US: FCC probe targets Spanish-language stations

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jan 25 22:34:24 UTC 2009

FCC probe targets Spanish-language stations

Jeremy Roebuck
January 24, 2009 - 8:37PM

McALLEN — The Federal Communications Commission has launched an
investigation into payola allegations at some of the Rio Grande
Valley's most popular Spanish-language radio stations. But the
commission's enforcement bureau remains tight-lipped about the extent
and exact nature of the probe. The FCC recently sent out letters of
inquiry questioning whether disc jockeys accepted cash payments or
other gifts in exchange for guaranteeing radio airplay to certain
bands or record labels, a company spokesman for one radio conglomerate
said. Investigators have also met with certain radio personalities and
station managers.

"We're one of a number of broadcasters who have received letters from
the FCC on this matter," said Entravision Communications Corp. -
owners of local Spanish-language stations KNVO-FM Jose 101.1 and
KKPS-FM Que Pasa 99.5 - in a written statement.

"We are looking into the matter and will respond and cooperate with
the FCC as appropriate."

Representatives from Univision Radio - which owns KGBT-FM 98.5,
KTBQ-FM Recuerdo 96.1, and KGBT-AM La Tremenda 1530 - declined to
comment on whether they also received the inquiry letters.

An FCC spokeswoman would not divulge a list of stations that had been
targeted or say whether the investigation centered on the stations
themselves or specific employees.

"It's our policy not to discuss ongoing investigations," she said.


Federal law requires any payments received in exchange for the promise
of airplay to be disclosed over the airwaves. Failure to comply is a
federal crime punishable by up to one year in prison. The FCC can also
fine a station up to $10,000 per violation, according to commission

Station managers and programming directors often go to great lengths -
including having employees sign notarized affidavits denying they are
accepting gifts - to ensure their employees are following FCC rules.

But accusations of payola have long dogged the Valley's
Spanish-language radio stations, which operate in one of the top
regional markets for Hispanic-themed programming.

It's an environment in which disc jockeys have helped crown stars like
Tejano act Grupo Mazz and Norteño group Siggno through frequent
airplay and where their influence can make the difference between
getting heard and going nowhere.

And during some periods, that influence has come with a price, said
state Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, who represented two local deejays
in payola-related litigation as a young lawyer in the mid-'90s.

"You had all these little bands - a step up from mariachis, really -
trying to break into the music scene, but they had to pay to get the
airplay," he said. "It was deep corruption on a massive scale."

Between 1992 and 1994, three former employees of KGBT-FM and KIWW-FM
filed separate lawsuits alleging they had been fired from their jobs
for reporting, failing to lie about or refusing to participate in
payola schemes.

Tichenor Media Systems, the company that owned the stations at the
time, denied the allegations and settled the suits out of court. The
FCC never took public action against the stations.


But the specter of payola in Spanish-language radio has once again
reared its head.

Late last year, the FCC launched a nationwide investigation into
accusations that one of the top Latin labels in the country routinely
paid stations and deejays to feature its artists on the air, industry
trade newsletter Communications Daily reported in October.

The original allegations stemmed from a November 2006 lawsuit filed in
Los Angeles Superior Court by former Fonovisa Records executive Daniel

Mireles claimed his superiors fired him after he refused to negotiate
payments ranging from about $3,000 to $10,000 a month for about 50
radio personalities and program directors across the nation in
exchange for increased airplay.

Although the Mireles lawsuit, which was settled out of court, does not
mention any of the stations to which he purportedly arranged payments,
the list somehow made its way to the FCC, said Frank Montero, a
broadcast law attorney.

Montero and his colleagues are now representing stations who have
received FCC letters of inquiry regarding the Mireles suit.

"The lawsuit has directly or indirectly been the trigger into a very
large investigation into payola at Spanish-language stations," he
said. "These letters are almost cookie-cutter and all refer to the
Mireles suit."

It remains unclear whether the Mireles lawsuit is connected with the
probe of Valley media.

FCC investigators refused to confirm either investigation when
contacted for comment.

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