So as I understand it, payola is when a record company pays a radio station to play a song by one of its artists. Since record companies want airplay to boost sales, why is payola not simply considered a form of advertising? If the record company wanted to buy four minutes of airtime to run a commercial there wouldn’t be any objection from a legal standpoint that I can think of, so why does it become an issue if the “commercial” for a song is the song itself?
It’s been done. I seem to recall an article in ‘Advertising Age’ in which some music companies WERE buying ads in song-long blocks and playing their artists songs. But it had to be designated as such with a distinctive disclaimer in the ‘the following is a paid advertisement’ mold.
The difference between advertising and payola is the unstated nature of the sponsoring party in payola. If it’s labelled (as in ‘special advertising section’ in magazines) it’s all right.
Ahh the good old days.
Jonathan has it basically right. I’ll add one minor detail.
When the scandal first broke in the 1950s, payola was about under-the-table deals with individual deejays, not the radio station itself. The record company would slip the deejay or music director a few dollars/drugs/women and their records would magically appear on the radio.
When the FCC cracked down, they required broadcasters to disclose any financial relationship they had with the record company – just as the sponsor’s name must clearly be presented in an advertisement. Making the broadcaster responsible meant that the stations could crack down on employees.
Inevitably this led to broadcasters insisting their deejays could only play pre-approved records, which was a part (although not the sole factor) of the trend toward programming decisions being made by headquarters and the death of local diversity. Another example of a few bad apples spoiling things for everyone.
The existence of the “problem” reflects poorly on the listening audience, doesn’t it? The illusion that a recording is popular causes them to buy it.
Not necessarily; you can’t like a song you’ve never heard, and playing a song more frequently increases the likeliness that someone new will hear it.
Extending the idea of buying four minutes of advertising time and sticking a song in it, why couldn’t/doesn’t a record company buy, say, an hour of airtime, begin the hour with “this hour’s programming is brought to you by [company],” and proceed to play an hour’s worth of whatever they’re pushing that week? Is there anything preventing it besides cost?
Would it be legal for a record label to buy a radio station and then only play it’s own artists? If not, why?
Is it legal? Probably. I’ve seen companies buy full hours for infomercials, and that’s bacially the same thing. Hell, I’ve seen infomercials for Time-Life that could pass for a program like that. I left broadcasting before it was deregulated but I’m pretty sure that the rule is still that the broadcaster must reveal any relationship that means someone else is providing the programming.
From a practical standpoint, I’ve known a lot of station managers who wouldn’t agree to a deal like that, because they don’t feel comfortable giving up control of programming for that long a period.
If a record company wanted to buy a station and play its own programming, I’m guessing there would still have to be some sort of identification. You hear it on sports events. "This broadcast was a presentation of (team or sponsor) The announcers are employees of (team or sponsor)