I’m not proud to admit this, but in the summer of 1988 I accepted payola.
The whole thing reminds me of a dramatization I’d once seen on TV.
A record executive tried to coerce a DJ into playing a record. After he refused, they started playing hardball with Johnny Fever, a popular disc jockey at the Cincinnati radio station, WKRP.
Johnny Fever was the logical choice to break in the new music to his listeners.
He continually refused their payola: money, coke, hookers, candy. Fever was the epitome of radio ethics and the record company heavies could not break him. There was no way that Johnny was going to spin their records.
Years later, after the payola episode had long since retreated to the back of my memory, I was working at the Sam Goody record store in the local mall. 17-years old, a poor high-school punk always looking for an angle.
Then, one day at work, the phone rang.
“Thank you for calling Sam Goody at the Laurel Center! This week, the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing is on sale, album or cassette, for $7.99. Goody Got It! This is sales associate, Shawn Collins, how may I help you?”
“Hi, this is Brad* from Arista Records. How are you doing today, Shawn? Is it busy down there at Sam Goody?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess it’s sorta busy.”
“Well Shawn, I get the impression that you know what’s HOT in music. You’ve heard of Taylor Dayne, right?”
“No, I don’t know that one. Is that, like, classical music, or something?”
“Ha! Ha! Anyway Shawn, I was wondering if you could do me a little favor. Would you be the person that reports the Top 20 album sales to Q107 and WKYS?”
“Uh, yeah. Usually that’s me.”
“Great! Say Shawn, what type of music do you listen to… R&B, Hard Rock, Country?”
“No, I don’t really like that kind of stuff. I’m into the new stuff, like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Psychedelic Furs, you know?” I had no idea where this was leading, clueless about what was going on.
“How about I send you a package with the new Church tape and some other promos?”
“Uh, that would be great.”
“Okay Shawn, and then maybe you can do that little favor for me,” his voice sounding more serious. “When the guys from the radio station call for the Top 20, why don’t you replace #17 with the Taylor Dayne record. Then, move it up a couple of spots each week until it gets to the top.”
That week, when the radio stations called, I planted the Taylor Dayne record at #17. Nobody questioned a thing. The folowing Saturday, my first package showed up. I got my Church tape, plus the new Patti Smith tape.
Eventually, Taylor Dayne did reach the top of the charts. If you bought some of her music back then, I helped trick you into it.
The whole experience provided me with cynicism and music. I still have some of the vinyl I got during that summer, but the tapes are long gone.
*I don’t remember what the name of the guy from Arista was.