Radio stations, especially those in small communities, are one of the few sources left that provide listeners with a shared communal experience. Local stations connect people across divides of race, gender, and income. If there’s a local rock or country or pop station, at some time or other we all tuned in. These stations are often not only locally owned and operated, but locally focused.
They make airtime for local bands, circulate local news, and publicize local events and organizations. They are like a collective water cooler. They’re the soundtrack for generations on end growing up in the same neighborhoods, going to the same high schools, honoring the same heroes and laughing at the same stories.
These stations are dying off today, less able to weather the recession do to tight margins and small operating budgets. I don’t think government should get into the business of bailing these stations out, but I also don’t think government should make it more difficult for these stations to operate, either. Unfortunately, there is a bill now before Congress that could cripple many of these small stations.
It’s called the Performance Rights Act. It has passed out of the Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. It’s a bad idea, and could be a death blow to local radio across the country.
The bill would add a new layer of royalty fees-based on a sliding scale that could range from hundreds of dollars to as much as $5,000-for radio stations. For huge corporations, with the cash and resources necessary to keep up, this is just a bad idea. For small stations, or for small businessmen and women who own just a handful of stations, it’s a bad idea that could put them out of business.
Small stations are barely making it through the recession as it is. Forcing new fees on them that go to the recording industry will prove the last straw for many. As stations go off the air, there will be less aggregate airtime for music, meaning the recording industry will not only get less money over time, but will see its greatest marketing tool-terrestrial radio-slowly disappear. The PRA would give them a larger slice of an ever-shrinking pie.
The bill is supposed to help musicians but in truth it will only hurt the entire music and entertainment industry. Fewer stations will mean less competition, fewer jobs, and less economic growth (and its corresponding tax revenue). In this economy, Congress should focus its attention on growing jobs not passing legislation that could eliminate them.
Meantime, let’s give our local radio stations a chance to make it through this downturn and come out, like our communities, even stronger on the other side.