Accusation: Radio Still Involved In Payola


Rolling Stone has published a very lengthy piece that will surely have radio managers thinking. The magazine quotes several radio and record label sources that claim, even today, money is still being paid illegally to get artists played on the radio. Here are a few excerpts from the article…

“One manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recently spent approximately $10,000 through a third party directly paying radio DJs in the ‘urban’ and rhythmic formats to play a single. The payments were strategically employed to boost the singer’s spins. When a label signed the artist, the manager was able to earn his money back.”

“Another music-industry veteran who requested anonymity claims that he spent five times as much to try to break a record in the rhythmic format. “I bought all my spins at the right places,” he says. “We spent about $50,000.” He got around 800 plays, mostly in mix shows.

“In the case of one prominent radio network that allegedly has an exclusive relationship with a single promoter, “he gets the adds, and then you pay him 3,500 bucks,” says “James” (not his real name), a second promotions executive with extensive major-label experience. “We call it the toll — everybody has to pay it.”

Here’s how one former major-label promotions executive puts it in the article: “Some independent promoters claim to record labels, ‘You won’t get access to certain radio programmers because there are too few hours in the day and they’re not going to take calls from every single label out there. If you pay me to promote your record, yours can be one of the eight tracks that I’m working. These programmers return my phone calls.’”

Rolling Stone also reports that “four radio insiders say there are small-market stations in the Top 40 and ‘urban’ formats that appear so susceptible to influence that their playlists cannot be trusted when trying to gauge the success of a single.”

The article claims programmers are blaming “seamy behavior” on other formats. Multiple people working in the pop space pointed fingers at ‘urban’ or Latin radio. Another program director who spoke on the condition of anonymity singled out country music for “get[ting] away with fricking murder.” “Everyone thinks they’re sweet boys because they got missed on the big sweep that happened with Spitzer,” the program director adds. “All the pop stations got their hands slapped, and everyone looked at us like we were a bunch of pigs. Country just skated right on by.”

Read the full article HERE.


  1. Wait, this says, “Some independent promoters claim to record labels … If you pay me to promote your record, yours can be one of the eight tracks that I’m working. These programmers return my phone calls.”

    This isn’t payola to radio stations … this is labels paying independent 3rd party promoters to get certain tracks in front of PDs. There’s no money going to the radio stations there … it’s going to a 3rd party. To call THAT particular practice payola is wrong.

  2. Payola seems to rear its ugly head every 10 years or so. The people who engage in it are absolutely stupid end up trading their careers for short term gain. There are fine radio people out there…many who don’t get the best that they deserve because of short sighted managements who are, well, cheap.

  3. Pay for play is only illegal in broadcast radio. Either this law should be extended to digital radio, or eliminated all together. It’s unfair that broadcast radio must live under this outdated law.


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