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Music as Media 6: Payola

Music as Media 6: Payola

Author: Amee Wittbrodt
  • Understand, analyze, evaluate, and use different types of print, digital, and multimodal media.
  • Critically analyze information found in electronic, print, and mass media and use a variety of these sources.
  • Gain an understanding of how radio stations use payola and voicetracking.
  • Compose a paragraph consisting of an education, well-informed opinion.

This packet is 6th in a series about music as media.

This packet gives a quick overview of how radio stations use payola and voicetracking to minimize cost. Students will explore these topics and then write an informed opnion paragraph.

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Background Information

In 1959, many Americans were surprised to find out that many radio station disc jockeys (DJs) had been paid by record companies to play certain songs. Some people later claimed that rock and roll would never have become financially successful in its early years if radio station employees had not taken money to play rock and roll songs. The words used to describe this situation was payola, a combination of the words “pay” and “victrola,” which is the old name for a record player.

A congressional subcommittee found that 335 DJs had been paid a total of over $260,000 in bribes to play certain songs. As a result, Congress passed a law that required disc jockeys and other radio station employees to announce on the air if they were being paid to play a certain song over the air. (This regulation is similar to the way a so-called “infomercial” on television resembles a regular television program, but must have announcements before and after saying that the television station was paid to broadcast it.)





Almost all of the music you hear on the radio is prerecorded, rather than live. You probably knew that. But did you know that some radio stations’ disc jockeys are also prerecorded? Technology called voice tracking allows radio stations to pre-record an entire day’s broadcast. The disc jockey may make references to the local weather, but may in fact be thousands of miles away. The disc jockey may make references to the local radio station, but actually might be producing voice tracks for hundreds of stations. The DJ may also talk about some of the events of the day, such as a football game or store grand opening, but the program may have been recorded several days before it is broadcast. The local radio station simply inserts the voice track in the song list on a computer, and the computer takes over, playing music, commercials, and the DJ’s voice.


Pay to Play: Music Industry's Dirty Little Secret

New York State Attorney General Conducted Two-Year Probe
Feb. 8, 2006


Source:, Thinking Critically About Music & Media

Writing Prompt

Choose one of the following questions to write an opinion paragraph about.
Write 10-15 sentences minimum.


1. Why do you think record companies are interested in paying disc jockeys to play their songs on the radio?

2. Think of your favorite radio station and the songs it plays. Would it bother you if you discovered that one of the reasons the station played a certain song was because the station was being paid to play that song by the record company?

3. If you were a radio station DJ and a record company offered you money to play a certain song once a day for a month, would you take the money?

4. What is your opinion of voice tracking? Does it serve a purpose or is it totally dishonest?

5. Some people are opposed to what they consider to be the replacement of human beings by computers. If a computer can do a job more quickly or less expensively than a human being, who benefits? Who suffers?