PRA deal might put small radio operators in double jeopardy


The record companies want cash from every radio station, right down to those operated by students at small universities, and from those trying the even more difficult task of running a commercial operation in a very small market — even when they fail to provide the music. “To me it seems to be both ironic and unfair, actually, because we don’t get record service in small markets,” says Big Rapids MI broadcaster Jeff Scarpelli. “We go out and buy these records, and we play them, and now we’d have to pay the performers to play the records we just bought.”

The staff at RBR-TVBR well understands a stark reality that characterizes the relationship between the radio and the recording industries. If you operate radio in a big enough market, the labels will give you as much music as you’ll take from them (because, of course, airplay on those stations has little or no value, as they currently argue – but that’s another story). But at a certain point lower down the market-size ladder, the labels don’t provide a note’s worth of product.

Scarpelli’s stations are in a small unrated area. He says there are about 75K listeners in his section of Michigan, 50 miles north of Grand Rapids and 70 miles south of Traverse City. He serves them with three stations, News-Talk WBRN-AM 1460, Country WWBR-FM 100.9 and Hot AC WYBR-FM 102.3.

Scarpelli says his two music stations add about five currents each a week, or 10 total, and to do so requires buying an entire CD, usually to get access to just one song. If a CD has an average price of $15, that’s $150 a week, and that extrapolates to almost $8K annually.

“It’s ironic that we have to pay to play the song on the air, and then pay the performer for the use of the song. We would get hit pretty hard as a small market station – we’d get hit for about $10K extra from what I’ve read.”

He said the ideal solution, if the labels want royalties for having their CDs played on air, is for them to provide downloads of the songs the stations need to put on the air. Although such a plan would not make him a sudden fan of a performance royalty, Scarpelli thought it at least brings some fairness to the way small market operators are treated.

He concluded that his neck of the woods has been in economic distress for some time, with lots of local businesses suffering. He’s sees no real way to create new revenue in the foreseeable future, and nothing but hardship trying to deal with a new expense on top of all those he’s already dealing with.

RBR-TVBR observation: Scarpelli’s message speaks for itself. We’ll just add that there are a lot of moving parts to this PRA contraption that may or may not be under construction but is certainly under consideration. It is critically important that the location of EVERY bus, and the identity of EVERY person or entity that may be thrown under it, is fully understood before final signatures go on any PRA agreement.