musicFIRST takes its case to the FCC


RIAA-backed musicFIRST says radio stations are preventing it from buying advertising to promote the Performance Rights Act, intimidating artists, and refusing to play music by vocal PRA supporters, and it wants an FCC investigation. NAB says the charges are nonsense. Meanwhile, the number of House members supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act is up to 232.

musicFIRST has filed a formal request with the FCC to look into its allegations that radio is refusing to run the organization’s ads while at the same time running misleading ads on their own behalf; that stations are intimidating artists and actually pulling some of them off the air for supporting PRA. Among the misleading statements are claims that much of the cash PRA generate will be going to overseas corporations, as well as claims designed to promote racial animosity.

“For more than 80 years radio stations have been using the work of artists and musicians without compensating them, now they’re using the public airwaves unfairly for their own self interest,” said musicFIRST Executive Director, Jennifer Bendall. “We respect the First Amendment rights of broadcasters to air their views in this and any debate, but they’ve crossed the line.  They have engaged in a concerted effort to promote their own financial interests above their legal duty to serve the public interest by providing truthful and accurate information.”

Spokespeople for musicFIRST said on a conferece call with reporters that they were confident the FCC would delve into the matter swiftly. The FCC has not yet commented on whether or not it plans to take action.

NAB’s Dennis Wharton fired right back. He said, “This allegation is nothing more than an act of desperation by a record label lobby losing on Capitol Hill and in the court of public opinion. On one hand, it highlights the unparalled promotional value of free radio airplay, which has propelled countless artists to stardom. We would also note that, a vocal proponent of the performance tax, and his group Black Eyed Peas are currently Number 1 on Billboard’s Pop 100 Airplay Chart with the song ‘Boom Boom Pow.’ If there’s an FCC probe involving the music business, it ought to focus on claims from numerous artists — from The Beatles to Prince to Cher — that they were cheated out of royalties by their record labels.”

Joining the ranks of House members in opposition to PRA, now numbering 232 total, are Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA), Michael Castle (D-DE), Bob Etheridge (D-NC), Bill Foster (D-IL), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), Frank Kratovil (D-MD), Tom Latham (R-IA), Kendrick Meek (D-FL), Adam Putnam (R-FL), Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Dina Titus (D-NV). Three senators also signed up, bring the total there to 16. The newbies are Max Baucus (D-MT), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Pat Roberts (R-KS).

RBR/TVBR observation: The issue here is that for decades, free airplay for free promotion was a deal that worked for stations, labels and artists alike (except when the labels cut the artists out of any fair share of recording sales, which is all too frequently what happens). The performance tax became a label priority when they allowed Napster and other web-based services to torpedo their business model.

And NAB’s Wharton is right: If airplay is no big deal, why is everybody getting so worked up about who gets on the radio and who doesn’t? All we know is traditionally, the FCC doesn’t get involved in such matters. But now that the FCC nose has poked into ratings matters, who knows where else it might poke?