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Should we organize another "Day of Silence"?

Posted on: 04/20/2007

During the battle over the 2000-05 CARP decision, perhaps the most effective single element in our effort to get a viable royalty rate for the industry was the May 1, 2002, media event that we called the "Day of Silence."

(See RAIN coverage here; use the "Prev" and "Next" buttons at the top of the page to see other days’ coverage during the period.)

The event got amazing media coverage (here). "Hundreds of Internet radio stations plan to go silent Wednesday to protest proposed record-label royalty payments they say would endanger their industry,…" said a top-of-page-one-of -the-section article in USA Today.

"If you try to listen to your favorite Internet radio station on Wednesday and you don’t hear any music, don’t be surprised…" began a story in the NY Post.

According to Radio Paradise’s Bill Goldsmith, "I had as much listener feedback and participation that one day as I had had from a whole month of non-stop PSA-type announcements.
Day of Silence coverage in RAIN

Most of us who were involved at the time believe that event really turned the tide.

Within a few weeks of the "Day of Silence," the Librarian of Congress cut the royalty rate for Internet-only radio in half. (This option, by the way, is not an option this time under the revised statute. When the CARP was turned into a CRB in the 2004 Reform Act, the Librarian of Congress was removed from the decision process.)

Subsequently, Congress intervened and passed the "Small Webcaster Settlement Act" that paved the way for the establishment of a percentage-of-revenues royalty rate for the webcasters who needed it.

(April 2007 RAIN article on copyright law history is here.)

"Day of Silence" inspired by a 1927 promotion
From a fascinating web page called "Building the Broadcast Band" (to which I was first referred by Tuner2‘s David Frerichs), here is a truly insightful anecdote about how West Coast broadcasters galvanized public opinion in 1927, when the government was refusing to adequately regulate stations’ frequency assignments:


"New York and Chicago were worst hit by the increase in stations and congestion, but the effects were felt nationwide, especially with an increase in nighttime heterodynes.

"In the West, one group of stations staged a novel demonstration in support of the restoration of government controls. According to the June, 1927 Radio Broadcast, ‘Between the hours of eight and nine February 11, KFI, and ten other Pacific Coast stations presented what they termed an Interference Hour.

"The stations were paired off and so changed their wavelengths as to interfere seriously with one another. After an hour of squeals, howls, indistinguishable announcements, and distorted music, the stipulated wavelengths were resumed, following which pleas were made from each of the stations in support of the radio bill before the Senate.’

"Congress reconvened in December, and work slowly began on the radio crisis… With the chaos radio sales had declined, and there was a sense that radio was being wasted. The whole country was watching."


And that’s exactly what we can accomplish again: The whole country can be watching if we work together as a group and do this right.

Proposal: "Day of Silence 2007" on May 8th
Therefore, I’d like to propose
the idea that webcasters coordinate a "Day of Silence" on Tuesday, May 8th — combined with a request to our listeners to use the silent time on that day to write their Congressional representatives and favorite journalists about their concerns.

Why do I recommend this approach as opposed to other less-dramatic actions like more banners and PSAs? Because a "Day of Silence" is a news story. Some webcasters are already running PSAs that contain a 10-second moment of silence. It’s dramatic and effective, and I really like it, but it’s not a news story.

How this fits in context
The "SaveNetRadio Coalition"
game plan involves a coordinated effort to get legislative relief from Congress before the bankruptcy-level retroactive royalty payments come due on May 15th.

Proposed calendar of events for SaveNetRadio campaign

April 19 Press Release to announce success of campaign thus far
April 30 SaveNet Radio benefit concert (Washington DC)
May 1 SaveNetRadio "Hill walk"
May 8 Internet radio Day of Silence (proposed)
May 15 Deadline for Congressional action before rates go into effect

Hopefully, sometime during this period we will be able to get a bill sponsored in Congress, attach co-sponsors to it, and get a Congressional hearing on the topic scheduled.

If we are successful in doing so, the May 8th date may be perfect for urging Congress to bring the bill to a successful vote prior to the May 15th royalty due date.

Total silence, or something else?
Five years ago,
we played this up as an industry-wide "Day of Silence," but in fact there was a group of webcasters that did not go silent at all — to take one example, some ran a nationwide all-day talk show produced by WOLF FM‘s Steve Wolf focused on the issues surrounding the CARP ruling and its aftermath.

From a marketing perspective, I had a problem with this approach. "Day of Silence" is a great name, and a talk show isn’t silence!

On the other hand, it was a great show — informative and insightful — and it gave consumers something to listen to, so they were less tempted to simply go to one of the non-participating webcasters that day to get something to listen to at work.

So, this time, I think there might be a creative solution possible that (A) keeps our listeners engaged for the day but (B) still allows the event to live nprup to its name.

Here is my suggestion, subject to your input, and using our own property as an example, of how this would play: AccuRadio would "go silent" on May 8th, with a homepage that asks our listeners to call their Congressmen that day (and with links to help them do it).

But we would also include a link to a major public radio station’s stream of an all-day talk show on the topic. Depending on the needs of the hosting public radio station(s), this talk show might be simulcast on the terrestrial station(s), or alternatively might be an Internet-only (and HD) stream.

Would any public radio stations care to volunteer to host or co-host this effort? Could we get live, in-studio performances by supporting musicians?

Will the major players participate?
In 2002,
the radio stations that "went silent: were largely the "small commercial webcasters" group and large number of hobbyists and other Live365 stations. (Although we did get support in the form of PSAs and banners from Susquehanna and Cox stations and others including London’s Virgin Radio.)

This time, to pull it off properly, I believe we’d really need the support — in terms of actually going silent for a day — of some major terrestrial broadcasters (e.g., Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Cox, Entercom, and/or Bonneville) and large webcasters (e.g., AOL, Yahoo!, Pandora, and/or MTV) as well.

For the big players, the revenue loss associated with a day of silence would be much greater, I realize — but the potential cost of inappropriately-high royalties (or of shutting down their webcasting efforts) is in the millions of dollars, which is also much greater. By comparison, a day’s loss of revenues is a drop in the bucket.

Make it a global effort?
Some confusion remains as to how, exactly, the CRB ruling affects streams delivered to U.S. listeners from international webcasters. (Our understanding is that, in general, royalty obligations occur in the countries where the listening occurs, under that country’s rates.) To clarify this, ideally the Day of Silence could go global!

Webcasters with large U.S. audiences, like Last.fm in the UK, Iceberg Radio in Canada, and Triple J in Australia, could make huge waves by participating (or at least by cutting off their streams to U.S. listeners). Not only would this create good relationships among webcasters around the world ("We’ll support you in your efforts someday, too!"), but the webcasters might get valuable press coverage in their own countries.

Conclusion: What do YOU think?
For those webcasters who have advertising commitments to fulfill, let me suggest that your total TTSL for the week might be just as high under this plan as otherwise: If you typically stream 10,000 hours of programming per day, it’s true you might lose one day’s worth of hours of listening, but I believe you might pick up that many additional hours later in the week as a result of the press coverage this event would generate.

Let’s make this a group decision. Send me your feedback using the form immediately below. Monday, we’ll post many of your comments and see if a consensus is forming.

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