Gimme "Indie" Rock

Another payola settlement promises us better, braver radio. Let's not get too excited just yet.

"Innovation is missing because even a declining radio industry has too much to protect," Calliano says. "And then there's the declining record industry, with these CDs they feel they must protect. We're obsessed with the delivery system—we are not obsessed with the content. And therein lies the problem."

Michael Bracy—policy director for the Future of Music Coalition, which has agitated on this issue for years—is more sanguine. Their organization has issued several reports criticizing media ownership and major label policies. He points to the issue's long gestation period, and argues that with a Republican majority on the FCC board, this deal was the best we could get. While he sees the indie half-hour as a new opportunity, he doesn't believe it's the essential piece. "The most important part of the deal is the agreement between the broadcasters and the independent community to say, 'This is how we're going to work together,' " Bracy says. "Anything has to be viewed with skepticism. Just because they put their names on a piece of paper doesn't mean it means anything. But the consent decree does have increased enforcement."

If radio does follow through on its promises, and the airwaves start reflecting a more vibrant mix of artists, perhaps it can repeat the success of the early '90s musical boom. When Billboard charts were first based entirely on sales and not partially on the ever-shady radio "spin," N.W.A.'s Niggaz4Life immediately rocketed to number 2. Several weeks later came Nirvana's Nevermind. Hip-hop, alternative, and country all took off when the charts came unshackled, and in a best-case scenario, something similar could happen again. Of course, this was before consolidation changed radio.

"Hopefully, this period of intensive investigation and new allegations will lead to better practices by the industry," Commissioner Adelstein says. "I'm already hearing from people in the industry that people are a lot more cognizant of the issue, and taking a lot greater care. I hope it's not just taking greater care they don't put things in e-mails."

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