Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Ravaging Radio II
To protest proposed record-label royalty payments, hundreds of Net radio stations plan to pull their plugs tomorrow, May 1. Frequent Net radio listeners will either hear total silence or non-stop public-service announcements. The strategic silence comes 20 days before U.S. Copyright Office is slated to make a decision about recently proposed licensing fees -- which seem designed to quelch independent Net broadcasters and to ensure that traditional commercial broadcasters find firmer footing on what could -- and perhaps should -- be radio's next democratic band.

The recent Net radio activity reminds me of the move from the AM band to FM back in the late '60s (Not that I was around, but I did just read Michael Keith's wonderful book "Voices in the Purple Haze," which recounts the emergence of the seemingly oxymoronic "underground commercial radio."). Originally, AM broadcasters merely duplicated their signals on the new band if they also owned an FM transmitter. Then the FCC passed laws outlawing dual-band broadcasts, opening up the FM dial for new, original, and competitive broadcasts. One would think that this would help set precedent for the current Net radio situation.

But, no. And I think that's the problem. Instead of guaranteeing that existing FM broadcasters have a lock on any and all Net radio broadcasts, why not consider the Net a new band, limit dual broadcasts from commercial endeavors, and encourage the proliferation of independent broadcast voices, styles, and operations? The people promoting these licensing fees aren't doing so to protect musicians; they're doing so to perpetuate the corporate machine engineered by mainstream record labels, record distributors, and commercial radio stations. It used to be that DJ's would play the records people were buying. Now it's a vicious circle, and the public is largely limited to buying records they learn about through the corporate radio machine.

That's a disservice to the listening public, to musicians, and to the Net.

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