When I first met David Rehr, the longtime combative head of the broadcasters' lobby, he was in his element.
The setting was The Radio Conclave, a conference of broadcasting professionals that took place in Minneapolis in 2008. I came to face off with Rehr on a panel about the Performance Rights Act, pending legislation that would close the corporate radio loophole and require AM/FM stations to pay for their content just as webcasters and satellite radio broadcasters do. Joining me was SoundExchange General Counsel Michael Huppe; joining Rehr was National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Radio Board Chair Steve Newberry.
This was not my crowd, and they were not inclined to hear the message I came to deliver: radio should compensate artists when it uses their tracks sell ads on their stations. The radio audience naturally sided with Rehr, and their loudest cheer accompanied Rehr's now infamous declaration. When I stated that I believed we could work out a royalty system fair to all and offered to begin negotiations with the NAB immediately, Rehr proclaimed:
"I'd rather cut my throat than negotiate on this."
In the room, this line played very well, but back in Washington...not so much. It was indicative of a stubborn approach that had been costing the NAB credibility on Capitol Hill for years. Rehr's comment reverberated for months; even as recently as March 2009, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told Newberry at a hearing, "Don't cut your throat here."
One week ago, David Rehr resigned as CEO of NAB. While I wish David well in his career, I wish even more for new NAB leadership that will embrace the partnership of music and radio as a partnership of mutual respect.
The bottom line is corporate terrestrial radio uses artists' recordings without permission or compensation. All that U.S. artists seek is what their counterparts have in every developed country in the world — fair payment for the music that is the basis of the $16 billion music radio industry.
So my message to the NAB's next leader is the same message I gave its last. Come to the table and let's work out a fair solution for all. And I promise, no blood will be shed.