There’s been some buzz around FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s public backing of the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger, but we at FMC think that terrestrial radio is still worth making noise about.
FMC has long been involved in the push for better radio. We’ve conducted studies that show that commercial radio routinely excludes local and independent artists, largely due to the excessive station ownership consolidation that occurred in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. (See our 2002 and 2006 Radio Studies for more info).
We recently filed reply comments in the FCC’s localism proceedings, in which we made the case for greater diversity on the public airwaves. But we’re not just complaining about the crappy state of things — we’re offering possible solutions. In our reply comments, we describe concrete ways for stations to make localism a priority, and urge the FCC to collect playlist data so it can track and analyze playlists in order to ensure that stations fulfill their public interest obligations.
Another reason that local and independent artists have difficulty getting radio play is payola. Under this system, labels pay independent promoters to promote certain records to radio stations. The promoters in turn pay radio stations annual fees and give them perks if they add the songs to their playlists.
In April 2007, the FCC brokered voluntary agreements between radio groups and major labels, which were supposed to open the door for a wider range of music to be heard on the airwaves. From what we can tell, it hasn’t exactly worked.
Today, we released Change that Tune: A Payola Education Guide for Musicians and Citizens, which outlines the history of payola, the development of the “indie promoter” system and the investigations by the New York State Attorney General’s office and the FCC. Also included are the contents of the “Rules of Engagement” and the indie-set-aside, which were signed by the four largest radio station group owners in April 2007. Finally, the guide offers practical tips about how artists can interact with radio in the 21st century.
We believe that if terrestrial radio were to open itself to more diverse and local content, they might just re-attract those listeners who have given up on the medium in favor of other entertainment. Given the precipitous decline in listeners, it’s definitely worth a try.