A new royalty rate fee went into effect January 1 based on a ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board. It impacts all U.S. internet radio stations that play music and snuffed one popular station.
“Rates will be going up significantly,” says Rick O’Dell, founder/operator of Chicago’s smooth jazz station. “Sadly, it’s not an increase I can absorb.”
O’Dell pulled the plug on smoothjazzchicago.net last week, ending a three-decade tradition that started on terrestrial radio and continued as a webcast for the past three years.
The rate increase also seems to be choking the life out of Live365, a popular internet radio network that offers some 260 “human curated” indie stations — an international platform that showcases diverse formats, such as “Folk Alley,” “Surf Roots,” “DJ Out There,” “Psychedelic FM,” and “Alt Rock is Dead.”
Radio and Internet News reported that most of the staff at Live365 were let go last week and the station surrendered its offices in Foster City, California. At press time the remaining staffers ran Live365 from their respective homes, but their prospects for 2016 look bleak.
A veteran San Diego radio jock says that because he is facing fees “six times greater” than they were last year, his nine-year-old website that originates from “a funky little cottage in Ocean Beach,” may also be going dark.
Last week, Rich “Brother Robbin” Werges sent out an S.O.S. about his oldies station richbroradio.com. “Elvis may have to leave the building,” he wrote to listeners on his free website.
Werges arrived in San Diego in 1969 to work as a “Boss Jock” at KGB (1360 AM) and later played the hits at KCBQ-AM, K-Best, “Modern Oldies” KCBQ-FM, and the Walrus under the name Rich Brother Robbin.
While oldies stations on traditional radio now favor ’80s and ’90s, richbroradio.com lives mostly in the ’50s and ’60s.
Richbroradio.com even sounds like a ’60s Top 40 station, with old jingles from some 50 now-defunct pop powerhouses, such as WABC, KHJ, and B-100, and plays hits by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel.
But unlike other Internet oldies webcasts, Werges makes a point to play the less-familiar hits that many people have long forgotten or didn’t even know existed. He mixes in obscure pop songs, such as like “The Israelites,” “Itchycoo Park,” “Psychotic Reaction,” and “Alone Again Or,” with cheesy pop goo by Neil Sedaka, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Goldsboro, and Mama Cass.
The recent increase in Internet royalties was requested by recording artists and record labels. But it was the larger web monoliths like Pandora, with its 80 million monthly users, who the artists often sited as unfair.
The hundreds of small, nonprofit websites like richbroradio.com that are largely operated as a labor of love, do not seem to get slammed by the artists and their labels as rip-offs, as do Spotify and Pandora.
Nevertheless, even the small one-man operations like richbroradio must now face the music.
Werges is solely responsible for keeping richbroradio.com on the air. He does it without any paid advertising. Loyal listeners help defer the costs.
“But I still foot at least half the bill myself,” Werges tells the Reader. “The hundreds of small operations like mine that are going to be forced offline by these increases is staggering. If these rate hikes stay, a giant percentage of stations like mine will go silent.”
Werges suggests richbroradio.com is a good thing for some of the old pop stars he plays.
“Some of the artists who are complaining don’t seem to understand that when sites like mine who are playing their music go away, they aren’t going to get anything. If it wasn’t for stations like mine, Bobby Vee and Neil Sedaka wouldn’t get exposed anywhere, and people will completely forget about them.”
Werges, who retired from traditional radio last year, launched his first aggressive fund drive last week. He’s asking to raise “at least $2500, which will cover about 60 percent of my [annual] costs.” He says he needs to pay a consortium of licensing agencies that include ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Sound Exchange.
Radio Nigel, a locally based “classic alternative” webcast station operated by longtime local jock Steve West was around from 2005 to 2010. Werges launched richbroradio in 2007.