Music biz asks for radio probe

Groups say consolidation's leading to payola-like tactics that hurt listeners

Groups representing recording artists, record companies, songwriters, merchandisers and consumer advocates want the government to take a hard look at radio consolidation, hinting that some practices by large group owners smack of payola.

In a statement delivered to Congress and the FCC Friday, 10 independent industry groups urged "the government to revise the payola laws to cover independent promotion to radio, to investigate the impact of radio consolidation on the music community and citizens, and to work to protect non-commercial space on both the terrestrial radio bandwidth and the emerging Webcasting models."

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) is working on legislation to reform radio, a staffer confirmed.

The wide-ranging groups include the Recording Industry Association of America, American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Association for Independent Music, Future of Music Coalition, Just Plain Folks, Nashville Songwriters Association International, National Association of Recording Merchandisers, National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and the Recording Academy, a part of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

"Today, for the contemporary-hit radio/ top-40 formats, only four radio station groups—Chancellor, Clear Channel, Infinity and Capstar—control access to 63% of the format's 41 million listeners nationwide," the statement says. "For the country format, the same four groups control access to 56% of the format's 28 million listeners."

The petitioning groups are upset by payola-like practices in which artists and record companies pay for radio-station promotions in return for airtime for favored artists. They also want the FCC to investigate how vertical integration in radio has forced up concert-ticket prices and made it difficult for non-affiliated artists to book tours. Clear Channel runs a concert-promotion company, SFX Entertainment.

"Artists, songwriters, labels and retailers," says Mike Bracy, of the Future of Music Coalition, "are united in opposition to large broadcasters' claim that consolidation has improved commercial radio."