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Hughes, Warwick in smackdown over Performance Rights Act

From the pages of Essence and the Huffington Post, Radio One’s Kathy Hughes and singer Dionne Warwick take potshots over the Performance Rights Act. African American station owner Hughes is decidedly con on  the proposed law, which would require over-the-air radio signals to compensate performers as copyright law has them pay royalties to song copyright owners.

“We keep hearing that these entertainer[s] need to get paid,” declares Hughes. “Oh, so Chris Brown needs another Lamborghini to beat up a girl in? No! The artists who they are talking about like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas aren’t going to get a penny. Nobody is playing Dionne Warrick [sp]. When was the last time she had an album. That’s what’s stupid about this.”

Warwick, who supports the PRA, was quick to return the compliment.

“In defending her refusal to fairly compensate the artists on whose back she earns her living, Ms. Hughes now claims poverty, which is pretty amazing considering Radio One owns 54 radio stations and reaped $316 million last year alone,” the singer wrote on Huffpo. “She even paid her own son, Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins, a $10 million bonus. Far from a struggling company, Radio One sounds more like one of those Wall Street rip off firms where executives pay themselves big bonuses while they rip us off and throw their workers in the street.”

Good grief. When will this end? Every time I try to come up with a position on this issue, I go into an endless feedback loop.

Sure, it’s not fair that online stations like Pandora have to pay the performance tithe and over-the-air stations don’t. But there couldn’t be a worse time for this law. A huge percentage of terrestrial stations are on the financial cliff. Even the Government Accountability Office appears to have found credible broadcaster claims that if the PRA passes, some licenses could close or lay off staff.

And more and more audio entertainment is migrating online anyway. Arbitron’s latest survey of formats finds 96 “adult urban contemporary” Internet stations, a number competitive with FM’s 144. In the case of the “urban contemporary” category the ratio is 81 to 126.

On the other hand, it’s sometimes hard to take broadcaster poverty claims seriously when they’re still getting busted for payola.

One thing is for sure, this strikes me as a real zero sum battle, and not a civil one either. That’s why every time the debate flares up, I want to take the advice of one of Warwick’s hit songs and just “walk on by.”

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One Response to Hughes, Warwick in smackdown over Performance Rights Act

  1. Will_Tucker_FMX July 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Given how the royalty schedule for H.R. 848 is structured and its exemptions, a broadcaster crying ‘broke’ over $500/year probably shouldn’t be in the business of running a radio station. I’ve written on the issue, explaining the action I took upon hearing Hughes’ PSAs.

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