News Headlines from the 11-25-05 Radioshow: Warner Pays for Payola; Abernathy Leaving FCC One Commissioner Short; UK Pirate Sweep

These are the news headlines as read on the Nov. 25 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Warner Pays for Payola; Abernathy Leaving FCC One Commissioner Short; UK Pirate Sweep

Warner Pays for Payola
Warner Music Group is the next major recording label to settle payola charges with New York State attorney general, Elliot Spitzer. According to documents released Nov. 22 by Spitzer’s office, Warner Music, part of the Time-Warner-Turner media empire, has agreed to pay $5 million to fund music and education programs. Warner also agreed to to stop making payoffs in return for airplay, and to fully disclose all so-called items of value provided to radio stations.

New York’s attorney general alleges that Warner used pay-for-play to bolster the radio play for hit bands like Green Day, My Chemical Romance and R.E.M. He says that the practice was “condoned by senior executives at Warner Music record labels.”

In June of this year Sony Music agreed to pay $10 million in order to settle payola charges.

In his announcement of the settlement, Spitzer made it clear that the recording labels are not the only parties responsible for payola practices. He said that radio stations make requests for gifts, and that stations owned by Infinity and Clear Channel are most active in soliciting payola bribes.

Spitzer is still investigating the two other major record corporations — Universal Music Group and EMI Group — as well as several radio companies, including the nation’s largest broadcasters, Clear Channel Communications Inc., Infinity Broadcasting Corp. and Entercom Communications Corp.

In one e-mail released by Spitzer, a Warner Bros. Records employee described the program director of Infinity’s WAQZ-FM in Cincinnati as “a whore.” The implication of this title is that the station’s playlist is essentially for sale to record companies.

In a written statement FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein praised Attorney General Sptizer, saying,
“The settlement with Warner Music Group adds more dirt to the mountain of evidence that payola is pervasive in the music business.” Adelstein went on to say, “The FCC needs to act on this evidence and conclude as soon as possible the investigation we are now undertaking.”

Abernathy Leaving FCC One Commissioner Short

The FCC will be short one more commissioner come Dec. 9, when Republican Kathleen Abernathy will step down. Abernathy’s term at the Commission actually ended at the beginning of the year, but she stayed on board because the Bush Administration has yet to nominate her successor, and the FCC has an empty seat from when former chairman Michael Powell left in the Spring.

Thus the FCC has had just two democratic to two republican commissioner, rather than the 3 republican to 2 democrat split that is typical during a Republican administration.
The result of the empty republican seats at the commission has been that the two democratic commissioners have had a little more power to force compromise in the agenda of Chairman Kevin Martin.

Although the president recently announced his nominee to fill the chair vacated by Powell, his nominee will not be confirmed before commissioner Abernathy leaves, and so Martin will continue to be stuck without a republican majority.

Abernathy term’s on the FCC was not marked by many independent positions or campaigns, and she could largely be expected to support her fellow commission republicans. She backed big media mergers, like Rupert Muroch’s News Corp purchase of Direct TV, and supported former chairman Powell’s efforts to further relax media ownership rules.

The task of finding a replacement for Abernathy has been left to Senate Commerce Committee chair Ted Stevens, but the Senator has yet to announce any potential nominees.

UK Pirate Sweep

On Oct. 29 the British version of the FCC, called OfCom, conducted a sweep of pirate radio stations across the country, shutting down 44 stations. Many of these stations had been on the air for years, and, like many unlicensed stations in the US, they served minority communities that aren’t well served by the mainstream media.

Although community radio licenses have started to become available in the UK, only 2 of the 48 licenses set to be awarded next year will go to stations run by the country’s substantial Carribean minority.

Like their FCC brethren, Ofcom officials justified the pirate crackdown by connecting unlicensed stations to interference with aircraft communications, and criminal activity.

Pirate radio has a long history in the UK, springing up in the 1950s and 60s as a result of monopoly the BBC had on the airwaves at the time, and the fact that the beeb largely ignored popular music like rock n roll. Although the 80s brought independent commercial stations to the UK, by and large they don’t serve communities any better than their American counterparts.






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