Many years ago, I began a "career" in community broadcasting, at WCSB 89.3-FM in Cleveland. From 1987-2002, I butchered many formats, from rock 'n' roll radio to political talk. I was always very grateful for the opportunity, and always very grateful for the small but dedicated audiences that were looking for and finding something different on WCSB.
Stations like WCSB have adopted a fine mission: To air worthy materials the corporate stations won't touch. WCSB has for years aired foreign language shows, blues, jazz, hardcore punk, 20th Century classical, etc. WCSB has aired a slew of political shows from under-represented viewpoints, such as Radio Moscow back in the day, feminist viewpoints, and even my old Libertarian news and comment show. A niche market exists for it all.
At the same time, independent community stations are doing what the big corporate stations are doing- broadcasting online. In fact, the community stations led the way. WCSB was the first Ohio station to simulcast online. Being online allowed unique stations like WCSB, WFMU, WRUW, among many others, to reach a wider audience than their paltry signals might. People who moved out of town and wanted to hear their old favorite, or just people interested in interesting, eclectic radio all could hear from anywhere.
The thing that could end this is the royalty situation. Like other community stations, WCSB pays royalties to outfits like BMI and ASCAP, who distribute money to artists based on airplay. Royalties for online spins have long been a grey area.
No longer, and not for the better. Here's the word from my long-time radio buddy Keith Newman:
WCSB 89.3 FM in Cleveland and other college radio stations across the country may have to give up webcasting their signals due to new rules set up by Sound Exchange and the US Copyright Office. The rules were created to ensure that artists would be paid for their work that was webcast online. It sounds like a noble cause. Paying musicians for the music they make sounds wonderful to me and I’m all for it. WCSB pays royalties to BMI every year for broadcast materials which I don’t have any problem with. Unfortunately the rules from Sound Exchange will guarantee that all but a few bands never receive a dime from getting played and fewer people will know they exist.
The fees for reporting are expensive and more importantly the reporting requirements are prohibitive. The costs are .02 per listener per song and there are 11 data fields that must be tracked for each song played. Bands receive .0007 cents per song played and Sound Exchange will not send out checks until a band accrues at least $10.00 in songs played. A band would have to be played more then 14,285 times before they would receive their first check! And to rub a little more salt in that wound it costs $45 to register a sound recording with the US Copyright office.
Almost all of the money paid in to the system by college radio stations will never reach the artists that these rules are supposed to benefit. It is much more beneficial for college radio to be able to introduce new music to audiences all over the world via webcasts. Most bands played on WCSB would make more money by selling one cd then they will ever see from sound exchange fees.
The new rules will force college stations to either adopt a mainstream radio format (it's a lot easier to report songs when you play the same thing every hour) or in many cases cease webcasting. A few stations might try to comply with the new reporting rules but when you look at the reality of what goes on at college stations it would be difficult. A college radio DJ has to pull their music and cue it up. They need to choose their Station IDs and PSAs and cue up more music. They need to monitor what they play for decency standards or else face the prospect of being fined $325,000.00 by the FCC and cue up even more music. They need to answer phones and pull requests and did my Dead Kennedy’s CD just end?? Oh my god dead air!!! Throw anything on! When is a DJ that does a rock show supposed to enter the 11 data fields required by Sound Exchange? Most rock songs only last 2-3 minutes. It can’t be done during commercial breaks because there aren’t any. College DJ’s would need to get secretaries just to handle the paperwork.
The new rules are not about paying artists. They are about controlling content and limiting competition. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has been hemorrhaging money for years and is trying to make it all back by controlling the information you can access over the web. As bad as this is for college radio it is far worse for the bands that will never be heard by an audience that wants to hear
So enough bitching... I do appreciate if any of you are still reading this. Here's what you can do about it.
1. Go to www.wcsb.org and read the SAVE OUR WEBSTREAM message. If you already feel you've read enough you can skip reading it and go to step 2.
2. Click on the text of the SAVE OUR WEBSTREAM message. This will take you to a page with a form letter that you can send to your elected representatives. If you don't know who your representatives are we have links to help you out. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be 18 years old to write your representatives!
3. Pat yourself on the back for helping to support college radio and making the Internet a better place.
For more information on this issue you can read Michael Gill's "A threat to Your Stream" article from the Cleveland Free Times. Http://www.freetimes.com/story/4757. Some of the details listed here came directly from his article. Others came out of my own research in to the matter including information from http://www.soundexchange.com/
Feel free to post or send this to anyone you think might be interested in radio, fair competition and free speech.
Thanks for your time and your activism,
Scruggscorp Syndicated Radio
Mondays Midnight-2:00 AM EST
WCSB 89.3 FM, Cleveland
I want to see bands get paid, but I don't want to see the station choked into oblivion. This all reminds me, the erstwhile third party candidate, of the onerous reporting rules caused by the two major parties in their badly misnamed 'campaign finance reform'. It has the effect of keeping good people out of the race. This all looks like it could knock good stations off the net.
Who benefits from that? Draw your conclusions, but I'll say it isn't the artists.