Good afternoon. Thank you very much for giving me some time to speak to you. I want to lend my apologies to those of you who were expecting T Bone Burnett. I am the minor star substitute in his place. My name is Tift Merritt and I am a recording artist. You probably havent heard of me because Im not on your radio. That being the case I need to give you a little background. I am on Lost Highway records, home also of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. My debut record, Bramble Rose was released last June. Time Magazine named it the #6 best record of 2002; Billboard called me a major new artist". CMT, the national country music network, regularly played my video. I performed on David Letterman; here I am in a Vanity Fair shoot. Of my record, the associated press wrote: There isnt going to be a better debut album this year. The single is an irresistibly catchy confection that would be playing on all car radios this summer in a more perfect world.
I want to make very clear that I am not here to whine that Im not queen of the airwaves.
Im here as a North Carolinian. My band and I all call North Carolina home, and the support of our North Carolina fans has allowed us to accomplish what we have. Im here because the radio has been a friend to me, like my record collection has. Chris Stamey, a NC record producer put the public airwaves in perspective for me: A diversified radio dial to acts as a kind of collective consciousness of America. So when you sweep through the stations, you take a pulse of the country, not just the pulse of a few people on board a conglomerate. I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine in which the President of Clear Channel, Lowry Mays, stated that his company is not interested at all in music or songs or DJs. Theyre in advertising. That is why I am here. I very distressed that the FCC would feel comfortable allowing the responsibility of the public airwaves to fall the hands of people who care nothing about content. And were debating handing them more allowing the waves to become overwhelmed by the bottom line.
Im also here because these regulations do affect my career. I dont live by a pool. I am trying to make pay roll. I could very well be a casualty of these decisions. Let me show you.
Last summer, with my band, I was opening for Willie Nelson here in Cary at the outdoor pavilion Regency Park. Our local country station, WQDR, was involved with promoting and presenting the show. WQDR asked me to appear on the air, to perform a few songs live. I was happy to do it. The DJs were as kind and enthusiastic as they could be. After the performance, we talked about how many people in NC were fans of mine and that in fact I was selling as many records in NC as the folks regularly on their broadcast mainstream country stars like Toby Keith or Alan Jackson. Both after my performance on air as well as the performance with Willie Nelson, people called the station and asked to hear me I know this because a lot of them came up and told me, or emailed my website. Many folks gave me a full report of talking to the station. Above and beyond that, I was making inroads on the national country scene; one might venture to think that my hometown station would be supportive, if not ecstatic to have me in their programming.
I was never played. Not twice. Not once.
I want to see this not through my eyes, but through my fathers for a minute. My father naturally believes: If youre good enough, youll be on the radio. However, in the days following the WQDR incident, a black cloud began to form in his mind and he began to question the radio:
- The station had received numerous requests for my tune.
- He could drive by the station on his way to the grocery store and could not understand why I was on national television but not on the station up the street.
- The station was aware that I was selling mainstream numbers in the stations listening area, and competitive with their playlist.
- The DJs WANTED to play my record, but people who called in to request me were told that management had to change the programming, which never happened.
Advocates for deregulation claim that airplay is place of healthy competition. How can that be true in this case?
Large radio conglomerates claim that programming is localized. How can that be true in this case?
Deregulation proponents claim that the airwaves are still public. How, when the station disregards the listeners in signal range, can that be true?
In fact, getting on the radio has very little to do with quality performance, hard work, fans, or being good enough. Which to me makes it sound like getting on the radio is down right opposite of the open market or the pulse of America. A few are keeping the radio for themselves. I want to make it very clear: I run a business, not a star game with secret ingredients. My realistic, small business as a musician was boxed out of competition in this situation. The fewer the radio station owners, the less the concern about content, the more monotony on every playlist, the more I will continue to be locked out. Youre going to lose thousands of people like me people who employ musicians, lawyers, technicians, CPAs, booking agents, managers, hotels, fed-ex, people who deliver 500 people to your Main Street on a any given night. But what is most important is that these peoples music will be silenced by a management playlist. I will leave you with an appeal to my local NC politicians, to remind you of just a few musicians from NC John Coltrane, Roberta Flack, Thelonius Monk, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Max Roach. NC musicians have helped to shape this nations musical heritage, and helped make this state unique, cherished and treasured by millions of people around the world. If you give young musicians no possibility of making a living, if you give the radio waves to people with no regard for music, if you stifle musical outlets with the unfettered interest in the bottom line by a few, you will scatter the next generation of NC talent. They will rightly pick up something more feasible than an instrument to voice their heartache and their joy.
Thank you for your consideration.