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McLane: Cooler Heads Are Prevailing Now

  Paul McLane is editor in chief U.S. of Radio World.Kudos to the cooler heads who seem to be prevailing these days at NAB and among the nation's most influential broadcasters on the topic of a performance royalty. I'll tell

Paul McLane is editor in chief/U.S. of Radio World.

Kudos to the cooler heads who seem to be prevailing these days at NAB and among the nation’s most influential broadcasters on the topic of a performance royalty.

I’ll tell you, it was getting pretty lonely there for a while. It’s not easy to be excoriated for one’s opinions, even in my job, where I kind of expect it. And when a radio broadcaster tells me I’m “anti-radio,” it gets my attention. I’ve spent every week of my professional life since 1979 in and around radio. But that was the tenor of some of the reaction over the last couple of years, whenever I questioned the scorched-earth tactics radio was using to fight labels and performers over this “tax.” (I criticized the labels too, but that was often overlooked.)

Apparently some folks feel it is treasonous to write, as I did, that radio broadcasters were fighting a battle they were bound to lose, given how society has come to think about content rights. No editor of a radio trade publication should be allowed (it seemed) to argue that the cost of this fight could actually be self-defeating; I was foolish, it appeared, to feel that radio could eventually help itself more by shaping the outcome in a collaborative way rather than resisting it so fiercely. One would have thought I had hung the American flag upside down while I stood atop NAB headquarters listening to a Sirius XM boombox.

Don’t misunderstand me. The question hasn’t been settled. But it is gratifying to hear broadcast leaders (not just the NAB or the largest broadcasters, but other voices) saying things like “if we negotiate in good faith…” and “It would be a huge miscalculation if we do not at least continue a dialogue…” and “We cannot forget that it is artists who sing the songs.” All of these recent statements are from career radio people, and echo what I’d heard from quieter voices earlier in the process.

Peter Smyth, head of Greater Media and no limp-kneed RIAA patsie, wrote this week: “I don’t want our company to pay a 1% net revenue fee for the ‘privilege’ of promoting artists and their music. But when you move beyond the rhetoric and look closely at the proposed terms that are under discussion, it seems clear: The conceptual framework provided by NAB’s leadership team is something that the leaders and owners in this great business should seriously consider.” Otherwise the day could come, he said, when Congress could stick radio with a much higher bill.

Hmm. A pragmatic request for serious consideration on a difficult question, rather than simple, quick-slam negativity. Where have I heard that before?