An anonymous letter sent to New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer has ruffled feathers in the country music industry. The letter, signed "some very concerned music industry professionals," acc
An anonymous letter sent to New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer has ruffled feathers in the country music industry.
The letter, signed "some very concerned music industry professionals," accuses three country independent promotion firms of wrongdoing and lists 41 radio stations that are allegedly influenced by those indies. "The country music business is being held hostage by three independent promotion firms and the radio stations they control," the letter states.
It accuses Nashville-based Hitsquad Promotions, Florence, Ala.-based R&R and Associates and Columbus, Ga.-based JVA Promotion of "controlling playlists and new adds at many country radio stations for years," and notes that the major record companies used those firms. "In the wake of your investigation the major record companies are beginning to discontinue their use of these independent promoters," the letter writer tells Spitzer. "However, the three above named promoters have simply turned their attention on the large independent labels and are holding them hostage."
The 41 stations cited in the letter are owned by 23 different broadcast groups. Most are small operators. However, 17 Citadel stations are named as well as two Beasley stations and one each from Clear Channel, Entercom and Bonneville. Of the 23 groups, only New York City-based Citadel and Latham, N.Y.-based Pamal Broadcasting are headquartered in Spitzer's New York jurisdiction.
The letter says, "You cannot get a record played on these stations without hiring these thugs and then giving them payments to pass on to the stations." It asks Spitzer to "eradicate this activity from the music business."
JVA Promotion's Jody Van-Alin says the letter is "full of false allegations, wild inaccuracies and completely defamatory statements that are obviously calculated to hurt my reputation and my business, as well as those of other individuals and entities named in this letter. As in any industry, there are always going to be people out there that will try to hurt others. The coward who wrote the anonymous letter is almost certainly some disgruntled failure in the business.
"I am very proud of my reputation and the business that I have built," Van-Alin continues. "I will not be bullied by an anonymous coward, and I will gladly defend myself in any appropriate forum."
Hitsquad's Jeff Solima and R&R and Associates' Ralph Carroll could not be reached for comment. But others in the music industry join Van-Alin in taking strong issue with the letter, at least in regard to the radio stations it accuses.
One label VP of promotion, who asked not to be identified, says the author is probably "someone, perhaps a small label, who has felt [slighted] and is seeking revenge." This label VP says the list of stations and the indies they are allegedly affiliated with is inaccurate, and adds "I would hate to see good people get hurt by false accusations."
"Several [of these stations] haven't worked with indies in many years and several haven't worked with an indie at all," says the label VP. "It's just plain not true."
Among the stations cited in the letter are Citadel's WIVK Knoxville, Tenn., and the Mel Wheeler-owned WSLC Roanoke Va. Not surprisingly, programmers at those stations are hot under the collar about what the letter accuses them of. Longtime WIVK PD Mike Hammond says his station has "never had an agreement with an independent as long as I have been program director." Further, Hammond adds, "Over the years we have been contacted by every independent in the business but we have chosen not to go that route."
WSLC MD Robynn Jaymes calls the letter's claims "outlandish. We are listed as having a relationship with an independent promoter [Solima] we have never worked with or even had a conversation with. It's laughable for anyone to think that an independent promoter has control over a radio station and the music they play," she says. "There is no way we would compromise our station or endanger our jobs by agreeing to play anyone's record for any consideration given. Our owner, who is also our GM, has [emphasized] to all of us the legal boundaries we live by, but equally important to him and all of us [are] the moral ones as well.
"It would be unfortunate if in the current environment any anonymous letter or claim can create unfair scrutiny of any station," Jaymes adds.
In addition to Spitzer, copies of the letter were also sent to four N.Y. assistant attorneys general, FCC chairman Kevin Martin, FCC commissioners Michael Copps, Jonathan Adelstein and Deborah Taylor Tate, and members of the Nashville media. The New York state attorney general's office confirmed receipt of the letter, but had no further comment.
Adelstein gave Billboard.biz a statement saying, in part, "The Commission has an affirmative, statutory obligation to enforce federal payola laws, and we should enforce them vigorously. All alleged payola violations should be taken seriously and investigated.
"The airwaves belong to the public, not the highest bidder," Adelstein said. "The vitality of radio is sapped when music is selected based on bribes rather than merit . . . We owe it to the American public, music lovers and creative artists--the ones who are hurt the most--to end this deception."
Additional reporting by Susan Butler in New York.