Every radio station — from large operators in major markets to small mom and pop stations in rural America — is facing a fight for its very survival in the ongoing battle over the performance tax.
Our success to date is a direct result of unprecedented unity demonstrated by radio broadcasters across America. And our future success will hinge squarely on our collective ability to educate lawmakers on the cynical campaign by the record labels to rescue a failed business model on the backs of local radio stations.
Charles Warfield Even as congressional opposition to the performance tax grows, the Recording Industry Association of America is refusing to back down from its push to impose new fees on radio stations that broadcast music free to listeners.
They've taken their battle to the FCC, where they filed a complaint alleging that unnamed radio stations were refusing to play music by unidentified musicians who support a performance tax. They've taken their fight to individual cities, setting up one-sided "town hall" meetings to show support for the legislation. And in July, the record labels circled back with the House Judiciary Committee — the only venue to give them traction thus far — in an attempt to embarrass broadcasters who are aggressively standing up for the future of free and local radio.
As I write, a bipartisan group of 19 senators and more than 240 House lawmakers have expressed their support for the Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution that emphatically opposes the imposition of any new tax, fee or other charge on local radio stations for music broadcast over-the-air.
The growing support for local radio is a testament to both the merits of our argument as well as the strong grassroots engagement coordinated by individual station owners, broadcast state associations, and our talented NAB staff in Washington.
DON'T LET UP
But now is not the time to let up on the brakes. With the August congressional recess approaching, I urge radio station employees across America to schedule a meeting with your lawmakers when they return home to meet with constituents. Invite your elected representatives to your station; take them on a tour of your studio. If they have already co-sponsored the Local Radio Freedom Act, thank them for their support.
If they have yet to take a position, ask them for their support. Explain why a performance tax would have such a negative impact on your station's ability to serve listeners. Educate them on the utter bankruptcy of an RIAA campaign based on the purported desire for "fairness to artists," and follow that up with a reminder of the well-documented abuse of artists by RIAA member companies. Explain to them that if this new tax is imposed, 50 percent of the proceeds will be funneled from local radio stations directly into the coffers of record labels headquartered in the U.K., France and Japan.
This should not be a tough sell. In addition to providing musicians with an unparalleled promotional platform to expose music to listeners, local radio stations serve constituents with unique, local programming unmatched by any other medium. From lifesaving emergency weather warnings to AMBER Alerts, hometown radio stations provide a critical local link during times of crises. And when the flood waters have receded and the rebuilding efforts have begun, it is local broadcasters who are out in their community, collecting clothing, canned food, water and building supplies.
No matter how many accommodations and carve-outs are proffered in this legislation, most radio stations simply cannot bear the burden of a new performance tax and remain the viable service our 235 million weekly listeners have come to rely on.
As every radio broadcaster knows, this issue is critical to the future of radio. The NAB staff in Washington is representing our interests well, but the true strength of broadcasting will always come from our grassroots support.
To ensure our ultimate success, radio must remain steadfast, engaged and united. Radio's future — your station's future — is in your hands.
Charles Warfield is the president and COO of ICBC Broadcast Holdings. He serves as the chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Board of Directors.