Minority broadcasters keeping the heat on Congress


Radio One, in particular, is campaigning hard against performance royalties – and actively soliciting listeners to join it “in saving the future of black radio” With stations in Detroit, the company is putting intense pressure on Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the author of the despised legislation.

Urged on by Radio One’s Detroit cluster, a couple of hundred protesters showed up outside Conyers’ hometown office prior to the 21-9 vote by the House Judiciary Committee, which Conyers chairs, approving H.R. 848 and sending the bill on to the full House. And while the protests that the bill would “kill black radio” didn’t stop it from passing the committee, the dire warnings of doom from African-American and Hispanic station owners had some committee members on the defensive to defend their votes for the RIAA-backed measure. It was almost surreal to see civil rights crusaders pitted against each other, as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) became the chief critic of Conyers’ legislation and aligned herself with, of all people, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). One African-American legislator, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) singled out Radio One for criticism, accusing company Chair Cathy Hughes and CEO Alfred Liggins of spreading “misinformation” on their stations and employing syndicated host Tom Joyner to “spread hysteria.”

Hughes is not letting up. She sent out an open letter to “My Radio One Family” calling for the defeat of the bill, which she said would put many black owned radio stations out of business. “The John Conyers Performance Tax Bill is the brain chaild of the foreign owned record industry who would receive at least 50% of the revenue that would be charged to radio stations in order for them to play music.” Editorials attacking the legislation aired on Radio One stations in all of the company’s markets.

Now we hear from Detroit that Hughes has updated her on-air attack on Conyers and his bill, pointing to the pending sale of heritage black owned WAMO in Pittsburgh as proof of the severity of the threat facing black radio. Listeners are once again being urged to bombard Conyers’ office with phone calls and email.

A companion to the Conyers bill is pending in the Senate. Once again, minority station owners and civil rights groups are leading the fight against S. 379. As the NAB and state broadcasting associations lobby against the legislation as well, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is under pressure to hold a hearing specifically focusing on the impact performance royalties would have on minority- and women-owned radio stations.

RBR/TVBR observation: With larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House, the multi-national record labels thought 2009 was going to be the year they could hide behind some famous recording artists and get a performance royalty bill signed into law. But the record companies hadn’t figured on an organized push back from minority broadcasters, which put RIAA on the wrong side of a civil rights battle – and made life very uncomfortable for some Capitol Hill Democrats.