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Monday, August 6, 2007

The Radio Airplay Debate

Since Bridge Ratings was one of the first to expose the truth about how radio airplay affects music sales, I think it only appropriate that I weigh in on this latest controversy that is brewing.

Seems the music industry has forgotten the "partnership years" when radio and records virtually changed the way music was consumed. Performers and labels alike believe radio has a one-side relationship with the music industry.

Programming radio stations was one of the favorite aspects of my career and a large part of those years was spent in the company of some of the record industry's best, most creative people. Most of the time those people where record company promotion people, whom I loved working with.

Many of the relationships I had with these people turned out to be much more than the typical program director/record label promo people relationship where they would come by the radio station on Tuesday's and wait outside my office until it was their turn to "pitch" their latest and greatest artists or albums.

Many of these people became good friends and I had the chance to learn just how hard they worked and how difficult their jobs were.

But in the seventies and eighties, radio and records worked as a team of sorts. The record promotion people would provide data or insight as to the record's benefits. Remember, this was before the Internet so airplay data was difficult to come by - part of record promo people's gigs was to enlighten, and the program directors and music directors of the industry would assimilate that information and determine whether songs and albums were worthy of airplay.

One music was added to radio playlists the relationship didn't end there. There were concert promotions, music store promotions and artist interviews, the two industries were connected at the hip in an effort to give momentum to careers of worthy performers. Sure it helped sell records, but the radio industry benefited just as well.

The world seems to have changed since then and now it's coming back to bite the radio industry in the butt. Those that represent the music industry - both corporate and performers alike - feel it is time that radio's "free ride" is over. They want their money.

See, radio pays licensing fees to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC based on the station's revenues. The better a radio station's revenue, the more fees that station pays. It has always been a common belief that radio stations that rely on music for their ratings should pay music publishing houses for the right to use the music that drove revenues for the stations. Fair enough.

Now, the performers - who have not been receiving any special licensing or royalty from radio - want to pluck from the "money tree" they think radio is. It is, they claim, time for the performers of songs to benefit from the years of airplay.

Radio's argument is that the two industries have worked in tandem to benefit the music industry. Radio has - and continues to be - a wonderful promotional vehicle for artists who write and perform music no matter the genre.

In 2005 Bridge Ratings conducted a study to determine the influence radio airplay, Internet airplay and MP3 plays have on the consumer. Due to this current controversy, we just completed an update on this study.

Here are a few facts:

*88% of radio's total audience listens to music radio at least once a week

*50% of these listeners consider music radio to be their primary radio experience.

*Nearly 90% of these "music primaries" agree with the phrase: "I have purchased music I have heard on the radio."

*32% of these radio consumers have purchased music through brick and mortar stores or on-line in the last 30 days.

Does this sound like the radio's relationship with the music industry's artists and performers is one-sided? No.

Perhaps the more appropriate step is for the music labels to offer all performers new or updated agreements in order to include them in the cash flow from music sales.

Radio influences music purchase. There is no doubt in my mind.

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