Payola Talks, Talent Walks
"Wow, commercial FM radio is great!" When was the last time you heard somebody
say that? Probably never. It boggles my mind how the American radio listening
public seems to unanimously detest the majority of songs and artists they hear
over the air waves, yet remain discontentedly complacent.
The fact of the matter remains that 99% of songs you hear on commercial FM
radio have been bought and sold. Namely, bought by major record companies and
"independent promoters" and sold to commercial FM radio stations. The practice
is known as "payola" and is defined as undercover or indirect payment (as to a
disc jockey or radio station) for a commercial favor (as in promoting/spinning
a particular record). This practice is illegal unless the radio station
explicitly informs the listeners that the song they are about to hear is being
played in return for financial remuneration.
Have you ever heard this type of disclaimer on an FM radio station? Probably
not, since it's only ever been done once in history by an audacious rock
station in Portland, Oregon: KUFO 101 FM. The historical event happened
February 4, 1998 when KUFO played a taped message announcing, "The song you
are about to hear is sponsored by Flip/Interscope" before playing the song
"Counterfeit" by rap-rock band, Limp Bizkit. In return for $5,000, KUFO agreed
to play the song 50 times. The Limp Bizkit album containing this song went on
to go platinum many times over.
So this was a one time deal, right? Guess again. Payola rules radio and it
happens all the time unbeknownst to listeners. The bigger the check the more
promotion and airplay the artist/band receives. While illegal (without the
disclaimer), the US Government, namely the Federal Communications Commission,
has seemingly turned a blind eye to the practice.
So what's wrong with payola? Well, for the listener, if you don't mind being a
forced-fed pawn in the pockets of FM radio and record labels, then I suppose
there is nothing wrong with it. As for the independent artists, whom lack the
benefit of a major label with deep pockets guaranteeing your songs will be
heard, payola is a death knell.
The FM airwaves are saturated with manufactured pop stars who don't write
their own music or even play an instrument (but boy, can they dance). We have
payola to thank for this. It's a big money making scheme devoid of honesty,
integrity, and mostly, talent.
Additionally exacerbating the problem are the mergers and conglomerations
taking place in the music industry. Record companies are buying radio stations
and vice versa. Clear Channel Communications is now the biggest radio network
in the United States with over 1200 stations and a disproportionately large
percentage of the market share. God help us all, or at least the indie
Is there anything you, the listener, can do? Well, besides contacting your
local legislators and expressing your discontent, don't listen to FM radio!
There are literally thousands of internet radio stations offering honest
programming and many are commercial free. Shoutcast (http://www.shoutcast.com)
offers a listing of hundreds of internet radio broadcasts covering every genre
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