Pay for play: Legislation would hit radio stations with royalties

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, would force certain AM/FM radio stations to pay musicians for their work, even though some still believe those stations actually help artists with free publicity.

Blackburn is co-sponsoring the bill, known as the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act, with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

If the bill passes, government might give station owners no choice but to play less music, said Whit Adamson, president of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, a nonprofit for radio and television.

Marsha Blackburn

Station owners would instead switch to exclusive talk radio formats for news or sports, Adamson said.

“That’s already being done,” Adamson said.

“For instance, when the NFL Titans came to Nashville we didn’t have a sports station but now we have several. Talk formats are growing, so that’s already happening. Stations can cut additional expenses anticipated by some of this legislation.”

Members of Blackburn’s office did not return requests for comment Friday, and they did not immediately respond Monday.

Bill supporters say large corporations, such as Cumulus or Clear Channel, own most terrestrial radio stations in the country and can afford to pay artists.

Adamson told Tennessee Watchdog that’s not true.

“These mom-and-pop radio stations that someone told you don’t exist, let me be the first to assure you they do exist and are struggling every single day and a half for a number of years,” Adamson said, adding that FCC regulations prevent corporations from owning more than five FM stations in an individual radio market.

Nashville, Adamson said, has about 35 stations.

“We have over 200 radio stations in the state with less than five employees, and out of the 350 radio and television licensees in Tennessee there’s less than 100 of them that own more than one radio operation.”

According to a news release from Blackburn’s office, though, the legislation would affect only the radio stations whose owners also have some control in the television market.

The legislation would condition the ability of broadcasters to opt for retransmission consent payments on whether radio stations they own pay performers for their music, the release said.

“This is a basic issue of modernizing the law to get rid of a dated loophole that only applies to AM/FM radio,” Blackburn said in the statement.

RADIO: Radio broadcasters might react to new federal legislation by playing less music.

“Internet radio pays music creators fair market value for their performances. Satellite radio pays music creators for performances, Cable and satellite TV/radio stations pay music creators for their performances. Everyone but AM/FM radio pays.”

Local broadcasters, Blackburn said, complain constantly they’re entitled to retransmission consent payments because cable and satellite stations make millions retransmitting their local content.

“However, when it comes to music, the same broadcasters, many who own both TV and radio stations, sing a completely different tune,” Blackburn said.

According to All Access.com, National Association of Broadcasters Vice President Dennis Wharton said his organization worries the legislation would “devalue local broadcasting.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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