Proposed legislation worries local radio stations

BY NICOLE KARLIS | JUNE 18, 2009 7:21 AM

One day, there could be no such thing as hopping in the car and tuning to one’s favorite music station — including KRUI on campus.

At least, that’s the worst-case scenario local artists and radio executives envision as the Performance Rights Act — which would tax radio stations for playing songs — winds its way through Congress.

The Recording Industry Association of America has argued that free terrestrial stations should pay for each song aired. That way, the performers receive compensation for each song — though the amount is undecided — just as listeners already pay for satellite radio, Jones said.

Although the audience wouldn’t directly pay for the potential change financially, many feel the price would still be high. Radio stations that cannot afford to pay per song may limit the amount of music they play or toss tunes entirely and switch to talking programs only, said Kris Jones, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasting.

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Non-commercial stations such as KRUI would not have songs taxed individually. They will be subject to an annual flat fee between $500 to $1,000.

The station has a $48,000 annual budget, said Nathan Gould, the general manager. KRUI receives funding from mandatory student fees allocated by the UI Student Government, among other sources.

“There would be a [financial] effect but not something as drastic as other [universities],” he said.
They would still have to “shift things around” to comply with costs, he added.

But some in broadcast oppose the legislation on principal. The artists and their labels will both be paid with the tax, said Jones.

The only ones that really benefit, he said, would be the “Britney Spears and Bonos.”

Several local artists agreed.

“It’s hard enough to get radio play as it is,” said Landen Boyer, singer and guitarist for the band Backdrop.

Radio stations might consider it “risky” to put up-and-coming musicians on the radio until they know whether audiences will tune in. Traditionally, however, new artists have relied on free play to break into the business.

“Free over the air radio is the only way to reach the huge number of people required to have a hit record,” said Greg Runyon, program director and D.J. at Cedar Rapids-based station, Z102.9.

While a Michigan lawmaker introduced the proposed bill, others in Congress have long been on the local artists’ side. Recognizing the “promotional value of free radio airplay,” at least 104 members of the U.S. House of Representatives supported the 2007 Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes the Performance Rights Act.

There has been a drastic change within the last few months. Between Feb. 26 and June 10, the list nearly doubled from 126 to 232 members of Congress, including four out of five of Iowa’s representatives.

But some are not only unsurprised by the recording industry’s move, they wouldn’t be shocked if radio survives the latest onslaught.

“Radio has been written off as dead time and time again,” Runyon said.

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