August this year will mark 15 years since IRIE FM, the world’s first 24/7-reggae radio station, commenced broadcasting from studios at the Grove Music Complex in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Many regard the birth of IRIE FM as the most significant development in the promotion of reggae music. One thing is for sure; the business of Jamaican music must now be taken very seriously based on the phenomenal success of this station.

After only 5 months in operation, Grove Broadcasting Company/IRIE FM was honoured by Investors Choice Magazine as the New Business of the Year for 1990.

In September of this year one of the most recognisable media brands worldwide, MTV, will launch a channel dedicated to Caribbean music and lifestyle. This is another clear demonstration of reggae’s business value. In the past few years in Jamaica we have also witnessed the birth of several local cable music channels like RE-TV, a few of which have definitely captured a significant share of the youth market, and are proving to be forces to be reckoned with.

The music and entertainment industry is nothing without the media. The media is the main vehicle for the promotion and transmission of entertainment content. So significant is the media to the entertainment industry that many persons have been misguided and/or mislead into abusing their positions in media, by indulging in the parasitic practice of payola.

In Jamaica today it is no secret within the music industry that many of our popular radio disc jockeys will not play new music unless they are paid very large sums of money to do so. In fact the situation is so bad that some artistes and music producers actually believe they have to pay these parasites to get radio exposure. This is not so by any means. I happen to know of very successful music producers who have been around for many years and who have never paid a radio disc jockey for airplay.

At a time when local cable TV channels now offer far more media exposure for new music and new artistes, the wisdom of paying for radio-play must certainly be questioned. One would think that it would be much wiser to spend payola money on producing a music video and building a website. The upcoming MTV Caribbean music and lifestyle channel could take Jamaican music up a notch internationally. In this new environment the role of our local cable music channels will definitely become far more significant than that of local radio. Think twice before wasting your money on radio payola.

Cable and television broadcasting is not, however, immune to the payola disease. Video music programmers are also known to demand money for rotation of videos. Payola has always existed in the music industry; however, it will thrive better in an environment where there is little respect for music as a business. When there is more respect for the entertainment business, we will attract more educated and skilled media operators instead of employing persons with very little training, and subsequently sub-standard salaries. These low salaries encourage payola.

The Jamaican and international media landscape is changing rapidly, partly due to changing tastes in entertainment and partly because of the emergence of new technologies. Traditional media as well as new media such as the Internet will continue to be very significant parts of the music and entertainment industries. With the rapid changes taking place also comes new opportunities for promotion. Payola is not the only way forward.