Musicians and music fans organizing for better radio

In March, Reclaim the Media co-hosted two events focusing on how corporate control and irresponsible government policies have taken a toll on independent music and culture. The first event linked community radio supporters and independent music fans with media democracy activists in eastern Washington; the second was a forum for independent hip-hop artists and fans in Seattle to discuss the recent payola settlement between the FCC and the nation's largest radio corporations.

The recent FCC payola settlement provided the impetus for a March 23 discussion at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, convened bv local hip-hop organizer and MC Julie Chang Schulman, on behalf of Reclaim the Media and 206 Zulu.

Payola, of course, is the decades-old shady practice of record labels and promoters paying radio stations, directly or indirectly, to air certain artists or records. Famously exposed among top rock 'n' roll DJs in the late 1950s and outlawed in 1960, the practice has continued in various guises. In the last couple of years, musicians advocates and media democracy groups called attention to shenanigans implicating both large record companies and corporate broadcasters. Questionable deals between paid Under the payola settlement, Clear Channel, CBS, Entercom, and Citadel agreed to pay a combined fee of 12.5 million to the US government and promised 8,400 half-hour segments of free airtime for independent record labels.

Local music fans and artists meeting in Seattle in March reviewed the terms of the FCC's recent settlement, which was widely praised both by national media democracy groups and by musicians' advocates--but which drew blunt criticism from hip-hop journalist Davey D and others who were disappointed by the chicken-change concessions granted to independent artists under the deal. Discussing the deal in the context of such concerns, folks in Seattle observed that the settlement is unlikely to bring fundamental or deep changes to a corporate-run radio landscape which favors homogenized, corporate-backed music over that of local or independent artists.

Julie C. reports that the discussion which began by focusing on the payola settlement quickly broadened into a media justice-based critique of commercial urban radio and how it serves its listeners. What community concerns are left unaddressed by the payola settlement, and what can local musicians and music fans can do about it? Meeting participants looked at three documents which forefront community values in critical evaluations of commercial radio: the Universal Zulu Nation's Bring Back the Balance ten-point platform; RTM's Seattle Statement on Radio, and the Youth Media Council's report "Is KMEL the People's Station?.

Folks at the March 23 meeting identified four key concerns with commercial urban radio:

1. Access concerns for local artists
2. Access concerns for youth organizations
3. Presence of relevant public affairs/news in Hip Hop programming
4. Impact of negative, repetitive messaging delivered in mainstream Hip Hop

.In addition, folks called attention to a history of black DJs being marginalized (or completely absent) in Seattle commercial urban radio, where the focus has been on building an affluent white audience rather than on supporting a local hip-hop community.

So what's the response? Julie reports on the possibility of developing a community campaign with two goals: to hold local commercial stations accountable to community values; and, perhaps more importantly, to amplify the voice of community-controlled media alternatives such as community and Internet radio. Watch Deepmedia/RTM for additional details as RTM, 206 Zulu and local hip-hop activists continue to organize around issues of communications rights and media accountability!

Earlier in March, RTM headed across the mountains to Spokane, to co-present a screening of the recent documentary Before the Music Dies. The screening was a benefit for the fabulous low-power community radio station KYRS. The film features the voices of working musicians, independent label owners, music fans and radio producers discussing how corporate consolidation has homogenized radio and pushed independent music to the margins, even as the Internet and new production tools are allowing grassroots artists new ways to establish meaningful connections with local and international audiences.

RTM campaign coordinator Sharon Maeda led a lively after-film discussion, along with independent music industry and community radio folks from Spokane (local coverage here).

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey