Eliot Spitzer and the Scourge of Radio
So Eliot Spitzer, ever the crusader, is at it again. But this time, I'm going to cut him some slack. While I'm not a big fan of Spitzer or any of his ego-boosting crusades through the halls of perceived justice, he has finally hit upon an issue that speaks to my heart: radio payola.
Yes, I know. We live in troubled times. War, famine, pestilence, whatever that other horseman is. Death? Sure. Lots of death. So why is Eliot (and I) so worried about what radio stations are playing? Well, if you're living in a world of impending doom, wouldn't you want that doom to come down on you with a good soundtrack? Who wants to die to repeated airing of the last Clay Aiken single? Not I.
Ok, so that's probably not Spitzer's intent. Most likely his intent has more to do with next election day than really caring about what radio stations play during the afternoon drive time, a time when Spitzer is most likely sharpening his claws or feeding his piranhas.
According to several people involved, investigators in Mr. Spitzer's office have served subpoenas on the four major record corporations - the Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the EMI Group and the Warner Music Group - seeking copies of contracts, billing records and other information detailing their ties to independent middlemen who pitch new songs to radio programmers in New York State.
[....]Broadcasters are prohibited from taking cash or anything of value in exchange for playing a specific song, unless they disclose the transaction to listeners. But in a practice that is common in the industry, independent promoters pay radio stations annual fees - often exceeding $100,000 - not, they say, to play specific songs, but to obtain advance copies of the stations' playlists. The promoters then bill record labels for each new song that is played; the total tab costs the record industry tens of millions of dollars each year.
Did you understand that? If not, don't worry about it. It's not important here. What's important is that we all see through the sham that is rock and roll radio.
See, the program directors think we, the listening audience, are stupid. Case in point: You're driving home from work, flipping through the very shallow offerings of radio stations in your area (this is assuming you, like me, cannot afford to have satellite radio in your car and you're stuck with just a handful of radio stations that run the gamut from the classic rock of Freebird to that insipid new Bowling for Soup song, yet combined they manage to have about 300 songs total on their playlists) and you hit upon the local - and only - real rock station, the definition of real rock being open for debate. Here, that station is K-Rock. You hear the opening riff to a song. Could it be? Could that be...YES! They are actually playing a Toadies song. Sure, it's Possum Kingdom, but at least it's the Toadies, which they very rarely play on this station. So you're all happy thinking that maybe there was some DJ meeting at K-Rock and the program director told them to go freestyle, play what they want, when they want, just go all apeshit on the air with some good, unscheduled tunes.
Monkeys, butts, etc.
See, later that night you are driving to the Dairy Barn for a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread and a chance to escape from your children. You turn on the radio in the hopes that K-Rock has turned over a new leaf and you'll be able to rock out to some good, non Billboard rock for the 45 second ride to the store. And what do you hear? Possum Kingdom. Your initial reaction is wtf? (until you realize that acronyms don't work outside the internet so you say out loud, to the radio, what the fuck?) and it dawns on you that the powers that be at K-Rock think you are stupid.
Here's how that DJ meeting really went:
Program Director: Ok, we need to appear cool and hip and whatnot in order to counterbalance the amount of absolute crap we are playing.
DJ: Uh, why do we play crap, then?
PD: Because Karl Rove tells us to. Hah, just kidding. Because our bosses tell us to.
DJ: What do the bosses know? They don't even like this music.
PD: No, but they like the bags of cash that the record companies, agents and promoters drop off on the roof of the building every Friday morning!
All DJs: Hahahahahah!
PD: I'm not joking. Now here's the playlist for today. Oh, and every once in a while - ok, every hour - play the Toadies Possum Kingdom so we appear cool and hip and whatnot. Next week, we'll change it to something from Tool's first album.
DJ: Are our listeners that stupid?
PD: They bought the latest Limp Bizkit album, didn't they?
DJ: Ohh, good point.
And that's my interpretation of how it works at K-Rock, which really has nothing to do with the Eliot Spitzer thing I mentioned above. As far as I can tell, Spitzer is pissed because radio stations are circumventing the payola laws with secret handshake deals and contracts written in invisible ink. Which would explain why the local station whose playlist consists almost entirely of Stairway to Heaven, Freebird and Hotel California will suddenly break out the new Green Day record. It also - perhaps - explains the popularity of Modest Mouse. Come on Epic Record, fess up. You're lining the press release envelopes with cash, aren't you? It doesn't however, explain the popularity of Nickelback. As far as I know, Roadrunner records isn't exactly flowing with the green. The only explanation I can think of is that the lead singer is actually a hypnotist who mesmerizes the vulnerable into buying their albums. Which, in a way, is more nefarious than payola. What if Chad Kroeger has been teaching his hypnotic, evil skills to Ashlee Simpson? What if he holds monthly meetings in which he and Roadrunner records give workshops to the likes of Jimmy Eat World (whose new offering sounds suspiciously like Livin La Vida Loco)? Perhaps Spitzer should be looking into this instead. The world is in enough trouble as it is. Imagine five horsemen. War, Famine, Pestilence, Death and Kelly Clarkson. That should make us all shudder.