Local Radio Freeedom Act: You’ve Got Mail!

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Lincoln-portrait-2007-sized_1Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were the recipients of a letter recently. It was handcrafted by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and John Barrasso (R-WY), co-sponsors of the Senate version of the Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA).

The LRFA is a response to the Performance Rights Act (PRA) currently working its way across Capitol Hill. Where the PRA wishes to impose additional royalty fees upon broadcasters, the LRFA seeks to keep them from being enacted.

John Lyon at Arkansas News provides an excerpt from the letter, in italics below:

“We believe that artists and their labels are currently more than fairly compensated by local radio stations in the form of free and unparalleled promotion. Free radio reaches over 235 million potential music consumers each week,” the letter said.

“These listeners hear a song on the radio and then go on to purchase CDs and music downloads, buy concert tickets and purchase other merchandise that goes directly to the artists and their labels.”

Radio’s unparalleled reach has launched the careers of almost every musical name of note, taking small local or regional acts and putting them before larger and larger audiences. In addition, the labels themselves would be keeping more than half of the collected fees rather than the artists.

Lincoln and Barrasso argued that in the current economic climate, new fees would be devastating to radio stations. More than 265 stations have gone off the air in just over a year, and more would go out of business or switch to all-talk formats if the Performance Rights Act were to become law, they said.

I’d like to point out the additional danger, one that is quite tangible to most musicians. Many stations, unwilling or unable to pay additional royalties, will only play the “safe” or established tunes, the ones “with a track record.” We could miss the next generation’s Elvis because no one wants to take the risk.

“Further, should this fee be imposed on free radio, it is only a matter of time before other businesses such as restaurants, bars, taxi cabs and hotels are forced to pay for their use of music,” Lincoln and Barrasso wrote.

Think about your average week. Think about how often radio intersects your day, directly or in an ambient fashion. Now imagine that content gone. Gone, or switched entirely to talk. Cab rides become more boring, construction sites merely ring with the sound of hammers, road trips with the same few CDs over and over again. Think about it.

Radio Business Report chimed in on one aspect of this that regular readers know is important to me on a personal level, possible consequences during disasters:

Among the ill effects would be damaging the ability of broadcasters to respond to the challenge in times of emergency – especially when wires are knocked down or otherwise disabled and over-the-air broadcasting becomes the only way to get critical emergency information to the masses.

If we suffer a rash of radio closures because of the PRA, that would leave places like my home town of New Orleans in a bad spot come hurricane season (or its equivalent). I know what it’s like to rely on a radio for info in a disaster zone. Trust me, this one aspect is vital.

Noting the widespread support in the Senate, they concluded, “This legislation clearly evokes strong opposition that transcends party affiliation. As leaders of our two parties, we ask that you oppose any effort to move this bill, either as a stand alone measure or as part of a broader legislative package.”

A sentiment I echo, especially the last part. Unpopular bills often get passed by tacking them on to legislation that is considered “vital.” I hope that Lincoln and Boasso maintain vigilance against this sort of politicking and prevent it.

Image: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Official Senate Photo / Public Domain: Govt.

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