New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s charges against Warner Music Group run along similar lines to those hefted against Sony BMG Music earlier this year: inappropriate lavish gifts, trips and cash, all in the quest of radio airplay.
The state names Warner Bros. Records, Reprise, Lava and Atlantic as offending labels in the investigation, saying that “in recent years, a significant portion of Warner Music’s radio promotion dollars has been used to purchase airplay and create hit records.”
One of the primary offenders named is Dave Universal, former PD at Entercom top 40 WKSE—who was subsequently fired from the station. According to Warner employees questioned in the suit, “Universal always required something in exchange for adding a song. It was a game that you either played or you didn’t have a shot at getting your records on the air.” Perks for Universal included personal trips, a laptop computer, concert and sporting event tickets and other promotional items for his personal use.
Other uses of label money to award radio stations for airplay include painting a station’s logo on its vehicle, paying to upgrade a station’s jingle packages, and the hiring of a new voiceover talent.
One local Warner promotion manager said, “A lot of the Clear Channel stations that I deal with who have been without any real promotional budget for years are often some of the most active” in seeking promotional support. Stations named are WKKF Albany, WWHT Syracuse, WPXY Rochester and WKGS Rochester – all top 40 outlets.
Other promotional bribes include trips to “a glamorous city,” front row tickets, computers, TVs, artist meet-and-greets, autographed items, iPods, gift certificates, posters, t-shirts and CDs. Spitzer and the state collected evidence of a flyaway to London, flyaway to Santa Monica, to Paris with three mini-iPods, Home Depot gift cards, American Express gift checks and more.
An Atlantic regional promotion manager stated, “We have done electronics in the past, digital cameras, in an effort to get an artist’s music on the radio.”
Indie promoters are also discussed in the filing, stating that at a time when Clear Channel, Infinity, Entercom and Emmis all had exclusive arrangements with promoters, Warner Music’s indie buget could be as much as $100,000 a song.