HR 848: Is it really that bad?

A few months back a friend of mine sent me a text to ask if I was listening to the Rickey Smiley Morning Show.  He said they were talking about some bill making its way through Congress that might cause black radio to go out of business.  I tuned in to some of their discussion, but ended up going to my computer to really do some research on HR 848 also known as the Performance Rights Act of 2009, which was the topic of discussion.

Check the initial Dallas South post on HR 848 from May 13, 2009

So to the best that I could tell, it seemed like the Rep. John Conyers sponsored legislation is intended to help artists obtain royalties for music played over terrestrial radio.  I noticed that my local Congresswoman (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson) was a co-sponsor of the bill so I immediately called her office to get their take.  They were doing their own research so I didn’t get anything from them that morning.  Congresswoman Johnson later withdrew her support of the bill.

Click here to view House Performance Rights Act – HR 848.

I didn’t see what was so bad with Conyers efforts and why it was such a threat to black radio, but soon Radio One executive Cathy Hughes was all over the air waves telling me why she thinks it is.

Commentary from Black Agenda Radio on Hughes action towards U.S. Representatives

Last month at the NABJ convention, I had a chance to sit down with a group of people in the entertainment industry who are part of  musicFirst.  musicFirst is a coalition who supports the legislation that would help artists get royalties from radio stations.  According to their website, the group “is committed to making sure everyone, from up-and-coming artists to our favorites from years-ago, is guaranteed Fair Play for Air Play.”

Crystal Watters, Paul Porter, Sean Glover

musicFirst was hosting a sangria/mojito mixer for NABJ members to try to tell them their side of the HR 848 debate.  While the drinks were flowing and the chocolate dessert shots were delicious, I don’t think the musicFirst was able to capture the attention of the journalists who had been in sessions and workshops all day and were really just trying to unwind.

Fortunately Crystal Watters, Paul Porter, and Sean Glover met with me pre-sangria to give me their thoughts on the hoopla surrounding HR 848.  Watters looked familiar and told me that she had a couple of dance hits from the ’90s that I would know, but for some reason she didn’t give me the titles.

I now know that she was the artist who vocalized Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da) and  100% Pure Love.  Currently she has a site called Club Heads Radio where she feature the work of the worlds top D.J.’s

“It’s my property, it’s my voice on a song,” Watters said early in our conversation, “everybody gets paid but the artist.” Watters, who still tours Europe often, says most countries compensate artists for air play with notable exceptions being the U.S., N. Korea, China, and Iran.  “This shouldn’t be a black issue,” she said.

Paul Porter is a former program director for BET and founder of IndustryEars.  IndustryEars bills itself as a think tank or “consortium of entertainment and broadcast industry professionals with more than 60 years of experience dedicated to revealing truth and promoting justice in media.”

Porter diligently observes the music industry, and has been outspoken against Hughes and her tactics of fighting HR 848.  “She’s berating Conyers (on the air) and there’s no response from the press.  If Sean Hannity did it it would be a problem,” Porter told me.

Porter recently wrote an open letter to Ms. Hughes:

Dear Ms Hughes:

As the Founder of Radio One, the nation’s largest African American broadcaster, I have admired your unprecedented accomplishments for close to thirty years. While starting my career in Washington DC, I watched and listened to you for years during your humble beginnings at WOL-AM. In the late 80’s, I will always be grateful for you hiring me to program WMMJ, your first FM outlet.

Our accomplishments during my tenure at WMMJ continue to be the highlight of my career. Rising with a weak signal in a competitive DC market, Majic 102.3 was the third in the country to adopt the Urban AC format. Taking WMMJ from a zero market share to the number 4 AC spot, in a mere nine months, was the catalyst for what now makes you the dominant force in urban radio.

In recent months we have witnessed a media uprising of coverage that I believe is a direct effect of America’s first Black President.. Broadcast media is the country’s trend setter and Black radio continues to be Black America’s only mainstream voice. Although CNN airs Black in America in the midst of summer, and the complexion of pundits has darken during the rise of Obama, cable television and network TV still has no person of color hosting a prime time show.

What happens behind the cameras and microphones has been getting worse. Minority ownership is down, while the executive barrier in management still mirrors the post civil rights era. Debra Lee, Black Entertainment Television’s CEO, is a prime example of a face that accepts socially unacceptable imagery that permeates most corporate machines. BET continues to blind us with shows like “Franke & Neffe”, the modern day equivalent to the slapstick “Amos and Andy”. Historically, Black America has always been short changed in our images, perceptions and representations. We can’t expect change, unless people of color program it, demand it and change the Madison Avenue view on Non Urban Dictate. Educating listeners of what goes on behind the scenes will help not hurt. TV One has been a huge step in the right direction and for that I applaud you.

Few are in the position to empower, organize and inform millions of people that are thirsting for content, information and representation. Black radio needs voices now more than ever. Rush Limbaugh, is a prime example of a business plan that not only is financially rewarding but changes direction in American culture.

Porter goes on:

Ms Hughes, you have that power. For the past few months, your voice has been heard on over fifty of your stations, in a series of two to three minute announcements, 10 to 12 times daily. Those who have not heard the announcements ( might guess the subject might be health care, the economy, education or maybe a response to the racist attacks by Tea Baggers, Birthers, Glenn Beck or Fox News on President Obama.

Instead you aimed your microphone in opposition to HR 848, The Performance Rights Act. You have berated members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for months, without even a minute of an honest debate. The truth is Ms Hughes, you have pushed that button because you knew you could. Mainstream media rarely covers any issue except black on black violent crime. If Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly railed on distinguished CBC members like John Conyers, Sheila Jackson-Lee or Hank Johnson, Black radio and press would be outraged. Al Sharpton, Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden would be defending the CBC members you have furiously attacked. But for now their voices are silenced only because their allegiance to you. Power often brings a free pass.

Fear tactics seem to be today’s replacement for news and information. Unfortunately, the listeners you are licensed to serve continue to get your commentary with only entertainment news. While in DC, you made your mark as the “Queen of information”, branding “Information is Power” on your flagship station WOL-AM.  News content is none existent in a world where a Black adult is 25 times more likely to hear a syndicated music host like Tom Joyner or Michael Baisden. Syndication on Black radio has increased at an alarming 343%, while white music syndication has decreased in the past ten years. The “less is more” philosophy basically adds up to controlling the messengers.

Your voice for the first time has become an example of Black media telling Black America a series of distortions. The Truth is the HR 848 would not kill Black radio, 80% of Black owned radio stations would pay a mere $5,000 or less royalty fee. What you have failed to mention in “Reality Radio” is a tax goes to the government. The “PRA” would help thousands of musicians and singers to be paid a royalty, just like the songwriters have been paid for decades.  HR 848 is simply a civil rights issue. HR 848 is not about Jay Z or Beyonce the few millionaires, it’s about Ron Smith, the guitarist from Frankie Beverly and Maze who continues to keep your listeners entertained in the hybrid of music only formats that Radio One and most broadcasters deliver everyday.

Only the US, China, North Korea and Iran don’t pay radio royalties to performers and musicians. I do understand protecting your bottom line, but doing the right thing and stating facts is not an option.

Click here to read the Paul Porter’s message in its entirety.

Watters, Porter, Grandmaster Dee (Whodini) and Glover

I’ve heard the commercials, I’ve read HR 848, scanned articles in other publications, and to date no one has told me what’s so bad about this bill, and no one has told me how it will kill black radio.  The beating that Ms. Hughes is unleashing on Conyers  and others on Radio One is as bad as her lashing of candidate Barack Obama last year.

There has to be a better way for her to get her point across.  Satellite radio and Internet streaming-services pay artist royalties but terrestrial radio does not.  Something doesn’t quite add up.  I guess that’s what these artists are saying.

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