Pay-for-play radio turns tables on record companies

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The Independent Online
INSTEAD of complaining about the money they have to pay to record companies for the right to play hit records, impoverished British stations could try following an American example.

Since January a radio station in Portland, Oregon, in the north-west of the United States, has been paid to play certain records - by the record company.

Under the initial deal, a Los Angeles record company, Flip/Interscope, paid the rock music station KUFO-FM the sum of $5,000 (pounds 3,100) to have one of their records - Counterfeit, by a heavy-metal band called Limp Bizkit - played 50 times on air over five weeks.

The radio station had been reluctant to play the record before, regarding it as a little "too hard" for its audience. Now more pay-for-play deals are in the pipeline, and some of the biggest radio-station owners in the US - CBS radio and Jacor Communications - are reported to be interested.

The practice is controversial because it recalls earlier scandals where disc jockeys admitted taking money from record companies in return for playing certain artists and certain tracks. The difference is that in these deals it is the radio stations that benefit and the deal is announced on air, much like a paid commercial. For disc-jockeys and presenters on US commercial stations, who are required to read paid-for advertisements in between records, and even interspersed between news items, the new arrangements will be less of an imposition than they would be in Britain.

Critics of pay-for-play deals say that the opportunities for abuse are too great and claim that new bands could find it even harder to get their records on air than they do at present if radio stations demand a premium for broadcasting unknowns. Some record labels and fringe groups contend, however, that paying for broadcast time could be the only way that less popular bands can get on the air at all.

This being America, the clinching argument for radio stations tempted by pay-for-play is that the market will decide. Ultimately, they say, if radio stations "sell" too many slots for records that their listeners do not want to hear, people will switch off. The station will lose advertising and risk going out of business.