Rolling Stone published a pay-for-play story that alleged payola continues to be a common feature of the radio business, with money or goods passing from the record labels to the radio stations to influence airplay.
“Enough time has passed [since the last payola lawsuits in the mid-2000s], nobody’s gotten in trouble for a while, and nobody is scrutinizing this as tightly as they used to be,” “Matthew,” a longtime alternative radio promoter, told Rolling Stone recently. “Things are getting a little more lax.”
On Wednesday, FCC commissioner Mike O’Rielly sent an official letter to the Recording Industry Association of America asking the trade organization to investigate “possible violations of federal laws and regulations that expressly prohibit payola.”
“Your association is uniquely situated to survey the practices of your industry and respond to press reports regarding alleged practices,” O’Rielly writes.
“My primary goal is to get to the bottom of existing industry practices to determine whether the law is being followed or whether any problematic conduct must be addressed.”
The Federal Communication Commission moved to prohibit undisclosed pay-for-play in 1960 following a congressional investigation of corruption at radio.
“Payola has never been illegal,” explains Tony Gray, a veteran of urban radio and the founder of Gray Communications. “What is illegal is if you do the transaction and don’t make it known to the audience that there was some financial support for you playing that song.”