Thursday, June 04, 2009

The End of an Era!

Just a few days ago, I wrote of the Dawning of a New Era in Radio. Today I’ll spend a few moments eulogizing the end of one.

Just before leaving for the airport yesterday, I checked my email one final time… only to be shocked by an alert saying that the venerable industry publication Radio & Records would be shutting its doors this Friday.

Other trades have disappeared over the past few years. First there was the Hard Report. Then Gavin, whose annual conventions died along with the publication.

After the sale and demise of one of my former radio homes, KSCA/Los Angeles, I went to work at The Album Network as Rock Editor, and contributed to their sister publications, Totally Adult and Virtually Alternative.

The Network Magazine Group, I was assured when I took the position, was family-owned and not in danger of being swallowed up and closed down. But it was sold soon after my return to radio. SFX became the new parent company, itself later swallowed up by Clear Channel, who finally shut the whole operation down.

When Gavin folded, their "Triple A Summit", an annual gathering of programmers, label reps, and musicians was picked up by Radio & Records. John Schoenberger, who had earlier departed Totally Adult to become R&R’s first and only Triple A Editor, kept the Summit going. Boulder, CO was the site at which this conference continued, until now.

I’d been reminiscing about some of those old publications and their contents recently, as I’ve been updating my website with press clippings and some of my favorite written pieces.

I was already mourning the passing of that era when I wrote my latest piece. Today, the logical follow-up comes with the true end of an era.

I couldn’t help but notice the timing of yesterday’s announcement. At about 1:30PM EDT, I got an alert from the one trade left standing ,which happens to be the online-only entity All Access, that the Performance Royalty Bill had been blocked, with opponents of the bill garnering 218 votes, enough to kill the new legislation which would require terrestrial radio stations to begin paying for the right to play music. The announcement of Radio & Records demise arrived by way of a similar alert, just 30 minutes later.

Before drawing my logical conclusion about the connection between the two announcements, let me offer a bit more background.

Most other civilized industrialized nations compensate artists when their music is played on the radio. Currently, the US is in the same company as Iran, China and North Korea with no radio performance right.

In addition, artists are losing out on millions of dollars every year when royalties collected for American music played in other countries are withheld because we do not have a reciprocal right in the U.S.

It should also be noted that the one major hurdle to the true dawning of the new era about which I wrote the other day are the fees levied on internet radio, from which terrestrial radio is immune.

Independent, forward-thinking, creative programmers who seek to build their own online radio stations are required to pay high music licensing fees, forcing many of them out of business or keeping many from ever beginning their ventures because the costs art too prohibitive, while the big broadcasting behemoths are paying nothing for the content that defines their stations.

While I understand the realities of this economy, and the fact that additional fees on radio stations would put the industry in even greater peril, some compromise can and should be worked out to compensate musicians for airplay of their works, to compensate record companies for their products, and to take the burden off the small webcaster and end the free ride that terrestrial radio has long enjoyed.

Record companies do deserve payment for the use of their products, and unfortunately, they’re having a tough time right now. Much of the blame lies within, as they ignored the effect the internet would have on their bottom line for too long. Perhaps thinking it would just go away, the former money machines are now hemorrhaging what they seemingly printed for so long.

These record companies supported the afore-mentioned trade magazines with their advertising dollars and paid them lots of money for independent promotion. They supported the conventions by bringing artists to perform, and sponsoring panels and lavish dinners.

And those of us who’ve been around the industry long enough remember the parties. Radio & Records used to hold their annual convention in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza Hotel, and the late night parties in the various label suites were legendary. In fact, if memory serves, the hotel finally said, “No More!” Ahh, the good old days.

But with the rise of music sharing online came the drop in record sales, and record company revenues. We can probably live without the parties and dinners, but unfortunately, with the lack of advertising budgets comes the death of the industry trade publications.

So I can’t help but wonder if the news of enough votes in the House to kill the Performance Rights Act was the final nail in the coffin of Radio & Records magazine.

Either way, it’s another sad day in the industry that I’ve lived and loved for three decades.

Tomorrow, Talkers Magazine kicks off their annual New Media Seminar here in New York. Not reliant on advertising from record companies, the Talk Radio industry’s trade magazine is in better shape than its musical counterparts. But the actual radio landscape is still suffering, as is just about every business these days.

Let’s hope that our industry can regroup and come back, as the new era dawns.


kaylum said...

Thank you for keeping us informed about the state of the industry...looking forward to your report on the seminar.