By Helen Bruner
and Terry Jones
Radio station owners are gathering in Philadelphia today for the National Association of Broadcasters' Radio Show, where they will share stories about surviving this economy and celebrate radio's bright future - a future in which they will rely on music more than ever.
Here in Philadelphia, radio stations are already pumping out more music on new HD signals. Twenty-five local stations broadcast in HD, and 13 offer additional music formats. More listeners are tuning in to these radio signals, too, as portable music players such as the iPod and Zune add FM and HD capabilities.
Radio is also quietly celebrating the 70th anniversary of a loophole that allows AM and FM stations to disrespect and diminish those it needs most - recording artists and musicians. Every year, stations make billions in advertising revenue without compensating those who bring music and listeners to the medium.
A loophole in copyright law gives broadcast radio - and only broadcast radio - a free ride. Satellite radio, Internet radio, and cable-TV music stations pay artists and musicians for the music they use. Even radio stations that stream their signals online - same DJs, same music, same ads - compensate artists. But when you hear your favorite musicians on the radio, they are not being paid for their work.
This is one of only a few countries that does not recognize a radio performance right. And because we don't, American artists are not paid when their music is played on radio around the world.
Artists and musicians have been fighting for a radio performance right for a long time because they all - from big stars to session musicians - deserve to be paid for their work. Broadcasters have used their political muscle to defeat these efforts.
But today artists and musicians are closer than ever to a radio performance right. A bill in Congress to close the loophole, the Performance Rights Act, has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and is gathering steam in the Senate.
Radio has a great future, but it must fairly compensate the artists and musicians whose performances are at the heart of its business. The Performance Rights Act will ensure that it does.
The bill includes accommodations for small and minority broadcasters. Three-quarters of American music-playing radio stations will pay $5,000 or less a year for all the music they use. The rest will pay royalties established through negotiations or by copyright officials.
And because the music community understands that radio needs time to recover from the downturn and adjust to the payments, 90 percent of music-playing stations won't have to pay until three years after the bill becomes law.
Radio can show some love by leaving Philadelphia determined not to fight those it needs the most, but to sit down with them and agree to a performance right that is fair to artists and musicians, to other platforms that already pay for music, and to radio.