In This Royalty Fight We Need Total Harmony


(by Deborah Parenti) Last week, Radio Ink featured a number of excellent commentaries on the most recent attempt by some in Congress to add more royalty fees on top of the ones already assessed on broadcasters. Those who went on the record in our headlines included small group owners, attorneys and other advocates, such as Paul Rotella of the New Jersey Broadcasters’ Association. New Jersey, and the industry as a whole, can thank Paul Rotella as someone they can always count on to be a strong and vocal champion for radio.

It will come as no surprise that this writer is right there with him. I love music, and I admire the talented artists who make it. But I love radio, too, and what it provides listeners and communities, which is much more than music. After all, that music does not play in a void on the radio – convenient, free, reliable radio. Ask any PD. What makes a great station and great ratings is “what goes on between the songs.” It’s the bits, the jokes, the information, the promotions and contests – the local connectivity that separates the market titans from the also rans. Radio sells music – and musicians – and the better the station (which take an investment at no small risk), the bigger the potential for selling products – all products – including song recordings and concert ticket sales.

That’s why advertisers pay for access to a station’s audience. Radio gets results. Period. Artists, on the other hand, pay nothing for what amounts to a “commercial” for their latest release or good time oldie. And that, by the way, is usually at least a three minute “commercial.” Bottom line, it’s “quid pro quo,” an even, fair exchange, similar to a trade deal.

But radio doesn’t need more positioning statements in this battle, at least not from me. Plenty have already been put on the table. What’s needed is a full industry chorus sounding as one voice, in harmony, and making sure that every thoughtful bit of logic and reasonable rationale are presented to the right people and in the right places. That means everyone needs to be on board. Big groups, small groups, state associations, trade associations, broadcast attorneys and anyone else with an interest in the industry’s future owe it to radio to show their support.

Unfortunately, some important voices seem to be mute or missing on the matter. It’s impossible to know what’s going on behind the scenes but silence can be deafening. Imagine if just one of the major industry leaders was to join others in knocking on Congressional office doors. What would that impact be in those hallowed hallways – and how gratefully admiring would be their peers?

Others seem unaware of the potential danger to their ecosystem with heads either in the clouds or buried in the sand. Staying uninformed and/or unconcerned is simply not smart – and could leave an ominous opening for the wolves already circling the grounds.

Meanwhile, there are those who say the latest run at adding a performance royalty won’t ever see the light of day. Against today’s political landscape where anything can – and does – happen, it could be foolish to count on that. This should be approached as if it is going to take a village – the whole village – to win because it probably will. This can’t be a “what’s in it for me.” This has to be “we’re in this together” because we are – and this isn’t the only battle brewing.

In a Radio Ink feature last week, Frank Montero, Managing Partner of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth remarked, “I’m more concerned by a possible broader copyright reform proposal from the House. Such omnibus legislation has long been in the works and I would be concerned that a provision imposing performance royalty obligations on broadcasters could easily be slipped between the many multiple layers of copyright reform that such legislation might contain.”

And don’t expect the Local Freedom Radio Act to deter Congressional momentum from building for this latest performance royalty initiative. It’s a nice and much appreciated gesture, truly it is, but it’s a resolution, not a bill. The proposed “Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2017” is a bill.

John Garziglia, Partner at Womble Carlyle, offers excellent strategic advice. He encourages “…basic one-on-one lobbying, as well as taking every opportunity to invite local members of Congress to get to know your local radio station better.”

Wise counsel, and so, too, is keeping this developing story on the front burner. We intend to do that and I encourage you, your station, group or organization to take an active role in also keeping it in front of your Congressional representatives. And as you do, tell us about your efforts, the reaction you are getting, and we will share and spread the news. That’s part of our mission.

The heat is on. Let’s not let radio get burnt.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Record labels, performers, publishers, composers, record promoters, and concert performers, have been making billions of dollars for a long long time and for free, by getting a free promotional ride on Radio ever since the 45 rpm record was invented.

    American AM-FM Radio are the greatest promotional mediums in the world, and countless businesses pay radio to promote their products and services, EVERY business, with one exception, the product of record labels, performers, and record promoters. They pay nothing to radio for the promotion of their products.

    The time has come for record label businesses, performer businesses, and record promoter businesses, to pay for their airplay. No pay, no play.

    The time has come for the laws to be changed so these businesses have to pay for their promotional airtime just like every other business has to pay for their promotional airtime on radio.

    No pay, no play. The unappreciated free ride is over.

  2. By “major industry leaders,” are you talking about the CEOs of the biggest radio groups? They’re the ones who are already paying artists and labels, some through direct deals. If you want a major radio CEO to comment, they will say any broadcast royalty should be tied to a discount in the digital royalty. That’s what their direct deals do. Bringing that up doesn’t help the radio industry argument.

    The NAB attempted to make this an industry-wide deal back in 2008, and a number of radio stations quit the NAB over it. In the end, the RIAA rejected the NAB proposal. But that shows how difficult it will be to get unanimity from the radio industry. Larger groups have a very different agenda from smaller stations.

  3. Since when can a performer interfere in the licensing of a composer’s music? I have a solution based on Deborah’s article. Abolish payola and level the playing field. If we have to pay the performer then they should have to pay us for the airtime. if they don’t like the new reality of how recorded music is distributed via 99 cent download, then they currently have the ability to opt out of the music business altogether. Don’t blame us because we were able to adjust and adapt to the new marketplace.

  4. Excellent “Must Read” Ms. DP!! Music once tried to pay radio for play. The reverse is even worse! Greed kills the art. Added charge to broadcasters harms the operators who gave the radio jump start to so many artists & labels. Very wrong! Make radio air play free and accept that deserving music can/should get the audience & cash from superior performance, if they deserve to be heard. If it costs more to play recorded material you can bet more musicians will be starving. Clark, Boston.

  5. Outstanding Ms. DP; Must read! Music used to try to pay for radio play. This reverse move is just as bad. Without radio play, artists fade away! Radio give the initial jump start to careers. Greed ruins both the art of excellence and the broadcasters who made musicians & labels successful, in the first place. Radio Music is must be free to share! Clark, Boston.

  6. Excellent article, Deborah! You’re an 15%’er ! 85% of people who can fog a mirror, only find or point out problems. But, only 15% identify problems and then find solutions. Here’s a golden opportunity for every State Broadcasters Association to contact every station, the RAB, the NAB … any broadcast association to contact their members, sign a petition, write a letter, and/or call their state Congress men and women and voice opposition to these new royalty fees. Ask your legal Washington DC legal counsel (and get paid to represent your station) also also write a letter opposing this new royalty tax. It’ll take work … but what’s the alternative? It’s time the “I’ll let the other guys do it, I’m too busy days are over.” Thanks Deborah, for hopefully waking up broadcasters!


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