Tuning Out The “Local Radio Freedom Act”

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While I listened dolefully to another Phillies’ loss yesterday on radio station WPHT in these parts, I heard an ad for something called the “Local Radio Freedom Act” (more information is here from the station’s web site).

I was automatically suspicious because I have that reaction to any news/editorial content I hear on that station, and also because what I felt was the propagandistic tone of the ad ended up matching what you can read from the link above. Simply put, to say that you’re not getting the whole story here is an understatement.

More information on the Local Radio Freedom Act is available here, and if you could ever make a case for guilt by association, this is it; there are 236 co-sponsors of the Act, and many are Democrats. However, there are just as many (if not more) Republicans, no doubt realizing that they’d better leap to the defense of their precious constituents in AM radio, which has done more to further the ruinous conservative ascendancy than any other communications medium (including this individual above named Chris Krock in GA), with the possible exception of direct mail marketing (let’s see, Michele Bachmann, Joe Pitts, Chris Smith, Heath Shuler – yep, a real “rogues gallery” here…why Chaka Fattah, among others, would sign onto this is something I don’t understand).

It’s important to note, thought, that the Act is a response to this, the Performance Rights Act, which, among other things, “grant(s) performers of sound recordings equal rights to compensation from terrestrial broadcasters” (the link above provides the details of the bill – it has yet to be voted on by the full House).

And this article describes more of the maneuvering on the bill, including this excerpt…

Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat who represents the Hollywood section of Los Angeles and who is a longtime strong supporter of the legislation, saw (Rep. John) Conyers’ invitation (to the National Association of Broadcasters to discuss the bill) as an opportunity to take a poke at broadcasters who have rejected the measure. “We have invited the NAB to come in and work through the points of the bill. It is not that they are not interested, they are. They have worked very hard against the bill.”

But (Rep. Maxine) Waters jumped to broadcasters’ defense. “Broadcasters felt they did not have a chance,” she said. “They have felt that too many people work arguing for the entertainment industry. We know that is not true, but….”

Berman wrinkled his face, not buying a bit of it. “They did not think they needed to work something out,” he said pointedly. “They thought they could stop this bill in the subcommittee. We invited them to come in and negotiate this, and they would not, and we still invite them to. Come in and talk about it.”

Earlier in the discussion, Berman made a wisecrack reference to broadcasters, noting that they’d “rather slit their throat” than negotiate. It is a reference to outgoing NAB chief David Rehr’s line uttered last year that he’d rather slit his throat than negotiate with record labels. It has haunted and hurt the NAB ever since he said it, and legislators who back the royalties’ bill have not been able to leave the line alone. It has become their battle cry, characterizing what they feel is a flawed lobbying association and flawed approach. The tact appears to be working: Even longtime supporters of broadcasters have begun whispering that the NAB should make an effort to talk with the other side. However, broadcasters argue that they are paying nothing now and they will only lose ground if there is a discussion about rates and fees.

After the panel voted to send the measure on to the full House for a vote, Kendall Minter, chairman of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, told Radio and Records he considered it a major victory for artists. “This is a right that should be uncontested because half of the creators of songs are being compensated–composers. Performers now need to be included.” He said broadcasters “have been enjoying a free ride for the past 80 years, forcing us into being part of, as George Bush called them, ‘the axis of evil.’ Only China, North Korea, Iran and the U.S. do not compensate performers for their work.” He added that by passing the measure into law, American performers will then receive compensation from foreign countries when their works are broadcast on their airwaves because “we’ll have reciprocity with other nations.” He rejects the NAB’s argument that the biggest record labels that will benefit from royalty payments are foreign-owned labels: “Sure, three of the major labels are foreign-owned. But there are thousands of independent labels owned by Americans, and the money will go to American artists.”

So basically, I don’t buy the “crocodile tears” from the radio business about how HR 848 will “harm local radio stations, who have already seen their revenues sink to double digits under the current economic crisis,” as noted here.

And by the way, anybody who thinks that there’s anything “local” about radio any more must still listen to Frank Merriwell and The Great Gildersleeve on the crystal set. Among other things, this tells us the following…

  • The top four radio station owners (Clear Channel, Infinity, Radio One and Cox) have almost half of the listeners and the top ten owners have almost two-thirds of listeners.
  • The “localness” of radio ownership – ownership by individuals living in the community — has declined between 1975 and 2005 by almost one-third.
  • Just fifteen formats make up three-quarters of all commercial programming. Moreover, radio formats with different names can overlap up to 80% in terms of the songs played on them.
  • Niche musical formats like Classical, Jazz, Americana, Bluegrass, New Rock, and Folk, where they exist, are provided almost exclusively by smaller station groups.
  • Across 155 markets, radio listenership has declined over the past fourteen years, a 22% drop since its peak in 1989. The consolidation allowed by the Telecom Act has failed to reverse this trend.
  • For the most part, terrestrial radio is dying. The only stations that are truly listenable any more are member supported through fund drives and other forms of donations. This is a fate for which they themselves are responsible far more than anyone else (and HR 848, to me, is an attempt to justly reward artists long denied their fair share by these “local” entities).

    And the “Local Radio Freedom Act” isn’t going to prevent their inevitable demise, perhaps later than sooner, but eventually.

    (And by the way, rulings like this are another reason why I could care less about those poor, oppressed, “local” stations – h/t The Daily Kos; if somebody has to pay a judgment like this to those RIAA bastards just for some song-swapping, then why should I care about entities having to “pony up” who can actually afford it?)

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