Saving “Black Radio”

Most people outside of the “Black Community” – even people in the Radio Biz, are oblivious to the “Black Radio” business.  Black Radio stations make no effort at diversity (reaching out beyond their own community) and typically have signals that don’t reach beyond the neighborhoods of high concentrations of Black Americans.   Most black talk radio hosts overtly express their hatred of white people on air, but it doesn’t matter.  Most non-Black people don’t listen to Black Radio and don’t know or don’t care.  Those that might are intimidated into submission.   Black radio stations starting to stream on the internet makes those expressions of racial hatred and racial stereotyping right out in plain view now – if people take the time to listen.

For about a year, Steve Malzberg (formerly at WABC and now at WOR), co-hosted a show on WWRL in New York City (The “Black” radio station in Harlem).   It was very interesting to hear the interaction with black listeners being confronted with a Jewish Conservative Republican on “their” radio station.  Steve learned many things he never knew about the black community, and both he and his audience are probably better for the experience, although it made for very uncomfortable listening.  His black female co-host purported to be a “Republican”, but that facade quickly fell apart under even the most superficial questioning, at which point the race baiting would start.  

A very important fight is going on in Congress today that should be of interest to everyone.   Representative John Conyers of Detroit has proposed an end to the exemption of “Over the Air” radio from paying artists (or the record labels) performance royalties for playing their music.   Internet streamers and Sirius/XM were forced into paying these fees – and the NAB gleefully supported that because they figured it would shut down their new digital competition in its tracks.  It hasn’t.  It HAS forced over the air radio stations to pay the performance fee on Internet Streaming of radio’s over the air stations – which they fought and recently conceded defeat on.  When you listen to music on the internet from a radio station, they now have to pay a royalty for using that music. 

Now the music business wants to end the last exception – free air play for “over the air” radio.  This is literally a “do or die” issue for Old Radio [the head of the NAB just quit suddenly – probably very much related to this].

The chickens have come home to roost.  Sirius/XM and Internet streamers (like Pandora and AOL) are making the case – and it has a lot of merit – that in 2009,  the music business is no longer what it was in the 1960s, and that “Music Radio” should be a level playing field.  If they have to pay, everyone should have to pay.  

The original reason for the exemption was it was negotiated to end the practice of “pay for play” or the nastier term “payola”.  Back in the day, the record labels were more than willing to pay radio stations and DJs to play their records (or supply cocaine, prostitutes, young boys, whatever it took).   Payola has never really ended, it just has become more clever.

Until the Internet arrived, young people found out about new songs on the radio, then would run to the local music store and buy the 45s and albums.   The pay for play practice was uncovered in the 1960s and given the name  “Payola” and made illegal.  It’s not illegal for a radio label to pay to have their music played – as long as the radio station discloses on the air that the station is being paid to play the music.  

The compromise that was worked out was that music labels cannot pay radio stations to play their music, and in return radio stations would not pay the music labels a fee for using the music to make their money.   The FCC license became a government monopoly to make easy money. 

The artists got paid through their record labels from the sales of their records (maybe), but were not paid directly by radio stations that were making large profits from playing their music.   That amiable guy Dick Clark played a major role in negotiating that deal.  So that’s the background, more or less.  If you haven’t been to the mall lately or live in a cave, most music is no longer bought by going to a record store and buying a piece of plastic.  People sample new music and download it over the Internet and stuff it into their iPod.

So now to the interesting part.  I believe Representative Conyers in part raised this issue of ending this arrangement because he believes black music artists are being “ripped off” for their work by the Record Labels.   If radio has to pay to play music, that revenue might flow back directly to the artists in the black community.  It’s also very possible Conyers just wants to destroy “big radio” (like evil Conservative Clear Channel – the company that single handedly made Air America possible – ignorance is bliss)

Ah, but there is a complication.  How do you “tax” “white radio” for playing black music, but not also tax “black radio” for playing the same music?  Before reading any further, you need to understand the history of one company – Radio One – read its profile and history [here].   Radio One is “the” only large company that owns Black Radio stations.  Al Sharpton’s show appears on their stations, and all are targeted only at “urban” listeners. 

If the Performance Royalty exemption ends (Radio lobbyists at the NAB like to call it a “tax”), it will probably put Radio One out of business – they’re already teetering “on the edge” along with the rest of the big companies in radio.  

Maxine Waters – never one to hide her true motives – wants to tax “White Radio”, but exempt “Black Radio”.   Even if you accept the notion that corporate radio is somehow “White”, a discrimination in the law like that would never survive a legal challenge based on “equal protection” language.  They’re trying to figure out a way based on company size to racially discriminate without it looking like racial discrimination.

This dispute between Mr Conyers and Ms Waters has gotten very public and very ugly.  The NAB would love to fuel the internal fight within the Black Community to kill the idea, at least for this year.

Now, read [this thoughtful article] titled “Should we Save Black Radio?”, by a commentator within the black community.   Regardless of your opinion about the Performance Royalty or “Black Radio”, it is interesting reading.  Keep in mind that Tom Joyner works for Kathy Hughes.

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8 Responses to Saving “Black Radio”

  1. Paul Calhoun says:

    Save Black Radio

  2. Letitia Calhoun says:

    Congress, Do the right thing!

  3. Precia Long says:

    We want black radio!

  4. Dean Long II says:

    There is no music without Black Radio!

  5. Robin M. says:

    Black radio must remain the same, however I do want artist to be compensated and not cheated for their work. At the same time others need to by their music from the stores instead of reproduce it from copying. Most think about themselves and not about the welfare of othrs. We must support one another. When artists create we must support them fully by purchasing their art legally. We must not have the mentallity that we have a right to their creation, what is that about? We must have the desire to see others make it and find legal work on our own. STOP STEALING!!!!!!

    Black artist should be supported just like any other artist. Now there may be some copyright infringement in other neighborhoods, but in black neighborhoods it’s become prevalent. Many young black men believe that it’s an income for them. I don’t understand where they’re coming from because what another has poured out isn’t theirs to market.

    I do hope that Black radio will remain as it has always been!


  6. jacque green says:

    We need black radio love it keep doing what’s best for radio and artist

    i say be fear

  7. Lori Jones says:


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