Saturday, August 06, 2005

"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important" Eugene McCarthy

Saturday morning in Minneapolis, waiting for my guest to join me for breakfast, I'm reading the New York Times. There it was - the carefully managed leak about Eliot Spitzer's Monday announcement. Days later, Don Henley and Ann Chaitovitz offered Mr Spitzer their thanks. Henley saying "payola hurts recording artists." I am not able to offer an opinion on Mr Spitzer's findings, don't have all the facts. What does come to mind - beaten into me during my days as a street reporter - is that old city news bureau editor's injunction "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." I rather like the idea of a politician looking into the radio and records relationship. Nothing like a motivated pol to look where few others would dare. So my hat is off to Mr Spitzer. This Harvard grad has become a one-man dirt devil, a man on a mission, a man able to gin up the New York Times into giving him a Saturday coming attractions trailer. I'll admit it, I was sucked in by the promo, a settlement with Sony - WOW.

Truth be told this stuff is all old news. Eliot, your announcement is a late bulletin for those in the business. From my first music director job through my years as a PD, a group PD, a GM and a licensee, the temptations were always there. But better than the reality, richer than any truth, there were the stories. The stories of who was getting what. As my Georgia relatives would say "something bad wrong" here.

Looking back on it now I can recall my last station job - Infinity in Dallas. More than one Infinity colleague said "come on Dave, everyone does it, it's totally cool." Because something may be legal, according to the reading of one or more lawyers, does not make it right. By the way, our Dallas cluster never joined the club during my watch. To my knowledge Infinity was not in the pay for play game but rather the state-of-the-art, cleared by legal, independent promoter game. Further, my understanding is Infinity is now no longer "in the game."

There appear to be two flavors of the poor conduct under investigation - the corporate endorsed and off the reservation. In the case of the former we may expect the lawyers to take some heat, maybe even fresh, new lawyers employed. Then the blame delegated down the line in classic double-secret-probation, ugly letter in the permanent file ritual dance plus a select group of "leaving for personal reasons." In cases of the latter, terminations followed by outrage may result, thereafter psychics and bloodhounds may be employed to sweep each questionable office or facility "clean". Just no good excuse for using one's post at a federally licensed facility to run a morally and ethically bankrupt scam. A scam that perhaps some lawmaker might soon refer to as a money laundering operation. Any group execs who turn out to have been involved in any sketchy stuff should be made to feel especially ashamed; perhaps their boards might require them to donate a bonus to charity or cash out their stock options and donate the funds to a good cause. What about those proven dirty but no longer at the helm? Let's hope lawyers working for any accused company, if the former employer of the proven dirty, throw any such former officers to the wolves. Truth will out. The humanity. The greed. The stupidity.

"Booze, Broads and Bribes" Front page headline, The Miami Herald, Nov 25, 1959, coverage of the second annual Disc Jockey Convention

Growing up the son of a broadcaster I recall the days when uniformed federal employees delivered records to our home. Back in the day, disc jockeys were promoted individually because they alone selected music played on their "shows." It was not until later that the "closed" music system was introduced and management took over selection and sequencing of music. My father, a bigger-than-life personality who got his start in 1940s black radio, told me stories of colorful, creative promotion executives and local distributors with amazing powers of imagination. Mind you these stories were from the days long BEFORE there were any prohibitions against payola/plugola. The days when you played your own records. Years later, while at WBZ, the legendary talent and uber-cool Dave Maynard also shared stories. One involved the suits from New York. The Group W attorneys had come to Boston in 1960 to "prepare" Dave for his testimony before congress. These public hearings were to be the first on the issue of disc jockey payola, not yet against the law, the first witnesses were from Boston. Dave, while driving the attorneys to lunch in his very hip new car, was asked "what is the largest gift you've accepted?" to which Dave told me he replied "we're riding in it." To be fair to Dave he also told me he promoted records at off-air events and was never involved in "pay for play" and I believe him. Representative Oren Harris lead the charge for reform and others including Tip O'Neill created a frenzy. Allan Freed, arguably the disc jockey who invented the term "Rock and Roll", admitted getting payments from record companies for "consultation", payments he did not consider to be payola. Freed pleaded out, two counts of commercial bribery, he got a fine and a suspended sentence. Having lost all chances of ever working again in radio he drank himself to death.

I do respect and understand the difficult job of those who work in music promotion. As Bill Gavin once taught me "be nice to those who are paid to be nice to you." Of course, Bill stopped way short of taking money, as usual, he led by example. Bill set the standard for integrity.

I vote for congressional and FCC investigations while we're at it. Moreover, let's get each of the AGs to crank up an investigation in their state. After all why should Sony get off paying only in New York when what they may have done is potentially much bigger than poor judgment in the Empire state alone. Let's run the weasels, thieves, rascals and pigs out of the business no matter what their business card. The majority of folks working in the radio dodge have no notion of what this fuss is about, they are honest, hard working folk who deserve to have the gonifs outed and thrown out. Perhaps an analyst will waylay one or more CEOs on a quarterly call and ask "what do you know?" and "when did you first know it?" Let's just get all of this behind us, finally get this over, so we can get on to the work at hand.

Daniel Gross writing at Slate says Spitzer's crusade is pointless, read his take here
My sense is, related to broadcasters, Mr Gross may not fully nor properly appreciate the concept of public trust nor the standard setting ideals of qualified trustee/licensee. The bigger problem Daniel is NOT play for pay, it's indie promotion gone wild.

John Rook continues speaking truth to power, he tells it like it is...

The Attorney General of New York has performed a valuable service in uncovering the illegal activity initiated by two foreign owned companies, Sony of Japan and BMG of Germany. To my way of thinking a ten million dollar fine is chump change for the right to operate in the United States after having violated our laws. Sony and BMG fraudulently attempted to control the music industry and prevented many talented artists from having their creative endeavors heard over the public airwaves. The expense for having to pay for airplay has forced smaller record companies to close their doors and cease operations. The willingness to pay is at the root of the problem.

With more than fifty years invested in radio, it pains me to know of those in the industry who don’t appreciate the music furnished by the recording industry without expecting payment for programming it. Take away the music provided free and radio would be naked. The fee broadcasters must pay to music licensing organizations for programming music is still a fraction of what they would have to pay in replacing the free entertainment value provided by the recording industry.

It is unfortunate the deregulation of radio ushered in a management controlled totally by former sales managers. Under their direction an attempt was made to legalize payola. They got away with it for several years until legal eagles responsible for their actions began to warn of license revocation. By then the seed had been planted that spawned a new generation of programmers who’s bosses encouraged them to eat freely from the payola trough by accepting free bee’s meant to be used as listener prizes that would deliver more operating cost to the revenue bottom line. With the genie out of the box it isn’t surprising to find some “prizes” became the personal possessions of radio’s programmers. This was not unknown in radio’s past but in the past ten years the taking of payola has been epidemic. Read all of JR's comments here

Claude Hall writes weekly - highly recommended, you'll find it is worth your time. Not only does he set the record straight on any number of issues but he favors us with his pov PLUS his serialized novels alone are worth the jump. From this week's right column...

Other factors are influencing radio ratings and will impact them more so in time to come. Satellite broadcasting and iPods. Various variations of either or both. Changes are en route. On the way. Nothing you can do about it except adjust. The competition in radio is going to be ferocious! Good, entertaining and informative local radio to which listeners can relate, in my opinion, will survive on some level. But it may have to return to some of the elements that made local radio worth listening to. If you do not know these elements, talk to George Wilson, Jack Gale, or Ron Jacobs. Chuck Blore. Jim Gabbert. Kent Burkhart.

Got to agree with you Claude, being brilliant on the basics is what is needed. I would add the names of others to your list to include Bob Henabery, Paul Drew, Jon Quick, Jack Swanson, Kevin Weatherly, Scott Shannon, John Rook, Lee Davis, Eddie McLaughlin, Jerry Clifton, Buzz Bennett, Bob Pittman, Dave Hamilton, Les Garland, both Bob Hamiltons, Jeff Smulyan, Jay Mitchell, Chuck Tweedle, Ron Chapman, Dean Sorenson, Dave Logan, Mel Phillips, Jhani Kaye, Phil Hall, John Duncan, Ed Salamon, Gerry Cagle, Ken Dowe, John Sebastian, Bobby Rich, Jim Harper, Jerry Boulding, Diane Sutter, Lee Abrams, Drew Horowitz, Pat O'Day, Dick Rakovan, Kevin Metheny, Ron Fell, Lee Arnold, Dennis Constantine, Herb McCord, Norm Winer, Bill Clark, Jerry Lyman and Roy Shapiro. To read this weeks writings from Claude, click here.

Tom Evslin offers some fine comments on decision making - decide first, spin second...

Leaders have to make decisions and leaders have to sell decisions – that’s what leadership is all about. You don’t make the right decisions if you worry about how you’re going to sell them before you’ve made them. You can’t think clearly about substance when you’re thinking about spin. Conversely, you can think more clearly about selling and positioning a decision once you know you’ve made it for what you think are the right reasons.

Managing public companies for quarterly results is an example of decision making dominated by spin just as much as making political decisions by watching the polls. Neither result in good governance. Both are huge temptations. Read all of Tom's comments here

The Conclave was simply outstanding. Very impressed with the program, the speakers and most of all impressed with those attending. This event remains a unique and special professional gathering. Please allow me to thank Joel Denver (AllAccess) and Bill Troy along with Jonathan Little (Troy Research) for their sponsorships of my talk. Here now are some random notes from the gathering...

Joel Denver made an excellent observation. In response to something said in my talk, a reference to Paul Drew's observation "the radio station is an extension of the program director's personality" Joel said the reality of the matter goes much deeper. "It goes to the DNA, to the individual's essence, to the psyche" Joel told me. He's right it does go to the totality of the id, the ego. Joel, I'll continue to use Paul's quote while also adding yours - thanks!

Thanks to Mark Bolke. He gave me the tour of his very cool windows based software. If you are involved in scheduling music you should check it out, amazing stuff! You can get started here

Art Vuolo remains in rare form. His ability to produce an identical copy of any signature and do so at will is but one of his special gifts. Art is alive and well on the web, jump over to his site and buy a video here. One of the best lines delivered from the stage at The Conclave was Mancow's spot on remark about Art - "you would think after all the years he has been doing this that the video would be better, it's not."

Great to see Andy Bloom, media's loss is the 3rd district of Ohio's gain, for now, I still say stay tuned. Of course Andy is working for a member from the state that every political junkie is now talking about - Ohio. Clearly, the result of the special congressional election in Ohio makes it the most talked about political race so far this year. Leave it to Andy to, again, be right where the action is.

Spent some time catching up with the legendary Marc Kalman. Marc is consulting, writing and building a network radio and publishing business. After a career of doing fine work for others Marc is now blazing his own trail - bravo! Good luck Marco.

Fun to see Steve Perun on the run. He deserves lots of credit, credit he is not yet getting, for his role in taking KIIS to #1.

Paige Nienaber is about as good as it gets. A keen intellect, Paige's pov and raw creative talent make him a MVP in whatever situation he chooses to play in.

Rick Thomas of the Journal Wichita operation has exactly the right mindset; I salute any person who puts "Ghostbuster" on their business card. No need to take ourselves too seriously. What did Fred Allen say "It's called a medium because nothing is well-done"

Ran into CMI's Alexander Court at B&N on the mall. Readers are leaders - watch for this guy.

Chris Krok is impressive, the Hubbard folk are the fortunate employer, lucky Ginny.

Finally, please meet my "perky" neighborhood blogger, here