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Is Payola Alive And Well In Radio? – Digital Gabe
Digital Gabe
Cutting Edge Commentary On All Things Media

Is Payola Alive And Well In Radio?

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In early 2019 there was an interesting stat floating around about the top streaming hits of 2018.  Only about half of the most streamed new music (across all genres) also became hits on the broadcast radio charts.  Conventional wisdom explained this as listeners being more savvy to discover great new music from emerging artists than the big-name focused Program Directors from radio stations.  But there might actually be another factor at play here . . . Payola.

Payola is the illegal practice of DJs or Program Directors being paid by labels and promoters to get an artist’s song played. The problem with payola is obvious – instead of the quality or popularity of a song determining its chart success, it becomes more about who’s willing to pay to play.  This erodes the genuineness of the new music ecosystem, and damages the entire music industry over the long term.

The last vestiges of Payola were thought to have burned out of radio in the early 2000s, which is why nobody ever talks about it anymore.  But as it turns out, Payola might still be alive and well, as documented in this lengthy Rolling Stone story.  Their research exposed several examples of middle man promoters paying radio execs up to $50,000 to get songs into stations’ playlists.  If true, this is textbook payola.

When the article broke this week it seemed to catch the radio industry off guard.  Since then the trades have been publishing reports that corroborate what Rolling Stone has reported.  So are radio’s charts contaminated by the influence of money through the practice of payola?  They very well might be.


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