Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


Douglas Abell

First Page



Promotional strategies involving payola --the payment of cash, drugs, or any other consideration to radio stations and their employees in exchange for airplay-- are generally illegal under federal law. Theoretically, these laws prohibit only undisclosed payola practices. Payola scandals of the late 1980s, however, illustrate that such practices have not ended. In fact, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the "Act") created an environment in which pay-for-play, a disclosed and fully legal form of payola, could thrive. The possibility of returning to practices reminiscent of illegal payola has, however, sparked debate as to whether record labels should ever pay radio stations to play their music, legally or illegally. This Note resolves the debate by examining the history, current practices, and legality of record companies' promotional practices. This Note concludes that the music business may be better served by engaging in explicit payments for broadcasts which are properly disclosed under the law.