Whatever happened to …

… payola?

This was going to be another twofer but part one turned out to be pretty lengthy. So, here it is.

Thanks to Doug McDowall for bringing up this topic. It came as a fun?thought about my blogging routine.

I’ve been accused of many things but this truly was a new one. It got me thinking of the real world history of payola and the movie “American Graffiti” came immediately to mind. Not because of any sense of payola but it really showed how important radio was to listeners in the 1950s and 1960s.

Growing up, listening to radio wasn’t allowed in our house and I really didn’t get all that immersed in music until my own high school experience. Our station of choice was CKLW, the Big 8, from the “Motor City”. It was broadcast from Windsor but there was no way you could ignore the Detroit traffic reports, advertising, and the news focus.

Whatever happened to … the Big 8?

The music and disk jockey banter influenced every thing we did as teenagers and so when I first learned of the concept of payola in that industry, it made sense. If a promoter wanted his/her clients to make money, he/she would pay a disk jockey money to play their music more frequently. If the radio station didn’t disclose that, the concept of payola had clicked in. The more a song was played, the more the audience expected to hear it and would call in and ask for it to be played more. The money making concept was there – the more it would be played, the more money the artist would make, and the more commission the manager would get.

Since the industry revolved around “The Top 40”, it would undoubtedly be difficult for a new song to break into the list. You either had to have a great song or find some other way to get the music played and that’s where the problem arose.

For me, Alan Freed was the most notable name that comes to mind from that time. Dick Clark, who hosted American Bandstand, was also investigated.

And here I thought that Big Jim Edwards just played records in his basement and then played his favourites on the radio for those listening.

As for my blogging habit, it’s been just a hobby for me. I was highly involved in Mathematics in school to the detriment of developing writing skills so I try to catch up now by writing things. I even had to look up this rule during the composition of this post.

It has got me invites to write for others as well but nothing that has turned into a money making experience. Sorry to burst your bubble, Doug. I’m just an amateur hack.

For a Sunday morning, how about sharing your thoughts about payola in the comments below?

  • do you have remembrances of payola and how it affected the music industry of the 1950s and 1960s?
  • did you watch “American Graffiti”? (if not, do yourself a favour and do so)
  • what television show was inspired by “American Graffiti”?
  • did you ever watch the movie “The Hit Man”?
  • do you remember any other big names involved in payola?
  • does it happen even today?
  • do you remember The Big 8 and its influence on popular music?
  • do you remember your favourite radio station from your teenage years? What was it?
  • how important was music to you and your group of peers back in the day? Does it have the same importance today?
  • as you read this, do you have this jingle going through your mind?

Was this really a Rock and Roll station?

  • do you remember American Bandstand? Did you know there was a Canadian Bandstand?
  • a favourite Sunday morning listen for me are reruns of “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40” on 70s on 7 on SiriusXM. Could the format of a Top 40 make it today with all the listening choices that we have? Just listening to this show is a reminder of how much things have changed
  • what would musical choices be like today without the payola phenomenon?
  • Doug’s conversation went on to talk about The Payola$ which will be a topic for a future post. ”Payola” was an inspiring enough moment for me for today

That was a fun post to write; lots of research to back what I thought I could remember. 

I’d be interested to read your remembrances of older radio and the influence that payola might have had on you and your listening preferences.

This is a regular Sunday morning topic around here. You can read all of the past posts here. And, please trust me, I haven’t made a penny on any of them.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *