NEWS BLOG (WSAU) 1983. Long before my radio news career, I was a teenage disc jockey at WJBX in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I worked the graveyard shift on Friday night into Saturday morning while I was in high school.
Wednesday was music day. Some of the air-staff would be invited into Program Director Mike Dowling’s office. Music Director Ross Holt would be there. Sometimes afternoon disc jockey Chuck McCoy joined in, or nighttime jock Cathleen Curry. Part-timers were welcome to attend. Sometimes even the sales manager would join in. Everyone could share their opinion about new songs the radio station might play, but if Dowling and Holt didn’t like a song, it wouldn’t air.
The meeting would start with a discussion of songs we were already playing. Which ones were our listeners growing tired of? Those songs would be played less frequently over the next week. Some would be dropped altogether.
Which were the hottest, most popular songs? They were played most-frequently. WJBX had six “red” songs – the hottest on our playlist – they’d be heard every two hours. We’d review data from local record stores and from the national music charts. Getting the “reds” right was critical.
We’d pick six more orange songs”(an orange sticker would go on the tape cartridge). These were up-and-coming hits. They’d become reds if they continued to climb the charts.
But the most interesting part of the meeting was picking the “pinks”. These were new songs that had just arrived at the radio station. Holt would bring in a stack of promotional copy 45s, and we’d drop the needle on the record-player in Dowling’s office. We’d never heard of some of the artists. Others were established stars that were picking singles from their new albums. We said “no” to far more songs than “yes”. And I’m amazed at how much we relied on our ears and our gut feeling in those meetings. (Music playlists are far more researched today – with focus groups recruited on the internet and the telephone to give opinions about songs.)
I remember a spring 1983 music meeting when we auditioned a song called “Burning Up” on Sire Records. It was a female dance tune. Very catchy. with a bounce to it. No one had every heard of the singer, although someone thought they’d heard the song playing on a New York City station earlier in the week. Yes, “Burning Up” would be added to our playlist.
It was the first single from Madonna.
Suppose for a moment there were a performance tax, where radio stations had to make payments to the record labels for the music we play. Absolutely that would be part of the discussion in our music meetings. Pay to play an unknown artist, with a new sounding type of music? Wouldn’t it be safer to pick something from a more-established artist? We had no way of knowing that Madonna was visually-stylish, would go on to star in movies and be a concert headliner. Without that, we’d make a safe choice… maybe Stevie Wonder, or Paul McCartney.
Radio is where most people hear new music for the first time. A performance tax on radio stations would mean much less music. And artists with new, unique sounds would be the unproved commodities that radio stations would be least likely to pay for.
The Beatles had a unique sound… Steely Dan…. The Eagles… Billy Joel…. Sly & The Family Stone… Elvis…. They all had sounds that were not like the music that came before them. If radio stations were taxed to play music, we’d all be poorer.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
I’ve blogged about the Music Performance Tax before. If you’re unfamiliar with the issue, radio stations already pay for the music we play. We play the songwriters who create the music. The recording artists and their record labels get billions of dollars in free airplay from radio, allowing them to sell records and sell concert tickets.
A double-tax, where radio stations would also have to pay the record labels, would be devastating to local broadcasters.
Please find out more at the National Broadcasters Association web site: www.NoPerformanceTax.org