Why Does Radio Suck? A New Lawsuit Explains Why

Why Does Radio Suck?
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AM/FM radio plays the same songs over and over again.  There are tons of ads.  The deejays don’t talk like normal people.  But why does radio have to suck so bad?

Thankfully, there are now plenty of alternatives.  But back in the day, people were basically stuck with either (a) their CD collections or (b) crappy AM/FM radio for music enjoyment.  And option (b) really, really sucked.

Actually, it still completely sucks.  Stations play the same 17 songs. The ads go on forever. The deejays use schlocky voices that segue into Chevy ads.

So who’s still listening to this crap?

Actually, millions of Americans, in every major market.  I guess there are millions across Europe and Asia as well.  And despite endless predictions of its armageddon, traditional radio somehow survived.  In fact, it’s still a major player in the car, where a giant percentage of music listening occurs.

This isn’t imaginary.  A recent research report showed that traditional, ‘terrestrial’ radio is still holding its own, despite raging competition from podcasts, satellite radio, on-demand streaming services, and online radio services like Pandora.  Technology sometimes moves slower than we realize.  And people love the ‘turn it on’ convenience, and the price (i.e., $0).

All of which means that traditional, AM/FM radio still has a ton of influence over what people listen to.  And, subsequently download, stream, or purchase as CDs (yeah, those still earn billions in revenue annually).

So why isn’t there more variety on traditional radio?

According to one of the biggest managers in the music industry, it’s all about collusion.  It’s pretty simple: major broadcast stations are a flat-out cartel.  That’s according to Irving Azoff, who manages mega-stars like the Eagles, Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5, Bon Jovi, and Journey.

Azoff, who started his own songwriter performance rights organization (PRO) to fight for songwriters, is now taking 10,000 stations to court.  That’s right: he’s suing ALL of them.

The 10,000-strong collective is represented by the Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC).  Azoff’s PRO is called Global Music Rights (GMR), and represents 71 notable songwriters.

Fucking Hostile‘.

Actually, the RMLC first sued Azoff for trying to squeeze them on songwriter royalties (as first reported by DMN).  Now, Azoff is slamming back, and countersuing the RMLC over similar, anti-trust violations.

In other words, this is getting ugly, really fast.  Strangely enough, both sides are accusing the other of creating a market stranglehold.  Now, they’re trying to strangle each other in court (which is always awesome for the lawyers).

Inside the industry, Azoff has a reputation as one not to f–k with.  “This is the most important fight of my professional life,” Azoff wrote DMN in an email. “I will not stop the fight for fairness to artists and songwriters.”

90% of all radio revenue.

Cartel means control, and it means muscle.  According to GMR’s lawsuit, the ‘radio cartel’ controls more than 90% of all radio revenue in the US.  That amounts to 245 million listeners a week, with a 10,000 station army.

But Azoff’s GMR alleges that this cartel not only controls selection, it effectively squeezes songwriters.  All of whom are forced to play along for scraps.  “This cartel has been a smashing success,” GMR attorney Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers explained.  “Music is the lifeblood of terrestrial radio but, because of the conspiracy, owners of terrestrial radio stations pay only about 4% of their revenue — a tiny fraction — to the songwriters who create that music.”

GMR is not only seeking antitrust damages, they also want an injunction against ‘the cartel’ for anticompetitive content.

But what about Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, podcasts, Sirius, and iTunes?

But wait: consumers have more options than ever to listen to music.  If FM radio sucks, they can turn on Pandora.  If that isn’t cutting it, they can go to Sirius XM satellite, or Pandora, or one of a million new podcasts.  That sounds like a serious problem for repetitive radio, especially over the long term.

It also pokes a serious hole in the cartel theory.  After all, cartels operate on control.  Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel functioned by controlling almost all the cocaine exported from the Colombian region.  There weren’t a lot of choices for those choosing to distribute, snort, or whatever.

So what happens when people are getting a better high of a bunch of other things?

That’s not just a theoretical musing, it’s a core question in antitrust law.  Simply stated: lots of competitive options weaken alleged monopolies or ‘cartels’.  Now, it’s up to a judge to determine what the actual competitive market is — for both radio and songwriters.

To be continued.



15 Responses

  1. Eilo

    Don’t mess with Irving! He and his peeps are all about what’s best for the creators, and RIGHTFULLY so. Good trumps evil. Go Irving! Go Irving!

    • Crazy Sven

      I’m not sure if I’m posting on the main board here, but I’m in a small cottage near the sea where since the 1980s, there have been dozens and dozens of radio stations on the lower FM band that played great ‘80s music, New Music, New Wave, college radio, ad-free music radio and a host of other stations too numerous to mention. NOW…. All I can get in those bands is God & Jesus radio, NPR (3 of them!), more Christian broadcasting, absolute garbage, more NPR, more God radio and the rest is just people talk, talk, talking for hours about NOTHING. The world of radio I loved and enjoyed so dearly is gone. WRIU Kingston, RI is the only good station left…but they were off the air all weekend and now some boring dude is playing Muzak as if it were an art form! We have no internet, no cell service and now, no radio worth a second of my listening time. What happened? Where are The Clash, U2, the Psychsdelic Furs, the Grateful Dead, Louis Armstrong, R&B, Jazz, progressive rock, etc, etc… ? HELP! I have one boring dude playing Muzak on the entire FM dial and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it!

  2. Dave Mason

    Not surprisingly, a lot of people don’t get the history of how radio helped develop the music business. Back in the day radio would play songs. Consumers would hear them and then go buy them. It got so good for the music companies that there were allegations of “payola” -meaning a record company would allegedly pay radio people (disc jockeys, programmers) to get songs on the air whether they deserved airplay or not. There were many radio careers destroyed because of it. In 2016, some companies will research music according to the likes of their listeners. What rises to the top is usually 300-400 songs (not 11 or 14). These get played the most as the typical radio listener has a 20 minute listening span. The more songs a station plays, the more they risk throwing in “clunkers”…and driving listeners away. The curation of radio and it’s ease of use still overcomes the benefit of online pureplay services. Granted radio needs to find more ways to entertain, and the big radio companies need to spend more on their product to make it more palatable to the general public. But remember “broadcasting” is just that. Transmitting to the largest possible “broad” audience. The lawsuit from Mr. Azoff is kinda like biting the hand that feeds it. If the music industry wants to sell more music-do what radio needs to do. Make it more palatable to the consumer. Before Napster, the music industry had no qualms about overcharging for Cassettes, Vinyl and CD’s. Once people got it “free” (albet illegally), the horse was out of the barn. Music and Radio can peacefully coexist without silly lawsuits. It’s time to take mass media, fix it and use it to your advantage, Mr. Azoff. You’ll find it’s cheaper and a whole lot more successful. I’m just sayin’

    • jw

      Interesting. I suppose the industry lawyers will argue “but there is streaming, there is more to consuming music than radio” and the Azoff folk will argue “but the HHI has risen dramatically” to which the industry will respond “but the 4 firm concentration ratio is not really that high!” And then, the judge will randomly decide that day… based on what he or she had for breakfast and whether the stomach is upset. 😉

  3. Art Schmart

    Why doesn’t Azoff pay them? Record companies are making huge bank. Publishing companies make huge bank. Way more than radio does. It’s all about his profit and his expenses. Radio pays it’s fair share. Make publishing and managment do the same!

  4. Seth Keller

    What musicians and people who work in the industry often forget is that it’s the casual music listeners who make songs hits and fill arenas.

    There are a limited number of true music fans and true fans of particular artists. Most people in the world like the song or the artist because they have a hit. They aren’t “diving deep,” which is why radio remains popular and a king maker for many artists.

    Most people don’t have time or interest in actively discovering new music. They want a curated list of what to listen to. When they hear something new they like, they move on from the old.

    This is why an artist could have one hit song and sell millions of CDs in the 90s and why artists today have one song that streams 100s of millions and the rest that have far fewer plays.

    Suck or not, until someone figures out how to change human nature, radio or some curator like it will always exist and determine what the majority listens to.

  5. hank@nv.net

    I spent the 1970’s working in Austin TX. On my timeline that is “back in the day”. Radio here was all over the format map, and there were multiple outlets of terrific programming. The network of radio programmers and DJ’s, record stores, and the live music venue that opened the city to the world, Armadillo World Headquarters, combined with the energy of Texas music fans created a vibrant musical scene. Radio was a huge part of that.

    The variety of programming and the range of songs played was terrific, and key to something that is now gone. We need not be blaming radio for that, at least not beyond the extent to which it, too, has been subjected to the forces seeking corporatization of everything that moves or holds value.

  6. anom nom

    Wasn’t it about a law that changed that enabled companies like Clear Channel
    & Cumulus Media to acquire thousands of AM & FM broadcast radio stations
    licenses and corporatize the airwaves with central programming.

    The days of moms & pops independent radio stations was wiped out.. I think it was Clinton who allowed this to happen.

    Then there was some skilled engineering lobbying from the Commercial FM
    heavyweights that made it increasingly difficult for groups to secure
    licenses for independent Low Power FM stations, especially making the separation
    distance (~ 600 kHz) between an existing station to a vacant spot on the FM dial nearly impossible. Most countries the bandwidth is 200 kHz for an FM station which equals one channel.

    What to do..

    1. Internet broadcasting
    2. Shortwave broadcasting
    In the US individuals & groups are permitted to apply for a construction permit
    (license) to setup and operate a 50 KW Shortwave station so long as they can prove the financial and operational capacity to do so.
    3. Pirate Radio (No License Stations)
    No license stations are best to avoid the FM band and either use clear channels
    on the AM (Mediumwave) band in the 1610 to 1740 kHz segment or AM/SSB on Shortwave in the 6 – 7 mHz band segments.

    • Jim

      What to do.

      1) Dust off the Sherman Anti Trust Act and break up the radio station groups and the major labels into tiny bits.

      Back in the 60s and 70s there were many many different owners of labels and many many different owners of radio stations and they all had different approaches, different tastes and because of that, there was a wide variety of diverse music.

      • Alan

        Yes, break them up. Make the Public airwaves good for the public, first over what’s good for Corporate Conglomerates. The communal experience of listening to “good” music, that is the music that is beyond the 200 song playlist of whatever genre you like, is what makes listening to local radio special, and differentiates it from national sat radio, or you just listening to your Spotify list.

  7. jack simmons

    back in the 70s and 80s was the best time in radio for me lots of defrent songs thay wood play all of it make a requst and thay wood play it even the hard to find songs i hate the word reserh go back to the old ways and do away with music on the internet and buy music the old way in a music storej

  8. Dont care

    Cuz music aint music no more they rap or sing about bullshit or the same shit

  9. Fuck off

    Fm radio should be abolished. Or better yet all advertisements should be abolished. Since I have a sibling who was a recording artist, I know from hearing from him that the local FM radio station would not play his music unless my brother paid them. This is bullshit. And the playlists suck. AC/DC can rot in hell, Im tired of hearing hells bells, and shit like that. Shut them all down I say, kill them if necessary. oh and TOOL SUCKS. KBPI sucks. WILLY B sucks.;