Home / Cox Blows Off Indie Promoters

Cox Blows Off Indie Promoters

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This could be a crucial turning point, or end up meaning nothing at all:

    Cox Radio Inc., one of the nation’s largest radio chains, plans to sever its ties with independent record promoters to distance itself from a payola-like practice rampant in the music business.

    The decision makes Cox the first big broadcaster to revolt against the record labels’ three-decade-old practice of hiring independent “middlemen” to push songs to radio programmers. Critics say the promoters’ existing deals with major radio companies smack of payola, or undisclosed payments made in exchange for airplay.

    “We felt uncomfortable with these relationships because the system does invite abuse,” said Robert Neil, Cox Radio’s chief executive. “The record companies have been trying to get people to play records in different ways for a long time. The more we found out about this, the less comfortable we became.”

    Cox will not renew contracts with record promoters whose contracts have expired in recent weeks, Neil said, and will end its remaining promotional contracts as they expire during the next year. Independent promoters, including Jeff McClusky and Jerry Brenner, currently have deals with 14 of Cox’s pop, rap and rock music stations and pay Cox an estimated $1 million a year in “promotional” fees.

    McClusky and Brenner could not be reached for comment.

    Atlanta-based Cox, a unit of Cox Enterprises Inc., runs 79 radio stations, with major outlets in Miami, Long Island, N.Y., and across the South. It ranks seventh nationally in the number of stations owed but is third in sales.

    “It’s about time a major radio company took this step,” said Peter Hart, an analyst with watchdog organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. “Cox is making a wise decision….But this is only the first step. This practice still demands a congressional investigation. Other companies won’t take the same step without pressure.”

    Radio scandals in the 1950s prompted the passage of the federal anti-payola statute, which prohibits radio stations from accepting money for playing songs unless they disclose it to listeners. Record labels have gone to great lengths to avoid such sponsorship tags and have backed independent promoters since the early 1970s.

    The five major record conglomerates now spend about $100 million a year on independent promoters to influence radio airplay. Promoters attempt to sidestep the anti-payola law by paying radio stations annual fees — often exceeding $100,000 — that they say are not tied to airplay of specific songs. In return, stations give promoters advance copies of playlists. Promoters then bill record labels for each new song that gets played.

    “They’re paying you $100,000 a year just to know what your adds [newly added songs] are? Why is that of value to them? It makes no sense unless they feel they have some influence on their individual records,” Neil said. “If somebody put you in front of a congressional committee and asked you to explain this, would you want to do that?”

    This year, record industry officials called for a federal investigation into the radio business, saying independent promoters often violated the law and stifled new music getting airtime.

    Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) has introduced legislation to ban the practice. In the last three years, the Justice Department has reviewed complaints about cash payments allegedly made to programmers at urban stations, and obtained payola-related tax convictions against several record label and radio executives in the Latin music field.

    Hilary Rosen, chief of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, applauded Cox’s move, saying, “I’m sure regulators will look favorably on this.”

    Record executives also criticize Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s biggest radio broadcaster with 1,200 stations, and Radio One, the largest chain catering to African American audiences, for requiring record labels to pay designated promoters to pitch songs to their stations.

If Clear Channel makes the move, you’ll know the times are a-changing.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • Payola should be legal. If the label pays a station $100 to play a song, that’s business. It’s just advertising. If the station discloses that it’s advertising to the listeners, fine, if not, fine. That’s their business. The stations are playing with their own integrity.

    Bottom line, if the listener doesn’t like the song, they turn the dial. Or turn it off. I can hardly stand to listen to commercial radio, never have. That’s why I’ve spent three trillion dollars on albums.

    I’m just glad to be living in the age of the internet and satellite and cable tv radio. So many more ways to find music.

  • Beau

    It’s about time some one looks in this illegal practice. I’m tired of hearing the same old songs on the radio. Sure it may easy to turn the dial, but only if there’s other station(s) to change to. This practice makes it hard for small independent labels with good music to be heard.

  • Eric Olsen

    I agree Beau, it undermines everything the “public airwaves” are supposed to be about, and when the same few corporations own most of the stations, there aren’t many alternatives

  • I miss real DJs.

    At work we listen to a preprogrammed “smooth jazz” station that’s had about 4 songs in rotation for the last 2 months. The worst part about it is the DJ (notice I said “THE”) that has no sense of humor or taste in music. All of his dialogue and interjections are prerecorded.

    I’m sure if there was a live DJ in the studio I wouldn’t have to hear Queen Latifah’s butchering of California Dreamin’ 10 times a day.

    Sorry about getting off topic. I just had to rant.

  • Eric Olsen

    amen MB!

  • I’ve done a stint of DJ work on a college radio station, and enjoyed it enough to consider trying to land a paid job in commercial radio. Sadly, from what I hear, everything enjoyable about college radio would be exactly the opposite in commercial radio.

    Instead of a chance to share music I like, and hopefully entertain the listeners with a few well-chosen comments between songs, such a career would most likely involve playing what I’m told to play and reading what I’m told to read.

    No thanks.

  • Response to Al Barger… There is something you have missed in your perspective. radio stations etherially are a public institution..no matter what.Regardless of satilite and other means the radio frequencies belong to the public period! It has been ingnored because the public has been conditioned to forget things like frequencies are to change hands every so many years.. They may have changed the law but the premise is still screaming with improprieties. radio has been so corrupt for so long noone can even remmeber what the original guidlines were. If you complain about clearchannel NOW –how is it much different than whats been going on for 30 years. I’m not defending them–they are bad..however for our good they may not be as effective as they want to be ..BECAUSE of satilite and internet..etc etc.

    As far as payola ebing legal–It can be argued that they should feel lucky they have the right to accept payment at all for using public airwaves…These corporations who get these frequencies –like NBC ABC AND CBS… we are so conditioned to accept them as the authority..that noone has ever even thought of challenging the idea that those frequencies should be rented and new tenants assigned every so many years.

    ot have a certain frequency in the hands of one company who everyone identifies with essentially puts them in the position of power to comtrol every peice of art that comes from that frequency.

    There were only so many frequencies available —during the period when they were establishing a capitol ($$$) base or money pool to keep things perpetually in control
    …we can’t change it now–but lets not even pretend how this all came about.

    And furthermore lets not accept blindly that these people have anything in common with or similarities to what is the idea of America which is also how thier power has perverted the idea and perceptions of this country here and abroad.

    these networks radio tv etc etc… are all inseperable for any real purpose.

    they were put together by crooks–very smart crooks… but crooks never the less.

    they had no public interest as heart. sure some of it filtered through as lip service to the public… it’s always been the seat of power –oddly enough the only occation I can think of where the
    extent of power preceeded and exceeded thier imaginations.

    No payola shouldn’t be legal.

    neither should copyright infringment.

    if you were on an island with a woman who didn’t like you…

    would it be alright to rape her just because you could???

    So goes technology/the internet… it tests the rapist in all of us!

    however…. if you keep sampling a stratovarious to the point that you can reproduce anything writen for the violen…

    the peole who make the strratovarious will die sooner or later and will have not passed on thier craft to the young because it cannot sustain life. thus the art will die.

    Do you think record producers are really innecesary?

    Even record PROMOTION is necessary –What isn’t and WASNT necessary was for it to be heavy handed on the buisiness side.

    who knows –we might have a better library of music today if

    the money factor was removed. I really can’t imagine how ting smight have turned out if the last 30 years would’ve been without indy promoters… It’s a ver good wuestion though..

    Im totally int ohearing any feedback — what coudl be the possibilities.. alot of shitty records???

    Who knows…More radio staions??? porrly run radio stations???

    Hmm I’m not a communist… but it is a good quetion that most acedemia would dissmiss to early .

    Only thing I’m sure of tonight is…

    Art is mortal–it CAN be killed! and…

    www = 666 Hebrew ~ don’t ya know! true fact.