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July 27, 2005


Brian Turner

Some major labels have as of late asked us for MP3s of airchecks of their records being played, supposedly in order to continue service. Guess they *really* need to tally who qualifies for the flatscreen TV (joked an indie label prez who was paying us a visit this week: "I knew we were going wrong just doling out the REGULAR TV's.")

I have to question though, why payola on radio is considered illegal while similar goings-on are everyday between labels and retailers? I've known chain execs to get trips and such from majors in exchange for prominent store placement/promotion, and some record companies now are strongarming stores into carrying x% of their product to even be allowed to carry that one big item that they know everyone will buy.

Also fascinated to learn that "payola" came from "victrola" which I never knew...


Payola is illegal for pretty much the same reason you can't say "fuck" on the radio. Radio spectrum is limited public resource; private companies license this resource and make a profit on it. Way back when the rules were made, Americans pretty much agreed that private corporations shouldn't be allowed to take something away from the public without the public getting something in return. They had an obligation, in other words, to do the public some good. That's why you can't curse, and that's why you have public service announcements. So why no payola? It's assumed, as part of the deal, that the broadcast is for the good of the public - they get to hear the music they want, or at least that selected by objective connaisseurs of the musical art form. With payola, the broadcast essentially becomes 100% private exploitation and zero public benefit.

Think of corporate naming, for a moment: while the private owners of the arena in Boston are free to call it "the Staples Center" for a price, just a few people might get ticked off if Central Park were renamed "MacDonald's Park".

Brian, I'm not surprised you're unfamiliar about the link between radio and this funny thing called "profits", but I'm astounded that you seem to be taking the pro-payola position! ;-) You must be getting some really good blow from the gents at Columbia records. Or maybe the occasional hooker via Warner Bros. Wait, it wasn't the advance copy of the new Hootie record that you sold your soul for, was it?

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