Lazer Broadcasting is a significant player in the Hispanic radio world on the West Coast. The Oxnard, Calif.-based operation, headed by president/CEO Alfredo Plascencia, owns and operates 18 Spanish language radio stations in 10 California markets, plus two affiliated stations in the Medford, Ore. and Lancaster, Calif. markets. On the face of it, things are good. But Plascencia is worried about business. And he’s worried about how he’s going to keep the lights on.

Appearing Tuesday morning (May 5) before a Congressional staff briefing in a meeting room in the Rayburn Building, Plascencia is one of ten men and a woman all running Spanish language stations talking about how the Performance Royalty Act (H.R. 848, S. 379) would affect their businesses if it were passed and they had to pay artists and labels for the recorded works they broadcast over the airwaves. Already this year he has been forced to lay off 30% of his staff. "Royalty fees would force me out of business," he said. "Some of our stations would have to go off the air," he said with concern.

The economic downfall in the United States has been a hardship on all businesses, observed Francisco Montero, but "Hispanic radio stations have been especially hard hit. The loss of any one of these stations is crippling to its community," said Montero, a co-managing partner with the law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth in Washington.

"To assess a tax on them would push them off the cliff. This is clearly the wrong bill at the wrong time," observed Amador Bustos. "Over the past year we have reduced our staff about 30%. The notes and covenants from the bank are being watched in a very close way right now," reported the chairman and CEO of Bustos Media, a privately-held Sacramento-based group, founded in 2003 and which now owns and operates 22 radio and three television stations in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. "The performance tax would add the final nail in the coffin for Hispanic broadcasters," stressed Bustos.

Frank Flores, VP/GM for the Miami-based Spanish Broadcasting System, a long-time family run, publicly-owned group of radio stations that in the last five years has successfully expanded into television and syndication, said he was more confused about performance fees the more he learned about it. Why would labels and artists want radio to pay fees after it already interviewed the artists, talked about their concerts and played their music, generating record sales, he said. He likened the process to "a bunch of friends getting together to have a big party for one friend and then, after the party is over, that friend turns to his hosts and demands an appearance fee!"

After the briefing, the broadcasters, which included Univision Radio's top morning show star, Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo, fanned out across Capitol Hill to Senate and House offices of members in high-density Hispanic districts to encourage them to back the "Local Radio Act," an NAB-backed resolution aimed at repelling H.R. 838 and its companion measure in the Senate that, if passed, would initiate fees on broadcasters.

Meanwhile, musicFirst, the lobbying group representing artists and performers pushing for passage of the performance fee measure, had its own Cinco de Mayo response, pointing out that the National Hispanic Conference of State Legislators (NHCSL) recently approved a resolution that calls upon Congress to enact the Performance Rights Act.

The NHCSL resolution points out that broadcasters enjoy a "unique government-created exemption from having to compensate creators," and that AM and FM radio stations are the only "radio platform that does not compensate creators," among other planks, and notes "in recognition of the significant achievements and offerings of our State’s musicians, singers, producers, recording owners, and others, and to correct a longstanding inequity in our federal law resulting in significant loss to our economy and its citizens, the NHCSL calls upon policy makers at all levels of government, including but not limited to Congress and the US Senate, to support efforts to adopt legislation or take any actions in support of The Performance Rights Act."

"This is a matter of fairness," said Indiana State Representative Mara Candelaria Reardon who sponsored the resolution. "It is certainly important to understand the role that radio plays in this debate. However, the importance of music in our lives needs to be underscored, and we need to protect the rights of artists and producers. Latin music is an integral part of the lives of many Hispanics in the U.S., and having a full performance right will ensure that the musicians and artists will be fairly compensated for their creation."

musicFirst executive director Jennifer Bendall added, "We're pleased that grassroots Hispanic policymakers are strong supporters of closing this outrageous corporate loophole and will work with their members of Congress to advance this critical bill. Their voice is an essential part of this debate. As numerous Hispanic musicians recently attested to at a conference in Miami, the Performance Rights Act is essential to maintaining a strong and vibrant Latin music scene."

Gabriel Abaroa, president of the Latin Recording Academy, recently criticized Latin artists for not fighting for their performance royalty from radio in bigger numbers. At a panel at the Billboard Latin Music Conference last month, Abaroa said Willy Chirino and Ricky Martin were among the few who spoke in support of the terrestrial radio royalty for artists and labels at a recent hearing. "I can’t believe that is the whole Latino universe. That will change the day we know more about our industry. We need to work together. We need to learn as a team. No more soccer. We need to play a sport that’s more organized."

Additional reporting by Ayala Ben-Yehuda.