On the surface, it seems fair.  

Radio plays music, so the artists that perform that music should get paid. After all, subscription services like Spotify pay performance fees. Why not broadcast radio? 

Currently, there are two competing bills in Congress. The first, the Local Radio Freedom Act, is supported by broadcasters – and would not allow yet another fee to be imposed on an industry that historically has fueled the success of artists and labels alike.   

The competing bill, the misleadingly named American Music Fairness Act would impose those fees – and is supported by major music label groups.

The rationale for fees is based on the notion that forcing radio to join the streaming services would create a “level playing field.” Actually, the playing field is different by design. The music platforms earn revenue directly from the music they stream. They are free of regulation as well as virtually all costs associated with operating a broadcast station. 

Radio has no shortage of fees. Millions of dollars in royalties are already paid yearly to the composers of the music. Stations that stream their music on the internet (the vast majority), pay yearly digital fees. Further, an increasingly expensive FCC license requires all stations, regardless of format, to serve the public, with strict requirements on public service programming, decency standards and of course, emergency communications.


Add in the cost of staffing a station, broadcasting news and vital information, millions invested in transmitting equipment, towers and antennas, and it soon becomes clear that radio and the streaming platforms have virtually nothing in common. 

Even record labels will concede the overwhelming majority of new music is discovered over free broadcast radio. Any musician you have ever heard of is famous because of radio airplay that exposed their music and DJs that promoted and interviewed the artist and their upcoming concerts. This represents literally millions of dollars in free promotion and exposure.   

Imposing a performance fee on radio is now an existential threat to many stations.

Many stations will need to abandon their music format and replace it with a cheaper alternative, usually syndicated political talk or sports and stations that do remain in music formats will become more conservative about playing new music.   

Radio stations assume risk by testing out new music on the air. Unfamiliar songs can erode ratings. If a program director picks new music with appeal, then the reward is increased ratings. The opposite is also true – take too many chances on “losers” and the next step for that programmer is often the unemployment line. 

Long before her appearance at this year’s Super Bowl, Rihanna was just another unknown artist looking for airplay. As the program director of WJBQ-FM (Q97.9) in Portland in the late 1990s, we welcomed her into our station. We thought her first single “Pon De Replay” had potential.


Rihanna even showed up at my daughter’s dance studio, Casco Bay Movers on Forest Avenue, where the young girls performed their routine to her song. Who knew that this young, untested talent would become a global superstar?

A fledgling Maroon 5, Barenaked Ladies and countless other performers went from acoustic shows in our conference room to selling out stadiums. 

If you enjoy free broadcast radio and the proposed performance fees are applied, get ready to lose one or more of your favorite stations. If a performance fee is forced on radio, artists who write their own music (a healthy percentage) will essentially be double-dipping: getting the composer and the performance royalties.   

Record labels have a checkered history of mistreating their artists, with naïve musicians signing away their publishing rights, their sales percentage, even their concert revenue. It is a bit rich to see these same record labels now expressing concern for the economic well-being of musicians. Please.  

Broadcast radio has never ripped off an artist, stolen their composer royalties or cheated them of concert or merchandise revenue. What radio has done is invest millions of hours and promotional value in exposing artists with airplay to our audiences. We are thrilled to see them succeed – and we’re not waiting at the mailbox for a check from them as payment for our contribution. 

The system of free broadcast airplay of music has existed for over 100 years. Changing it now will cause significant harm to broadcasters, cost jobs, diminish local broadcasts in favor of nationally syndicated ones and will almost certainly tank many outlets that broadcast music to the public. 

Performance fees will hurt the very artists they were intended to assist. 

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