Sony Agrees to Stop Payola Payments to Radio Stations


That’s one of the e-mails that New York State’s Attorney General cited in his agreement with Sony/BMG to end the practice of radio “flyaways” and other indirect revenue programs. Because labels were funding contests that were won by listeners, they argued that they didn’t violate any laws.

Of course, the investigation turned up plenty of instances where radio station staffers invented fake winners to take advantage of these great prizes themselves — most involving free trips to concerts.

And what do you expect? Most disc jockeys earn more money at their side jobs delivering pizza these days. Of course they’re going to take the trips! It’s fun to note in some of the e-mails that even the labels realized they were getting screwed, with truly crummy songs only getting played during the overnight shift.

Some folks will try to make hay with this today, saying that it will level the playing field for independent artists and labels. Sorry, nope.

This is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Every two years, some crusader like Eliot Spitzer shuts down one payola avenue, only to have it crop up again in some form. The radio industry relies too much on this revenue for it to stop. Commercial radio has no incentive to break new music anymore, so watch out for bottom-feeding scam artists that will try to tell you that now is the time to launch your radio promotion campaign.

This investigation proves that call-out research and sales charts rule the day, even when payola’s in full effect. Focus instead on building an audience that supports you, so radio music directors won’t question their decision to add your record when the time’s right.