Value radio before taxing it


A programmer in Cleveland is more than a little bit annoyed that supporters of the Performance Rights Act aren’t making the slightest attempt to figure out what the value of free radio promotion is to record companies before plundering radio on their behalf. Her remarks are under the headline.

Memo from WCLV’s Morning Drive host on the Performance Tax

From Jacqueline Gerber

Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”  A radio station’s only stock in trade is time.

Time is the focus of this memo.   WCLV, a commercial classical station in Northeast Ohio, has been broadcasting since 1962. It is the flagship station for the Cleveland Orchestra.  In addition to a 24/7 classical schedule, we broadcast live and syndicated classical concerts and opera.  A large percentage of commercials heard on WCLV promote concerts by local and touring classical musicians.

In a typical break, announcers identify and include background information about the (1) orchestra, (2) soloist, and (3) conductor, in addition to the composer and the composition, and often, the record label.  We promote upcoming area appearances by musicians and composers and direct listeners to their websites.  If a musician is coming to town, we play his or her recordings.  We interview them on the air.

Promotion by WCLV announcers fleshes out the performers, supplies context, and creates interest in the artist, which increases the value of the artist’s recordings. 

This is borne out by the response of WCLV audiences.  Nearly 90 per cent of listener calls wanting information about music heard on WCLV end with “Where can I buy the CD?”  We also promote classical sales via 60-second announcements for In addition, WCLV presents the Choice CD of the Day, six or seven recent CDs, highlighted on our web site and played several times a day three or four times a month.

This free publicity generated by WCLV’s marketing of CDs played on the station has not been adequately factored into the debate about the so-called “Performance Tax,” which would require WCLV to pay royalties to record companies in addition to those already paid to composers and publishers.

Since WCLV’s marketing communication services to listeners on behalf of the record companies have been unrecognized and uncompensated since 1962, the possibility that WCLV might have to pay an additional royalty offers us an opportunity to quantify the value, not only of WCLV’s on-air announcements, but of the 24 hours per day in which WCLV airs the CDs produced by those record labels.  Nearly all the some 30,000 recordings in our 47-year-old record library, whether CD or LP, are promotional copies sent to us by record companies and distributors expressly for promotional on-air play.

For example, in the typical four-hour morning drive shift, there are approximately seven 60-second breaks per hour containing promotional announcements for recordings.  At an average of $80 per minute, the value of marketing communication support services would be approximately $2240 per day for morning drive only.

As a further adjustment away from the traditional symbiotic relationship between radio stations and record companies,  should WCLV contemplate taking steps to charge record companies for the amount of time recordings are played on the air?   This is not as unusual as it may seem, since many professionals, such as lawyers, charge by the amount of time expended. Even hospitals charge by the hour for operating rooms.

This means, for example, that WCLV would bill record companies, charging them for an hour and 10 minutes of air time for playing their recordings of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, or less for individual performances of the Dvorak Slavonic Dances or the Chopin Preludes.

WCLV opposes the “Performance Tax” and advocates the “Local Radio Freedom Act.” We believe the listener will suffer if we are obliged to send more money to the record companies. This memo is a professional courtesy, so that the recording industry can weigh the future cost of WCLV’s marketing and publicity services against the projected amount of the royalties anticipated should the “Performance Tax” be approved.

Jacqueline Gerber

Host: WCLV’s First Program