‘Free' radio takes another hit with payola investigation




Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, April 9, 2006

By: Mike Austerman

On The Radio

Payola, radio’s biggest bugaboo, is once again rearing its ugly head. Clear Channel, the country’s biggest radio operator, has offered the federal government a tidy $1 million to get itself off the hook from a huge investigation that alleges radio companies have been taking money — and other forms of compensation — from record companies in exchange for increased airplay of songs that might not otherwise get as many spins.

Payola has been illegal since the 1960s and is again under scrutiny by the FCC after an investigation in New York state turned up evidence that the practice of payfor-play had become widespread throughout the industry.Some of the other big companies being studied include CBS Radio, Citadel and Entercom. Locally, Clear Channel owns seven radio stations in the Detroit area plus four in Ann Arbor; CBS Radio owns six area stations; and Citadel is in the process of acquiring three stations from ABC.

In the face of increased competition from the Internet, MP3 players and satellite radio, the last thing radio needs is a huge black eye like another payola scandal to further drive listeners away from the medium.

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Pop oldies CKWW-AM (580) launches a new program 10 a.m.-noon today called the “Sunday Morning Oldies Show.” The locally produced program will feature great oldies from the ’50s and ’60s, with some early ’70s mixed in, too. Hosted by CKWW morning man Charlie O’Brien, each week’s show will feature a Top 3 countdown from the current week in history, highlighting past music charts from former Top 40 juggernauts CKLW, Keener 13 and WXYZ. O’Brien brings a wealth of musical knowledge from the Motor City music scene as a former “CKLW-Big 8” jock, and he’ll mix in plenty of listener requests along with the stories behind the songs. Break out the Brylcreem!

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“Appliance Doctor” Joe Gagnon has exited the weekend lineup at sports WXYT-AM (1270) and landed on Ann Arbor talker WAAM-AM (1600) from 8-10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a reunion of sorts for Gagnon — he got his radio start providing solutions to appliance problems as a guest there 21 years ago.

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XM Satellite Radio just announced it has hit 6.5 million subscribers on its way to what it hopes will be 9 million by the end of the year. Helping it get to that target will be some way-cool new portable receivers that will hit the streets soon. The Pioneer Inno and Samsung Helix are small and light (4 1 /2 ounces, 3.7-by-2.2-by-0.6 inches) and will feature the ability to both record and playback XM programming along with your own MP3 files. They’ll also integrate with Napster, so you can purchase songs you don’t already own.

XM also has announced big changes to its programming lineup. The service will soon feature six new regional news/ talk channels provided by Clear Channel, bringing listeners coverage for every area of the continental United States, complementing the recent addition of Cincinnati talker WLW-AM. New music channels also will be added this spring and early summer.

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Remember the outcry when Detroit Tigers broadcasts left news-talk WJR-AM (760) for WXYT a few years back? It’s no secret that WXYT can’t compete with WJR’s coverage area, leaving many baseball fans unhappy with the relatively weak signal of WXYT, especially at night. Well, a similar thing is happening this season in St. Louis, where the Cardinals have left powerhouse KMOX-AM (1120) in favor of a weaker station that’s now owned by the Cardinals. The move has left many Cards fans outside the metro St. Louis area without a radio station to get the games on, generating verbal protests similar to the ones we’ve had here in Detroit. So the Cardinals came up with a solution — they’re going to give away 50,000 XM radios to fans who can no longer hear the games on KMOX and don’t have a local affiliate they can tune in to. Marketing genius, I’d say, for both XM and the Cardinals.

I wonder — would the Tigers consider doing something similar for listeners across Michigan who experience the same trouble getting the games? Already this year, the Tigers network has suffered downgrades in Lansing — moving from FM to AM 730, which has a very limited nighttime signal — and Traverse City — moving from AM 580 to AM 1310. Between the very limited free TV coverage and a weak radio network, is it any wonder the Tigers continue to struggle to generate interest?

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Set Your Dials: “Somewhere in Time” turns the clock back to 1948 for a show featuring the tunes of Irving Berlin and the movie “Easter Parade” at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5).

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Columnist Mike Austerman has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.







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This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on April 9, 2006 9:26 AM.

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