Congress to investigate record industry. Reports that promoters paid radio-station employees to give more air time to their records raises hackles on Capitol Hill

Congress is about to start looking into reports that payola has returned to the record industry. In the 1950s, the record industry was rocked by disclosures that record companies and the independent promoters they hired had been paying key radio-station employees to play certain records repeatedly, thus boosting sales.

Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D) of Tennessee announced Wednesday that the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is launching a probe into reports that record promoters -- some with alleged ties to organized crime -- have been paying off radio-station officials to get air time. The panel also will investigate claims promoters paid station executives to tell industry newspapers they were playing certain records more frequently than was the case.

Senator Gore said what he termed the ``new payola'' is ``alive and well and worse than ever.'' The general public should care about the situation, he said, because ``bribery is illegal and payola is illegal. Music should find its way onto the airwaves on the basis of merit.''

Congress is not the only institution examining the record industry. A federal grand jury in New York, surpervised by US Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, reportedly has ordered at least three major record companies to turn over documents pertaining to the use of independent record promoters.

Most major record companies have announced that they are halting or suspending the use of independent promoters in the wake of allegations of illegal activity. Companies that have halted or curtailed the use of promoters include CBS Records, Warner Communications, RCA/Ariola, Capitol-EMI, and MCA.

The companies deny knowledge of any wrongdoing. CBS's position is typical. ``CBS Records is unaware of any illegal activities involving the domestic independent record-promotion firms that we employ,'' a CBS official told the Associated Press. ``We are concerned, however, about negative impressions of our industry that may have arisen from the recent wave of allegations regarding independent promotion.''

As a result, the CBS official said, ``we are announcing our intention to curtail substantially our use of these services while the various investigations are taking place.''

Record promoters try to get a certain company's song played on local radio stations. The theory is that the more times the song is played on each station, the greater the record's sales. Industry analysts say that promoters are often paid based on the number of stations playing a record. Investigators are focusing on allegations that to get songs added to play lists, promoters gave station officials cash, drugs, and the services of prostitutes.

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