Rolling Stone

A second article in Rolling Stone about the alleged practice of payola and its influence at radio is sure to catch the eye of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who has inquired with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) about some of the under-the-radar practices the music publication outlined in its earlier article.

In the most recent piece, Rolling Stone spoke to a number of unnamed sources who claim that the issue is widespread throughout all formats. The initial article targeted the CHR and urban formats. According to Rolling Stone, several members of the radio and label industries said the number of independent record promoters has been growing. “Enough time has passed [since the last payola lawsuits, in the mid-2000s], nobody’s gotten in trouble for a while, and nobody is scrutinizing this as tightly as they used to be,” one source said. “Things are getting a little more lax.” A programmer at a modern rock station added, “Indies, in my perspective, have too much clout.”

The latest article further explores the practices of indies, who reportedly send invoices for station promotional items or music research to labels in return for airplay.

“Then you end up getting an invoice — I’ve seen some total bullshit invoices — like, ‘This is $800 in water bottles, this is $1,500 in T-shirts,’” a music industry veteran told Rolling Stone.

In his letter to the RIAA, O’Rielly said it was his “sincere hope that recent allegations are being overstated or misrepresented.” The commissioner added that his primary goal “is to get to the bottom of existing industry practices to determine whether the law is being followed or whether any problematic conduct must be addressed.”

While one programmer says he is frustrated with the pay-for-play practices employed by independent promoters, he understands the attraction for some stations, especially those in smaller markets or within smaller radio groups.

“If you’re a small company and you have a dozen stations, all of a sudden you’re adding a million [dollars] to your bottom line” he says. “You’re like, ‘Hell, yes, we’re doing this.’ You just tell your program directors, ‘This is the deal, I don’t care what the records are, you add five a week.’”