Spanish-language broadcasters bring the fight to Capitol Hill.

“It’s like throwing a surprise party for a friend, and at the end of the night your friend charges you for an appearance fee.”

That’s how Spanish Broadcasting System VP/GM Frank Flores described the push by record labels to impose a performance fee on radio stations. Flores’s comparison, which was a reference to the roughly $2 billion in music sales that the Free Radio Alliance claims is earned by the record industry as a result of the free airplay of their songs on commercial radio, was made during a May 5 panel discussion by leading Spanish-language radio broadcasters, which I moderated. The broadcasters gathered on Capitol Hill to brief Congressional staffers on the potential impact of a performance royalty on their stations. Flores went on to say that "we have worked real hard with the record labels and the artists.  And to be honest with you, a lot of these artists wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for these radio stations."

Univision Radio’s top morning show host, Eddie "Piolín" Sotelo, and ten other Spanish-language radio broadcasters told a room of Congressional staffers that a new performance tax on local radio stations could mean bankruptcy and more job losses for many Hispanic stations. “The performance tax would be the added and final nail in the coffin for these small broadcasters like ours, and I think that it is just absolutely ludicrous that the record companies are trying to sort of bite the hand that feeds them," Amador Bustos of Bustos Media told the audience.

Border Media’s Miguel Villarreal noted the potential for more layoffs in the radio business. After the panel discussion, the broadcasters walked the halls of Congress through the afternoon, meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

The event was organized by the Free Radio Alliance, which opposes passage of HR 848, the bill which would impose a performance fee on radio stations that air recorded music. Under the terms of the bill, 50% of the royalties would go directly to the recording labels. After the panel discussion, the broadcasters met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus throughout the afternoon. According to one broadcaster, the broadcasters were able to obtain additional support in opposition to the bill and in favor of the Local Radio Freedom Act, a non-binding resolution opposing the performance fee.