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Don't pay for play, some record labels undertake effort to control the radio waves

Country Standard Time Editorial, May 1998

It's not exactly payola, but something akin to that is rearing its ugly head in the music industry, including country.

Some record companies are planning to fork over money to radio stations to play their artists. The record companies are referring to this as an infommercial where they will buy airtime and decide what music gets played. Of course, don't expect anything save artists on their own label.

Another form of advertising is being done by Capitol Records in Nashville whereby the House of Garth will buy short 10 second ads after a station has played the song of a Capitol artist in which the song will be identified along with where the disc could be bought.

Not surprisingly, we see huge problems with these brainstorms. In the infommercial, the public must be clearly informed that the music is being paid for by the record company in unmistakable language. Radio stations must insist upon it as well. Otherwise, their credibility - what's left of it anyway in the country scene - will be down the tubes.

But even if that's done, the infommercial will be about as exciting as that done for politicians on television. Not exactly biased radio programming is it?Perish the thought, but could you imagine a radio station all infommercials all the time? Whatever happened to the radio stations calling the shots of what deserves to get played?

Guess that ended a long long time ago.

And what about the indy companies or those not rolling in big bucks who couldn't afford infommercials? Sounds like their chances of getting played would be seriously diminished.

Radio should be considered as in large degree a public service and should hold a public trust as well.

As for the short ad idea, this just plain smells bad. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out radio stations could be put in a precarious situation between airing the release of an artist by a company willing to pay and those who won't.

The radio stations have an obligation to the public to broadcast in a fair manner. But if they're busily accepting pay after play, you might as well forget the fairness notion.

And why shouldn't they be doing their job anyway of telling listeners what was played? Record companies should have to pay for that? We don't think so.

Record companies aren't, of course, saying they are paying for play. They are trying to use every kind of marketing tool possible to gain a leg up on the competition, especially at a time when country is down overall while other genres are increasing.

Fortunately not all record companies share Capitol's platform. Curb, for example, has gone on record as saying it would not engage in such practices. Hopefully, others will follow their cue instead of that at Capitol.

Let's hope the record industry and radio stations resort to other methods to make money because these latest ideas don't pass the smell test. In fact, they stink.