The elusive beast known by the radio industry as “payola” has been in hiding from the law. It had become the equivalent of a fugitive on the run, while Uncle Sam launched a manhunt to bring an end to this “illegal” practice. My question to you is this: Will the end of pay-for-play actually make commercial radio any better? I seriously doubt it.
So if radio will continue sounding pretty much the same, why does the government really feel that it is necessary to waste taxpayers’ money in an attempt to stop this practice when we have so many other pressing issues and problems to tackle? I seriously doubt the homeless dude asleep on my subway train this morning could give a shit about gifts and money being exchanged for radio airplay.
So this morning we got the big news from New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s investigation, which caused Sony BMG to admit their involvement in payola practices. In a statement issued today, Spitzer said: “Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees.”
The symbiotic relationship of radio programmers and record companies has drifted in and out of that oh-so-evil grey area for so long now, which makes me ask what difference does it really make? If we want to make changes in the quality of our radio programming, we should have started years ago when we lifted the regulations pertaining to the number of broadcast stations a corporation could own in a given market. Deregulation was the swift kick in the crotch to the continuing development of innovative programming, not payola.
The only truly positive thing I can say about today’s announcement is that Sony BMG has agreed to make a $10 million payment, which will be distributed by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to New York State. This money will be given out to non-profits aimed at music education and appreciation. Hell, companies should be supporting causes like this anyways instead of only when the strong arm of the law tells them to do so.
So will this crackdown on pay-for-play help me sleep better tonight? Will it make my mass transit system safer? Will it bring home troops from the Middle East any quicker? Will it lower the price of my gas? Nope. But you can rest assured that your hard-earned tax dollars will continue to get flushed down the toilet to end payola.