Radio Waves: 9/13/19

FCC proves itself worthless once more

I knew that the Federal Communications Commission was out of touch, and has been for years. The Commission is but one reason for the mess so many radio stations find themselves in by supporting and encouraging the deregulation that basically destroyed the industry, failing to set and enforce standards, and doing nothing about consumer products and even automobiles that cause interference to stations.

To call the Commission “impotent” and essentially worthless to the industry is putting it mildly. But even I could not fathom just how utterly clueless the Commission has become. Until now.

In a letter addressed to Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (the RIAA), Commissioner Mike O’Rielly asked Glazier to help ensure payola in the radio industry is addressed.

Yes, payola. The idea of paying DJs, programmers or other radio station personnel to play new music in exchange for money or other forms of compensation. The original payola scandal — the word is a combination of “pay” and “Victrola” (from the name of early record players) — was back in 1959 and included popular DJs such as Alan Freed and Dick Clark.

But like the game show scandals in which the shows were actually fixed, payola wasn’t actually illegal until after those early investigations. In 1960 it became a misdemeanor to accept compensation for playing music without divulging that payment has occurred.

That didn’t stop it, though. It is long rumored that many popular stations of the 1970s — Ten-Q (KTNQ, 1020 AM) and KHJ (930 AM) included — were involved in payola of some sort. I was told but never verified that KIQQ (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM) and KIIS-FM (102.7 FM) had it in some form in the 1980s. But that was then, when new music was actually heard on the radio.

These days it is so rare to find new music on the radio that the industry would probably benefit from payola. And I’m only halfway joking … it is a sad state of affairs when even the alternative rock stations around the country rely more on songs released years ago than on new music or breaking new bands.

If this letter (read it at doesn’t prove the FCC needs a complete restructuring, I don’t know what does. Hey, Commissioner Glazier, the 1950s called. They want their scandal back.

Easy Reader

You may not necessarily know the name Bill Diehl, though he has been connected with ABC news as a reporter for many years. I know I didn’t, until I started reading his book, Stay Tuned, My Life Behind the Mic.

It’s a fun, easy read, giving a little history of his broadcast life from the early days of radio when he set up an illegal station in his bedroom through his legal radio work and finally television. Along the way, Diehl tells stories of the people he worked with in front of and behind the microphones along with the people he met and interviewed as part of his on-air work.

Lots of namedropping … he interviewed a huge number of celebrities along the way as part of his job, including Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Tony Bennett, Phyllis Diller, Peter Falk, Steve Allen and more. In the book, he tells tidbits of his interviews and some of the things they said off the air.

In 1998, he “killed” Bob Hope, even though Hope was very much alive, when a preprepared obituary he had created (as is usually one with celebrities so a news organization is ready to run a story in case it actually happens) ran on an ABC Radio newscast accidentally. It seems an Arizona congressman saw an announcement of Hope’s death on a wire news service but did not realize it was a test. The congressman announced it on the House floor and ABC News picked it up.

Stories like that abound in the book, which creates a situation that is both good and bad. The good is that it keeps the book lively and thoroughly entertaining. The bad is that there are so many stories, extended details necessarily get cut. Headlines and a quick summary are often what is presented,  reminding me of what you might hear on an entertainment news report. Hmm …

Perhaps Diehl can extend it in an online blog. I’d like, for example, to learn what happened to the town, the station or the DJ when Gene Klaven, half of the morning team on WNEW/New York, found a can of paint used to mark a parade route and painted a “detour” that ended at the station’s studios.

Whether you know his work or not, you’ll find the book a great use of your time.