The Music First Coalition has asked the FCC to investigate whether radio stations have violated their public interest obligation by allegedly boycotting artists who support a performance royalty for terrestrial radio. Without naming stations or companies, the coalition, in a 17-page Request For Declaratory Ruling filed at the commission late June 9, accuses "some broadcasters" of using their broadcast licenses "to further their financial interest at the expense of the public interest" and to "distort an important matter of public debate."

The controversial Performance Rights Act (PRA), which would levy fees on broadcasters for airing artists' recordings, was approved by a 21 - 9 vote by the House Judiciary Committee May 13.

The filing, trumpeted Wednesday in a MusicFirst press release and conference call with reporters, also accuses broadcasters of airing deceptive spots that "unfairly prey on public fears" by portraying the proposed royalty as "tax" and claims no stations will air MusicFirst's own paid ads endorsing the legislation.

The National Assn. Of Broadcasters, whose lobbying efforts have lead to a bipartisan majority of House lawmakers going on the record in opposition to the legislation, called the filing "an act of desperation by a record label lobby losing on Capitol Hill and in the court of public opinion" that only underscores the promotional value of radio airplay. "We would also note that Will.i.am, a vocal proponent of the performance tax, and his group Black Eyed Peas are currently Number 1 on Billboard's Pop 100 Airplay Chart with the song 'Boom Boom Pow'," NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton said in a statement.

The filing claims several stations owned by a major broadcast group notified a label that they would no longer play a top-selling artist's current single following remarks made by the artist in support of the controversial bill- but stops short of naming the artist. It also cites a Florida station that allegedly told a label it would not add music from an artist because the artist was listed on the Music First Web site as a supporter of the legislation and a Delaware station that supposedly boycotted all artists affiliated with Music First for a month as examples of alleged "intimidation and threats."

An Associated Press story hinted that the mystery artist "could be U2 frontman Bono," who endorsed a performance royalty in April, saying: "It's only fair that when radio makes money by playing a recording artist's music ... the recording artist should be compensated just as songwriters are already." A call to U2 manager Paul McGuinness of Principle Management was not immediately returned.

Music First also refused to identify any specific station or broadcaster withholding airplay. Spokesman Marty Machowsky said it would do so only if the FCC initiates a proceeding and only if the commission agreed to keep the information confidential.

It does however name a handful of what it claims to be dozens of stations that have refused to accept paid MusicFirst ads in support of the bill, including Greater Media active rock WRIF, classic rock WCSX and AC WMGC/Detroit; Citadel hot AC WDVD/Detroit; and Cumulus Media top 40 KRBW and Clear Channel classic rock KKRW/Houston. Radio stations are legally permitted to refuse issue ads.

The decades-old debate over whether the promotional value of airplay justifies radio's continued exemption from paying a performance royalty spilled onto the airwaves earlier this year when the NAB made anti-PRA spots available to stations and announced a contest for stations to produce the best spot of their own. Music First says the spots contain "malicious and untruthful information solely to serve [broadcasters'] economic self interest."

For example, it disputes a spot that aired on independently owned classical WCLV/Cleveland, which echoing a common NAB refrain, stated that performance royalties "would go to record companies, most of whom are foreign owned." The Coalition says at least half of the royalties would go to the artists themselves, who are predominantly U.S. citizens. It also accuses minority broadcaster Radio One of inciting "racial animosity" by falsely claiming that hearings on the legislation did not have any black owner representation and linking the recent sale and of three urban and Gospel-formatted stations in Pittsburgh to a religious broadcaster to the bill clearing the House Judiciary Committee.