Ed Christian lays out his case against a PRA deal (audio)


Ed Christian:

We had expected CEO Ed Christian to mention the potential NAB deal with RIAA/musicFirst over the Performance Rights Act (PRA) during his quarterly conference call for Saga Communications with Wall Street analysts. We were not disappointed.

The call began on a light note, with Christian and CFO Sam Bush wising a happy birthday to Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Ryvicker’s son, but declining to sing “The Birthday Song” because it would require payment of a performance royalty. Rim shot, please.

But later on Christian got down to business on his objections to the course being pursued by the NAB.

“I understand completely what a small group on the NAB Executive Committee did. I don’t understand quite why it was done in a vacuum and I don’t understand why the urgency.

Now, here’s what is probably troubling me – and I look at this, again, from years working on the Radio Music License Committee with ASCAP and BMI and the songwriters. But a few Members of Congress right now – the NAB has actually sanctioned, or [is] about to embrace a few Members of Congress to go forward and create a monopoly with which our industry will have to deal.

I think it’s bad for performers, quite candidly. Songwriters do have a choice, as I said, between ASCAP and BMI, and even if you’ve got to with SESAC. Under the legislation that’s being discussed, there can be no competition. No direct licensing by performers. So if a performer wanted to come to us and – if Don Henley from The Eagles came to us and said, look, I’ll license your station to perform my work – he can’t do that under this legislation.

Nobody’s really talking about that. Nobody can start up a competitor under the way the legislation is – nobody can go in and say, I’ll tell you what, my performers’ royalty company is only going to pay 20% to the record labels, rather than 50%, and we’re going to pay 80% to the performers, so come and be with me.

I think John Barger, who is my Vice Chairman of the Radio Music License Committee, put it so eloquently, when he said, ‘Congress is mandating that there will only be one taco stand.’ And I think we have to look at that and kind of wonder why everything is going on. There’s a lot of unanswered questions on that.

The other big thing that they’re talking about is FM radio in cell phones. Frankly, that’s too bad for AM stations, who work hard in the vineyards, labor there to provide news, weather and traffic information and emergency information. And they won’t be included.

You know, and as long as we’re on this, just another cogent thought for a point to ponder, I don’t think any NAB board member has seen this technology in action. If the chips are already in phones, which a number of manufacturers have them, but they just haven’t been activated here. If the chips are in the phones, why doesn’t somebody activate one and show us exactly what it would be like?

And the question I also have is will Lynn Claudy, who is really good at NAB technology [he is Senior Vice President of Science and Technology], will he help design minimum standards for this if it goes forward? Or will we be cursed with cell phones that work as well as hotel room AM radios?

Nobody is answering these questions and I think we’re running forward and saying. [Sentence ended abruptly.] As long as we’re including technology in this, what is the technology? What does it do? What does it sound like?

By the way, where will cell phones be used as radios? Certainly not at home. Not in your car. Not in your office, if you stream. And what will they sound like? Now these are really basic questions.

There are so many open issues on this that haven’t been addressed. When our trade and lobbying association is recommending a sea change for our industry, we really need to think things through and make sure that we get it right, because we only have one chance on this if we’re proceeding down that course.

That’s kind of my opinion on that.”