Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Letter to the Speaker

Dear Ms. Pelosi,

I note with no little chagrin that the perpetual pander-fest that is Congress has once again spoken through you when you—you choir-preacher you—told the RIAA that “the rights of performers are not forgotten.”

Your confusion is understandable. Many people brighter and more knowledgeable than you, even, believe “the rights of performers” and “the concerns of the record industry” are one and the same.

Nancy Pelosi

True, there are many performers—overwhelmingly the successful ones, the fortunate albeit forgetful few who have been able to redeem their souls from the company store—who side with their foreign-owned masters in advocating the Performance Rights Act. But any performer, however successful, who is truly concerned for the music industry as opposed to the record industry, will tell you what a colossally bad idea it is to penalize the one medium above all others that sells records and builds careers.

Madam Speaker, may I refer you to a list of quotes—published in the 3/25/10 issue of The Small Market Radio Newsletter—from dozens of performers who have consistently, publically stood by radio and who are eternally grateful to our medium. A recurring theme in those quotes is, “I owe my career to radio.” (Have your people contact my people and we’ll give them access to our back issues online.)

That said, Nancy—may I call you Nancy? I respect your office and your service, but I don’t call any of my other employees by their last names—you have every right to your opinion, however politically calculated. Of course, if you and your brethren truly represented your constituents, you might think twice about backing an outfit that sued hapless mothers and children for hundreds of thousands of dollars—each!—for what they packed on their iPods.

But please recognize that you are in the minority—even within your own party. Healthy majorities in both the House and Senate have cosponsored the Radio Freedom Act, which prohibits the imposition of a tax for performance on local radio. Yes, it’s a non-binding resolution, but how can a legislator cosponsor our measure and then vote Yes on its polar opposite?

Oh, wait, this is Congress we’re taking about here—members of which have selective memories, to put it benignly. (I vaguely recall that one of your colleagues, the senior senator from Arizona, ran for high office as a “maverick.” But either he suffered a senior senator moment or my memory is playing tricks, because John—he works for me, too—recently denied that he’d ever said he was a maverick. Rewriting history would be a lot easier, wouldn’t it?, if we had an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. Come to think of it, maybe we do.)

But I digress. The real purpose of this epistle is to remind you—you universal health care champion you—that there is nothing healthy about the Performance Rights Act. In fact, it could be downright toxic to the very performers whose rights you’ve vowed to uphold.

No, that’s not a threat. Unlike other industries you’ve tried to reign in recently, radio is too busy serving our communities to cook up vengeful, retaliatory strategies to prove the law of unintended consequences. But there is a reality of which you—you limousine-riding, perk-enjoying you—are unaware: in the world of non-deficit spending, if a new cost is imposed, another cost must be cut. And fiscally-conservative operators—yes, Nancy, they do exist, albeit far from the Beltway—will act on the realization that we can neutralize a tax on playing music simply by not playing music.

Are you ready for Rush 2.0?

If nothing else will, that should scare you straight.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Missing Discourse

As I was pondering my reaction to a sales piece by Jim (Taz) Taszarek in this week’s newsletter—wherein he posits that rate integrity is a Bad Thing and rate flexibility is a Good Thing—I recalled the many conversations I’ve had over the years with our industry leaders about things like rate integrity, finding new salespeople, selling against cable—you know, all the stuff that preoccupies us and probably always will.

Then I got to thinking, what would such a conversation with Gordon Smith be like? With Jeff Haley?

Putting aside for a moment the unlikely scenario that any of us would be kicking back with Mr. Smith or Mr. Haley and BS-ing about radio, if such a conversation were to occur, I suspect there would be a lot of blank stares coming back our way.

And suddenly I felt very lonely.

Up or Down

It seems like we’ve been at this performance tax legislation business for about 100 years. I am probably the most politically naive person on the planet, but I can’t help but wondering whether we shouldn’t just vote on the darn thing already.

As I write this, late at night, past deadline, much too late to call my friend Dennis Wharton at the NAB for a reality check, I’m guessing that bringing the matter to a vote right now might not be in our best interests—even though our own Radio Freedom Act has such strong support.

And that’s what I don’t understand: How can a legislator who has signed on to our (admittedly non-binding) resolution turn around and vote for the very measure that our resolution opposes?

Talk about naive. . .

Bust a Rate

I suspect that Taz’s point of view on the subject of rate integrity—he’s not a fan, urging flexibility—will touch a nerve in many small market and local-direct broadcasters, as it has in me.

We all live in small communities; regardless of the population of our trading area, there is a handful of people with whom we deal—and they all talk to each other. If in my local market I were to adopt the freewheeling approach advocated by Taz in his column, I don’t know if I would go out of business, but my standing in the community would certainly go down the drain.

Sure, there were times when I would accept a lowball rate from an ad agency or large regional advertiser, and I’m not proud of the fact that I did so knowing it was unlikely that word would get back to my local florist or banker.

I’ve always operated on the philosophy that if one day all our rates and all our deals with individual advertisers appeared in the local paper, I could justify each and every one of them based on frequency, class of service, and so on.

So, I have to wonder whether observing rate integrity in our local markets is a product of hubris or practicality?

Remind me to ask Gordon or Jeff the next time we’re kicking back.