The Spin of Reality Radio
by Lisa Fager, Industry Ears
Cathy Hughes, founder of the Radio One media conglomerate, calls it “Reality Radio”. In actuality, it’s a series of brief monologues describing her fierce opposition not only to House Resolution 848 – the Performance Rights Act – but also to the Black members of Congress who support it.
And what, exactly, is her “reality”? That HR 848 – the Performance Rights Act recently introduced in the United States Congress – “could put many black owned radio stations out of business. And force others to abandon their commitment to provide free music, entertainment, news, information, and money losing formats like gospel.” Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from reality.
Plainly put, HR 848 will allow performers to get paid when their songs are played on the radio. The United States is among only a handful of nations — including China, North Korea and Iran — that do not pay royalties to performers. All other nations pay royalties to both the songwriter and performer of music.
Hughes has crafted arguments that lay out superficial reasons for why HR 848 is “not in the best interests of Black people”. However, a closer inspection of her arguments indicates that the issue is much more complicated than Hughes makes it out to be.
“Reality Radio” claims that if HR 848 is passed, then “the RIAA will get paid and only half will go to artists.”
The truth: If “Reality Radio” has a problem with performance fees, then they should be working to increase the artists’ revenue. If HR 848 is scrapped, as “Reality Radio” suggests it should be, then artists will get absolutely nothing. The internet, cable and satellite radio stations already pay performance fees to artists. What the Performance Rights Act will do is to stop giving special treatment to AM and FM radio by allowing them to play the artists’ music for free.
“Reality Radio” claims that HR 848 will “kill Black radio”.
The truth: Black radio was placed on life support long before the advent of HR 848. It’s demise, ironically, began when large corporate entities like Radio One and Clear Channel began to consolidate what were once local radio stations and transform them into cookie-cutter templates. Additionally, stations with less than $1.25 million in annual revenues — which is 75 percent of all stations nationwide — would pay just $500 a year for all the music they play. Smaller stations would pay $100 a year and public radio, college radio and nonprofit religious radio stations would pay less or nothing.
“Reality Radio” also argues that defeating HR 848 will “save black radio”.
The truth” this is such a contradiction, it isn’t even funny. Urban radio is the most syndicated format in radio and no longer serves local communities. For every city in which syndicated programs like the Tom Joyner Morning Show or the Michael Baisden Show airs, that is a city that keeps its local talent unemployed during the hours that these nationally syndicated shows are on the air. That doesn’t sound like its saving local Black radio to me. In fact, it’s actually helping to eliminate local news and public affairs programming. The radio efforts around Jena 6 were commendable; however we have had many more “Jena 6”, Ravaugh Harris’, Sean Bells and Oscar Grants since then, but lack access to public airwaves to mobilize and inform local communities. How about a Save Black Communities campaign?
As social justice and media activists, Industry Ears is certainly no fan of either the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or the very influential RIAA. However, the reality is that performing artists must be taken care of if we want to remain entertained by their music. It is illogical to think that the RIAA wants the radio industry – especially Black urban radio – to go belly up. This notion is just nonsense because radio helps sell records and records help sell radio.
On July 9th, Congressman Conyers will hold a hearing on HR 848. People need to become more informed about this important piece of legislation and make up their own minds on whose interests are best being served by it.
Paul Porter, co-founder Industry Ears will testify on HR 848 and radio consolidation at tomorrow’s Judiciary Hearing 10am @ Rayburn
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