According to federal law and FCC regulations, it is illegal for broadcast stations, program producers, and program suppliers to accept a payment in exchange for guaranteed airplay, otherwise known as "payola," without disclosing the details of the transaction to the audience.
In a new interview with MONTREALITY, veteran producer Sonny Digital claims that not only does "payola" exist in 2018, but it's actually a thriving practice.
"That song going crazy on the radio, that's payola. Somebody's paying the radio station to play the song. It's not like it's genuine plays or people genuinely likin the music and shit, tho," Sonny said. "I didn't believe it until somebody was like, 'Yo, next week, this song right here [is] going to be number one because they cut the bag on this and boom, next week it was number one."
Digital, who signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records in 2017, didn't name names in the interview, but he did cite Kanye West, who in late 2016, during his infamous Sacramento concert meltdown, said the following about Khaled's reign at radio:
“Is it just me or did you hear that song so many times—you say you wanna play ‘For Free’. Aye, aye. You know what it is, though? Because aye, I love Drake. I love Khaled. But they set that song up, bro. … Khaled, I know you got hitters from Miami. Please do not send them at my head. I just want to have a conversation about how we playing radio’s game. Khaled, you a real nigga. Khaled, you a real nigga. You got the keys.” —Kanye West
Despite (allegedly) taking money from the major label system in exchange for airplay, the radio broadcast industry is in a world of financial hurt at the moment. Earlier this month, iHeartMedia, the largest radio company in the United States, filed for bankruptcy. This comes after the company, according to CNBC, failed to make a $106 million interest payment on Feb. 1, which triggered "a 30-day grace period during which the company has tried to hammer out a deal with it bondholders."