After receiving what he calls an “underwhelming” response from the Recording Industry Association of America, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly says he’ll take his payola inquiry directly to record labels. The Commissioner has been on a fact-finding mission following a recent Rolling Stone expose about allegations of modern-age payola in the radio and recording industries.
On Tuesday, O’Rielly posted on Twitter a letter he received from RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier in response to the Commissioner’s Sept. 4 inquiry about the relationship between radio and the record labels and whether allegations of non-disclosure are actually occurring. “Not going to lie: it’s a bit underwhelming,” O’Rielly tweeted. “Going to have to seek out answers directly from record labels.”
In the Sept. 27 letter, Glazier said the RIAA’s member companies “take the issues you raise very seriously and all of them maintain and enforce robust policies to ensure their compliance with all the applicable rules and regulations.” But recent press reports of alleged payola mainly revolve around the practices of independent radio promoters, “whom we do not represent and thus are not well situated to survey,” the letter says.
Record companies do, in fact, hire independent promoters to work their records to radio. But as a trade group that represents competing record companies, Glazier said the RIAA is “constrained by law in our ability to probe and collect the individual business practices of our member companies.” Glazier closed the curt six-sentence letter with an offer to provide contact info for people at record companies who are familiar with their policies.
In a story published in August, Rolling Stone quoted radio veteran Paul Porter, among others, who alleged the days of giving air personalities bags of cash or drugs may be long over, but the pay-for-play practice isn’t. Porter said record promoters are instead using cash apps and directing money to corporate accounts.
In his letter to the record industry trade group, O’Rielly told Glazier that the “changing nature of radio” and the “explosive impact of digital advertising” means record companies are now working with stations in ways that can be “very complex,” making it difficult to determine whether laws are being followed. “It is my sincere hope that recent allegations are being overstated or misrepresented,” said O’Rielly. He asked the RIAA to help the agency determine whether allegations of pay-to-play are actually occurring and whether artist appearances are being tied to on-air spins. “My 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,” O’Rielly said.