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PAYOLA

QUESTION FOR DAN O'DAY:

Suppose a station breaks format between 11PM and 5AM to play music pushed by a specific music promoter. Let's say also that there is no specific mention on air that this music is played in exchange for consideration. The station gets a jingle package paid for by the promoter, and the PD flies out to industry conventions and island getaways paid for by the promoter. Is this legit? What kind of trouble is this person inviting?

The reason I ask the question, is that for all this time, I've struggled with this in my mind. It's like someone telling you they are committing (at least) unethical acts, thereby making you somewhat of an accomplice. You really can't tell anyone, because (if the PD really is doing what he/she says he/she is) it may only be unethical, and if it is illegal, who cares if you have no real proof.

How would you reconcile yourself to forget about this? Chalk it up to the idea that there are dishonest people everywhere, and this person would be doing this regardless of where they are, or is there another way to ease my mind?

DAN REPLIES:

What you are describing is called payola, and it is illegal in the U.S. Accepting consideration to play someone's music is legal; doing so without revealing that to the audience is illegal. So no, this is not "legit."

If you're a jock at that station, simply knowing about (with or without proof) does not make you an accomplice.

Should you tell anyone within the station about this? Only if that falls among your job responsibilities, as it might if you have a management position at the station.

But if you're "just a disc jockey," the odds are overwhelming that reporting this will cause you endless problems without correcting the problem.

Why?

1. In the situation as you describe it, it is very possible that station management and/or ownership already knows about and condones this illegal arrangement.

2. Even more disheartening than the minority of dishonest station operators is the larger percentage of managers who simply don't want to know. For those managers, an employee who "rocks the boat" (i.e., by reporting a PD's malfeasance) is much more aggravating than one who merely breaks the law or violates FCC regulations.

What can you do about it? Be sure that when you attain a position of responsibility with a radio station, you adhere to much higher ethical standards than your current PD's.

(By the way, that PD had better hope that no disgruntled employee ever makes a telephone call to the Internal Revenue Service. Somehow I have a hunch that PD is not declaring the value of those trips & gifts on his income tax returns.)

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