola scandal. There is no common ground anymore. But they do keep trying, the big boys...
posted by y2karl at 11:27 PM on May 24, 2002

but niche after niche after niche after niche-.....

Therein lies the key, my man, just screw the niches and realize that there are only two types of music- good and bad.

skallas mentioned college radio before. Now while theres some great stuff on that end of the dial(amazing how we still say that in the digital age), it tends to be extremely niche happy and/or deliberately obscurantist, which for someone like me, who thinks that even the likes of Aerosmith and the Bay City Rollers have something to reccommend them is the kiss of death.

A lot of the "unheard music" of the past few decades is in fact very commercial, and I mean that in the best sense of the word:hooky, concise, populist, etc.
It's simply that obtuseness, incompetent management and if this story is accurate, lack of payola money has kept a lot of it from reaching the non-music geek public.

Maybe it's time we brought music to the people. Karl's already on the case, so he's excused. I'm not sure what I should do, but I know we should all do something or we should stop bitching.
posted by jonmc at 11:36 PM on May 24, 2002

Doesn't anyone remember the telecom bill? Clear Channel cleaned house on that one, and coupled with the already existing payola mess... well, you get the current state of radio in the US.
posted by canoeguide at 2:20 AM on May 25, 2002

jonmc: “[college radio] tends to be extremely niche happy and/or deliberately obscurantist”

College radio licenses are limited to non-mainstream music. College radio is "deliberately obscurantist" by law. (At least, that's how it was at mine.)
posted by raaka at 2:44 AM on May 25, 2002

College radio licenses are limited to non-mainstream music

There's no such thing as a "college radio" license. There are non-commercial licenses, which mean that the station must have a purpose other than commercial gain (such as educating students in the case of college radio. There are also often limits on signal strength and broadcast hours). There's nothing in the license that restricts the content of what's broadcast. If college station 89.7 want's to broadcast all Britney all day their only problem will be that only Oliver listens to them.
posted by dchase at 6:38 AM on May 25, 2002

While I'm happy they want to "expose" payola, I'm even happier they talked to Chuck D. Right on!
posted by modularette at 6:50 AM on May 25, 2002

dchase: I'd listen to 24/7 Britney as well.

For the Yo! MTV Rap fans, if you can ever get the chance to hear Power 105.1 in New York, check it out. Ed Lover & Dr. Dre in the mornings, complete with Flava Flav doing his "geographic traffic report" or, in his own words, "yo, this is flava flav with the geographic traffic report, traffic that's geographic." You might even pick up some cash with the station's Million Dollah Holla!
posted by Hankins at 8:24 AM on May 25, 2002

I find it funny how quiet Michael Powell and the FCC has been about this. I think the problem has probably gotten out of hand of late because of a weakening of enforcement of regulations regarding business practices and a strengthening of the regulations regarding content. This has given radio stations and there parent companies much more leverage to exact more money from the record labels, who probably created the entire problem for themselves in the first place.
posted by ddmmyy at 10:52 AM on May 25, 2002

Payola?!? In the radio industry?!?

Well fuckin' DUH!

Paul T. Riddell covered this nicely a couple of months ago. This pretty much describes the state of local radio in my area (with the exception of NPR). Give me the station and the group and I can give you the playlist without fail. It also explains why I've not listened to any commercial radio or eMpTVee since 1995 or so.
posted by mark13 at 2:56 PM on May 25, 2002

And it's not just here.

MTV just bought out Holland's national music television network.
posted by at 9:12 PM on May 25, 2002

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