Payola—the practice of record companies paying to have their songs played on the radio—has made its way back after being dormant for decades. In 1960, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed was convicted of accepting $2,500 to play certain songs. While Freed insisted this “token of gratitude” didn’t affect what he played on the air, the FCC disagreed—it passed regulations banning the practice of payola.
Fast forward it to today. With radio consolidation, a handful of large radio conglomerates control stations across the country. From Clear Channel, which owns over 1,200 stations in 189 markets, to Infinity and other large conglomerates, commercial radio has had the lifeblood squeezed out of it. Whether you turn on the radio in Portland, Maine or Orlando, Florida, it all sounds the same. (Maybe that’s what Led Zeppelin meant by “The Song Remains the Same").
Free Press, a national, non partisan organization, is working to increase informed public participation regarding media issues, such as this one. They have a “crib sheet" posted on their website on payola, as well as many other issues pertaining to the media and public access of the airwaves. They have a map of stations currently under investigation.
In our own Portland, Maine market, WCYY, owned by conglomerate, Citadel Broadcasting, is currently under investigation. I happen to listen to their modern rock format when I’m out of reach of college stations from Bates or Bowdoin, or community radio such as WMPG in Portland. While ‘CYY’s format is derivative, the station does program some local music. Interestingly, if I hadn’t seen the Free Press page on payola, I would not have known anything about the investigation of a local station, which says quite a bit about our local paper, the Portland Press Herald. Actually, I cancelled my subscription to it because it just plain sucks! Possibly they ran that story in the last two weeks and I just missed it?
Media consolidation continues to be a major issue, as corporations controlling the airwaves and eliminating diversity of opinions, views, as well as entertainment is not a good thing. If you care at all about local access issues, I highly recommend the Free Press site for its content on this important issue.