Saturday, October 27, 2018

How to get a record on the air or a Golden Globe

Here’s another one of those Friday Questions that became an entire post. It’s from Bill Jones (who did not pay me to answer it):

I was wondering if you could talk frankly about "payola" in the radio industry. From what I know, record labels and radio stations got caught in pay-for-play scandals in the 1950s or so, but the practice lasted for decades beyond (including on MTV, and may still last today in both media). Did you ever witness or hear of such conduct while you were a DJ? Who did the labels try to bribe--station managers? Playlist supervisors? DJs? And was it with money or, um, other substances? Just wondering -- thanks!

Payola was a big scandal in the late ‘50s. Record companies realized that only songs that got radio airplay became hits. Back then radio stations had huge audiences and great influence. There was no Pandora, and the only satellite was Sputnik and they only played Russian hits.

Disc jockeys in those days had much more freedom than they do today. They could select their own music. So needless to say, they were the targets of the record companies. DJ’s were paid under the table to play their songs. Many radio stations knew about this practice and looked the other way. In fact, they sometimes didn’t pay their disc jockeys very high salaries, knowing their income would be padded by the record companies.

But of course this practice was dishonest. Disc Jockeys were recommending crap just because their palms were being greased.

The result was a big scandal. Back in those days congressional hearings and witch hunts were quite the fad. Lots of DJ’s lost their jobs, including the great Alan Freed. Somehow, however, Dick Clark managed to escape unscathed. Clark didn’t take payola per se from record companies, he owned a whole bunch of them. He also received royalties from tons of hits that he essentially made by giving the artists exposure on AMERICAN BANDSTAND. Clark divested of all his record company holdings and walked away clean. Alan Freed was not so lucky. His career was essentially ruined.

Stations assumed more control over the programming. By the mid ‘60s most Top 40 stations had music directors and program directors who ultimately decided which songs received airplay. So to pay off a Disc Jockey was like the stupid starlet who tries to get ahead in Hollywood by sleeping with writers.

Record companies found other ways to “encourage” the PD’s and MD’s to play their songs. Women, drugs, trips, wining and dining, free T-shirts. Is it legal? No, not really. But is this practice any different from what Washington lobbies do to win favor? Is a free junket “payola?” Or an expensive dinner? Or tickets to the Super Bowl?

Does payola still go on? Of course it does. Maybe not as overt, and certainly not as widespread – not because the radio industry is cleaning up its act, but because radio now has way less impact. Why pay to get a record on a station when you could get just as many listeners with a boombox sticking out of your car window?

As for MTV, I don’t think they even show music videos anymore. I don’t know what Music Television means if they no longer play music. To court MTV execs is like that stupid starlet sleeping with writers’ assistants.

Personally, I never took money when I was a Disc Jockey. Hey, I was never approached. A record promo man took me out to lunch once when I worked in San Bernardino. So I played his record on every station I ever worked for from then on. It was a really nice lunch. Dessert too. (Of course it helped that the record was a monster hit and every DJ played it all across the country.)

No record people ever offered me girls. I would have played polka tunes on a rock station if someone offered girls. But alas, they knew I had a very strict playlist, and in some cases the actual order of the songs was predetermined before I got on the air. So there was no reason to court me. Plus, I made fun of most records.

The key is whether the person or organization or congressman can be bought. I’d like to think that most can’t, but then I see the Golden Globes.


VP81955 said...

After WABC fired Freed, he resurfaced in Los Angeles (there's an aircheck of him at KDAY from late 1960 that sounds pretty good). He died in obscurity on Jan. 20, 1965.

AndrewJ said...

There's a pretty good documentary about Clark's involvement in payola, THE WAGES OF SPIN:

Janet Ybarra said...

MTV has a secondary channel, MTV Live, which plays blocks of videos. The channel used to be VH1 Classic and play all kinds of great '80s music, including festival concerts of '80s bands.

Have videos become unpopular so as to disappear off MTV?

Where else do kids today watch their videos? I'm guessing that's something else that's migrated to YouTube?

therealshell said...

There should be a reverse Payola, where radio stations are rewarded for not playing "auto tuned" music.

Anonymous said...

The less egregious forms of payola are no different from any other industry. Salesmen always take clients to lunch/diner/golf/sports events. Salesmen always give away branded clothes/pens/usb sticks/etc. Salesmen always want to be you friend, because people work with their friends. The egregious forms of kickbacks exist in every industry also.
Probably the least corrupt industries are government related in low profit industries. All the watchdogs and less of the benefits.

FQ / post subject:

Have any comments on this article?

Some of the subjects you have touched on, directly or indirectly. The unions sound pretty useless in the article's description. I think they are much like most unions seem to be now, essentially employment agencies taking a fee to provide bodies, without really providing much. My wife is a nurse, was at a union facility that had poor family and maternity benefits. You are a union with mostly women, and both the men and women are mostly parents, and you don't have those benefits? BS. What the hell are you fighting for? Nothing, just taking your dues every month.

Mike McCann said...

Keep in mind, payola was NOT illegal during Alan Freed's heyday. Laws were changed in 1960.
But what is "product promotion?" When you go to your neighborhood chain supermarket, do you know why certain products are displayed at the beginning and ends of aisles? The vendor (the cereal maker, the paper towel manufacturer, etc.) PAYS the store to give their product better exposure.
Is that payola? Should it be?
Ever wondered why certain doctors prescribe certain meds? Often, the pharmaceutical distributors "promote" their new products.
Is that payola? It is ethical?
Freed's mistake -- and that of any other DJ or host with a financial, vested interest -- was not disclosing it. We trusted Freed and his peers to be "taste makers," people with knowlege of music who share their insight with us. Putting his endorsement up for bids erodes their credibility.
But then again, Kroger and Ralph's don't have to tell you that General Mills paid for the big display of Cheerios at the front of the cereal aisle.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Playing mediocre records never killed anyone. What about the pharmaceutical industry bribing doctors and hospitals with everything from gift baskets to European vacations and research grants to prescribe drugs that are unnecessary, inefficient, dangerous or just expensive? The New Yorker had an article this year about Purdue Pharmaceutical and its role in bringing about the opioid epidemic by lying about OxyContin, and there have been other such scandals. It seems corruption is business as usual in every industry.

Sparks said...

I was expecting comment on the longest game in Series history, but I realized you had a deadline so maybe next time.

Janet Ybarra said...

Actually, the worst "payola" occurs today in the Big Pharma industry.

Next time you are at your doctor's office, look out particularly for an attractive woman in professional attire, probably with a roller bag

They are there representing a drug company, offering all dorts of goodies so the doctor (s) in that practice prescribe their company's drugs.

That needs to change.

DBenson said...

My dad was a doctor. As kids we were awash in notepads and such decorated with names of prescription drugs. A favorite was a deck of cards with a silhouette of kidneys and bladder on the back. Don't remember anything really cool or expensive; the intent usually seemed to be to secure some ongoing visibility with free office supplies (the purpose of most B2B swag).

Once he gave me a little giveaway Weekly Planner with the name and logo of a mortuary on the cover. We mused on the effect it would have on a patient if he saw his doctor using funeral swag.

Another item was a sturdy metal desk ruler imprinted with logo and information for Thorazine. What was the exact thinking there? That a doctor, when obliged to grab a heavy object, would see the name and think, "THAT'S what this guy needs!"?

The power of swag is not to be underestimated. Recall reading an article about celebrities and events, where an organizer said that stars got excited about logo merchandise valued at an iota of their usual asking price.

Janet Ybarra said...

What docs get from drug companies is not necessarily limited to harmless swag...

YEKIMI said...

I have heard that at a certain radio station corporation that if YOU [artist, record company, whomever] wants a song on THEIR stations that you better be able to cough up $5,000. More, if you're an established artist with a rep as having hits.[I'm talking the stations that play newer artists and have CHR, A.C., Hot Hits, etc. formats.] So, yeah payola still exists, it just goes to the suits at the top and the shareholders and is probably being used to bribe congressmen/women to "look the other way" so they don't crack down on the big boys.

Mike Bloodworth said...

When you mentioned the Golden Globes I immediately thought of Pia Zadora and her controversial win for best new actress in 1982. Many people still believe that her then husband bought the award. Although Pia has continued to deny it. I've never seen BUTTERFLY, by the way.

Ditto to Sparks' comment on the World Series.

"Back in those days congressional hearings and witch hunts were quite the fad." WOW! Deja vu or what?!

Prairie Perspective said...

After reading this, I now understand why our local DJs played so much music by Frankie Yankovic, the Six Fat Dutchmen and the Schmenge Brothers. Roll out the barrel indeed ...

Coram_Loci said...

A DJ in this area told the story of attending a broadcatsr's convention. He was eager to brag to his peers about his sexual conquest of an up and coming siren who later chartered numerous top ten hits. She appeared years earlier on his little show at a rinky dink station to promote her album. Batted eyelashes, light flirting, then an invitation to her hotel.

When he mentioned her name to his peer, he yelled out something along the lines of, “Hey guys, she got another one!”

Colin Stratton said...

Is FOX taking money under the table from Procter and Gamble? I can't wait to see another split screen of the World Series with a Head and Shoulders commercial. I am concerned about dandruff control, but I could have waited till the end of the inning. Not everyone is a Millennial. I do have an attention span beyond thirty seconds.

Edward said...

VP81955 said... After WABC fired Freed, he resurfaced in Los Angeles (there's an aircheck of him at KDAY from late 1960 that sounds pretty good). He died in obscurity on Jan. 20, 1965.


I would not say obscurity. After doing a quick search on, there are plenty of articles from all over the country from 1964 regarding his indictment for tax evasion and 1965 after he died.

Interestingly Freed had testified that ABC required him to kick back $30,000 of his $40,000 salary in order to plug his live shows on the air. $10,000 a plug. That's a lot of cash in 1959!

Anonymous said...

One thing that jumps out to me while watching The Cool Kids is that it seems that the entire cast is composed of "supporting" players. Even Vicky lawrence who did lead on her own sit com is still, at least to me, as a Carol burnett supporting player.
Besides the lead I have spotted a number of other supporting actors ( jamie Farr, and max Baer from Barney Miller) plus others who ring a bell in memory but cannot place.

Have you ever seen a show in the past where the entire cast is "supporting" players?

part of the reason might be since the premise of the show being in a retirement home that the possibility of showcasing a "new" up and comer would be unlikely.
Wonder if casting director is combing through retirement locales for cast?
Wonder also if the writing team reflects the demographics of the cast?

Janet Ybarra said...

Deregulation and the resulting corporate conglomeration of radio stations has created a problem that makes old fashioned payola look like nothing in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Yes I am a dodo.
in previous post cited Max Baer, from beverly hillbillies instead of Max Gail from Barney Miller.
so much for my memory.
Mea Culpa

Anonymous said...

Lewis Ramsey says:

Despite all the lurid revelations about Harvey Weinstein, there seem to be little or no discussions about the controversial antics that practically everyone did know about: how he made the manipulation of Oscar winning into an art form. Perhaps it might cast aspersions on those who have won and whether his representation taints them or devalues them. Shakespeare in Love, anyone?

By the way, I wonder how many children wouldn't die of starvation or disease if the cash value of just one award show goodie bag was somehow transferred to them.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I don't know. I'd kind of like to see "Jethro."

Loosehead said...

Anonymous, I think you might have a mild infection of the C-Nile virus. Early symptoms include getting names wrong, but the classic symptom is sending an email with words along the lines of "please see attachment", and then forgetting to attach anything.

I also hate Harvey Weinstein for getting Shakespeare In Love in front of Saving Private Ryan. I have no idea if Gwynneth's award was "for services rendered".

thirteen said...

It's a given that Pia Zadora's thirty-years-older husband, Meshulam Riklis, bought that "new star" Golden Globe for Pia for Butterfly, a movie that billionaire Riklis had financed on his own. Pia was also no newcomer. She'd been in a film before that: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. BTW when Pia told Riklis that she was pregnant, he reportedly said, "Good! Now you'll have someone your own age to play with."

As for Big Pharma: I was at the doctor's office on Friday. You know those little plastic protectors you shove into empty electrical outlets so kids can't stick their fingers in? Well, every unused outlet I saw that day had one of those protectors — and a drug name, stamped in bright red, on the front.

James Van Hise said...

I've always felt that Payola continued to exist in some form. In the 1970s and 1980s I listed to top 40 radio stations a lot, and there were a lot of stations, but there were always certain songs that got played 5 times as much as the other songs they played. I remember once thinking in the 1970s, "Really? They have to play "Kung Fu Fighting" every hour on every station I listen to? And that sort of obvious pushing of certain songs continued for years.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Anonymous: judging from the writing for THE COOL KIDS, no, the writers are much younger. (Actually, the *cast* is 10-15 years too young, too...Vicki Lawrence is 69, and her character is supposed to have just turned 65. What 65yo without a disability wants to live in a retirement home?) Charlie Day, the showrunner, is one of the IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA team (now there's a's been on for 13 seasons, and yet no one awardish seems to notice its existence).


Anonymous said...

There was much suspicion about Shakespeare in Love winning several Oscars, including Best Picture, but it was hugely popular. That isn’t why movies typically get Oscars, but there were people in all aspects of the movie industry who thought it was outstanding, by any standard. So it’s a poor example to use when speaking of Oscars being bought. I personally think the criticism came from something much darker. It has been stated many times on this blog that Comedies get no respect in Hollywood. Shakespeare in Love wasn’t JUST a comedy, but a comedy it certainly was, if that still means joyful laughter at scene after scene, exceptional wit and irony at every turn. When I left the theatre (twice) everyone was talking enthusiastically and displaying the kind of joy a great movie inspires.
For a moment, the abject cynicism of Hollywood and this age was put aside, and people were able to appreciate something other than a dark, depressing, dismal story of human impotence.

Dr. Gupta

Anonymous said...

Ms. Grossman
Thank you for response about Cool Kids
I agree that the ages of Vicky Lawrence's character is a bit young for a retirement village but it is not unheard of with people who suffer from empty house and other social quirks. Also in some cases it might be to "lock" in some rates.
As for your comments about the writers isn't part of Ken's history of comments that "older" writers ( like Ken now and forever 39) can write "younger" possible they get locked into that frame of reference.

Possible exceptions to your comments but I have to agree that if I were a betting person I would put my money on your explanaations.

Alvaro Leos said...

Read "Hit Men" by Fred Dannon to see how corrupt pretty much the whole music industry in the 70s/80s. According to many authors, the whole payola scare of the 50s was really about bigtime record companies upset that tiny rock labels like Sun were cleaning their clocks. Columbia was every bit as corrupt as the indies, but had to manufacture a scandal to explain it away.

blogward said...

Friday Question: Reading about Dick Clark, I see that he started in the mailroom of the station that his uncle owned, and that his father managed, and began doing weather and links. Now obviously Dick could cut the mustard, and people who get their breaks through family are no different than other tyros if useless, but I wondered, Ken, if you had any tales of nepotism in the TV and radio world. Thanks for your great blog.

Bob Sharp said...

I confess. I have taken "payola!" In 1976 I was a jock and music director at a small/mid market 100,000 watt FM station. One day out of the blue, I received a set of four rocks glasses (one of which was broken) from RCA. The station GM decreed it payola and said I could't accept them. Like three old fashioned glasses and a pile of broken shards was going to influence me to play the latest Elvis record.

I kept them, for no other reason than if I didn't the GM was going to poach them.