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Should Radio Sell Rock Air Time?


The record industry is still reeling from its independent promotion controversy. But is there a legal way to buy radio air time for new records? That's the unusual solution one major industry figure has advocated.

In a front-age editorial in last week's issue of Radio & Records (R&R), a respected industry radio publication, R&R publisher Dwight Case said: "Let's sell the record companies air time for product play!"

The proposal has prompted a storm of record company protest, with CBS Records Group president Al Teller saying he was "stunned and bewildered that Dwight could propose such an outlandish idea."

According to Case, with the FCC no longer placing restrictions on the amount of commercial time stations can sell, radio stations could sell record companies "five minutes of commercial time and play a complete record," charging the label for the air time in the same manner radio would charge for a regular spot.

Case's editorial acknowledged that there might be some "tiny glitches." But "if reports are true and $50, $60 or $70 million is being paid for independent promotion, a big chunk of those dollars would become revenue for the radio industry. Sure takes the pressure off, doesn't it? . . . And the money crosses the till in sight of all the players!"

The R&R proposal provoked an immediate, angry reaction.

"It's just crazy," said Geffen Records president Eddie Rosenblatt. "The whole idea is outrageous and ridiculous. I'm really incensed. We'd never go for it in a million years. And I can't imagine radio wanting to give up their power to select what records to play either."

MCA Records president, Irving Azoff, said the plan has provoked a "major schism" between his company and R&R, which he claimed has been "totally insensitive to the needs of the record industry."

"It's clear that R&R is only a radio publication now and I think it's time for record companies to look for an alternative publication that better represents our interests."

Azoff added: "I'm glad Dwight brought up the subject of payments, because I think it's time that radio stations started paying us for playing our records, just as they make payments to songwriters and music publishers for using their material. Why shouldn't Whitney Houston and Arista, for example, get paid every time a radio station plays one of her hits?"

Several major record companies, including Geffen Records, have already signaled their displeasure by temporarily pulling advertising from upcoming issues. Several industry execs said CBS had pulled its ads as well, though Teller would not confirm those reports (Azoff said MCA has not canceled any ads "at this time").

However, the Case proposal was not met with universal disapproval. A spokesman for Warner Bros. Records said the label has "no intention" of pulling its ads, adding "our relationship with R&R remains as good as ever."

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