Payola Payola, in the music industry, is the illegal practice of payment or other incentive by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on the radio in which the song is presented as being part of the normal day’s broadcast. In the ass, records were taking over from live performance as the principle way to hear and sell music. Labels recognized that popular disc Jockeys could Influence sales. They were well aware that teenagers had cash, loved rock ‘n’ roll, listened to the radio, and were easily convinced to purchase hit records by popular deejays.
The question was how best to exploit the market. At the time, a major record company might release upwards of a hundred singles a week and maybe 10 percent of those would become hits, or at least make a profit for the label. Radio airplay was the easiest way for an artist to get exposure and sell records, but with singles pouring Into the stations at such a fast rate, labels needed a way to distinguish their songs from those of their competitors. Since this was before the era of MET and flashy promotions, bribery seemed the way to go.
Record labels hired promoters who paid deejays to feature songs by favored artists. Alan Freed was one of the biggest disc jockeys charged with payola. People say he was singled out specifically due to the controversial mix of black and white music he played on his station. Freed pleaded guilty to two charges of commercial bribery, for which he received a fine and a suspended sentence. He lost his own show on the radio station, then he was fired from the station altogether in 1959. Freed also was fired from his television show. In 1960, payola was made illegal.