Hispanic B’casters Speak Out Against Performance Act

Lazer Broadcasting is a significant player in the Hispanic radio world on the West Coast. The Oxnard, Calif.-based operation, headed by president/CEO Alfredo Plascencia, owns and operates 18 Spanish language radio stations in 10 California markets, plus two affiliated stations in the Medford, Ore. and Lancaster, Calif. markets. On the face of it, things are good. But Plascenica is worried about business. And he’s worried about how he’s going to keep the lights on.

Appearing Tuesday morning (May 5) before a Congressional staff briefing in a meeting room in the Rayburn Building, Plascenica is one of 10 men and a woman all running Spanish language stations, talking about how the Performance Royalty Act (H.R. 848, S. 379) would affect their businesses if it were passed and they had to pay for the recorded works they broadcast over the airwaves. Already this year, he has been forced to lay off 30 percent of his staff. “Royalty fees would force me out of business,” he said. “Some of our stations would have to go off the air,” he said with concern.

The economic downfall in the United States has been a hardship on all businesses, observed Francisco Montero, but “Hispanic radio stations have been especially hard hit. The loss of anyone of these stations is crippling to its community,” said Montero, a co-managing partner with the law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth in Washington.

“To assess a tax on them would push them off the cliff. This is clearly the wrong bill at the wrong time,” observed Amador Bustos. “Over the past year we have reduced our staff about 30 percent. The notes and covenants from the bank are being watched in a very close way right now,” reported the chairman and CEO of Bustos Media, a privately held Sacramento-based group, founded in 2003 and which now owns and operates 22 radio and three television stations in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. “The performance tax would add the final nail in the coffin for Hispanic broadcasters,” stressed Bustos.  

Maria De Leon agreed that having to pay performance fees “would defiantly affect my business.” She is the owner and GM of KXTD-AM in Tulsa, Okla. and has been running the operation for a dozen years. Three years ago she bought out her partner and it’s a solo effort for her now. “I am only one AM station.” De Leon recognized her struggle with a single, AM station but also the achievement of coming to Washington to talk to members of Congress about the impact of the pending legislation. “I am very proud to here with…” her voice trailed off for a minutes, a smile crossed her face as she looked up and down the panel, and continued, “a bunch of men.” It was clear that while she was enjoying the expected struggle of running an AM standalone, she wasn’t looking forward to seeing any new bills in the mail box.

Frank Flores, VP/GM for the Miami-based Spanish Broadcasting System, a longtime family run, publicly owned group of radio stations that, in the last five years has successfully expanded into television and syndication, said he was more confused about performance fees the more he learned about it. Why would labels and artists want radio to pay fees after it already interviewed the artists, talked about their concerts and played their music, generating record sales?, he asked. He likened the process to “a bunch of friends getting together to have a big party for one friend and then, after the party is over, that friend turns to his hosts and demands an appearance fee!”