ASCAP "Radio War"

The Pittsburgh Press (December 31, 1940)

40,000 Songs Silenced –
By Earl B. Steele, United Press Staff Writer

New York, Dec. 31 –
The radio music war starts tonight at the stroke of the New Year.

From that moment, some 40,000 song hits of the past 56 years will be barred from 648 radio stations throughout the country.

“Auld Lang Syne,” “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here,” traditional salutes to the New Year, are not included, having gone into public domain from copyright expirations, but one immediate effect will be a switching in theme songs by practically all bands and programs.

Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a patriotic favorite, and all the rest of the compositions by Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Carrie Jacobs Bond, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart and the other modern American favorites are on the banned list.

Restrictions will be so severe that the radio networks will broadcast tomorrow’s football games from soundproof booths, lest they broadcast any of the songs played by college bands.

The songs will be broadcast, but not by stations of the National Broadcasting Co., Columbia Broadcasting System or independents which have refused to negotiate a new license with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, popularly known as ASCAP. Instead, these stations will use the songs of Broadcast Music, Inc., an ASCAP competitor which they organized recently to fight ASCAP and which hastily has acquired a sizable catalogue.

BMI claims to have 600,000 arrangements, including such new hits as “The Same Old Story,” “Practice Makes Perfect,” “I Give You My Word,” “There I Go,” and “So You’re the One.” The networks also expect to draw heavily on songs in public domain, and in preparation for the war, many tunes of the early 1920s, and older ones that grandma played on the organ have been dragged from the attics and embellished with modern rhythms.

The dispute is over fees charged by ASCAP, founded in 1914 by Victor Herbert and eight others to control the use of their own and other members’ songs. Herbert is said to have originated the idea while sitting in the old Shanley’s Restaurant here, listening to a band play his “Kiss Me Again,” and realizing that he was getting nothing for the performance.

U.S. to Step In

Since then, virtually all successful songwriters have belonged to ASCAP, and the fees collected from commercial music users – the radio industry alone claims to have paid it 26 millions in the past 17 years – have been distributed among members on the basis of seniority as well as the popularity of their songs.

Both sides ruled out the possibility of an 11th hour truce but the Department of Justice has announced it will step in Monday to file antitrust charges against all concerned – ASCAP, BMI, NBC and CBS.

‘Name’ Bands Suffer

“Big name” bands were the chief sufferers under the new restrictions because most of their arrangements were ASCAP – some bands valuing such categories at $50,000. For the last few weeks arrangers have been frantically making up non-ASCAP tunes for use on the networks.

Virtually every prominent band thus already has sufficient material in its files to permit to broadcast even under the ASCAP banner, although they will not be able to play many of the tunes with which they are closely identified through themes and signatures.

CBS barred the use of ASCAP music on all sustaining programs early in December and NBC followed suit last week. The prohibition did not, however, remove any band of consequence from the air.

Some band leaders whose forte is swing were especially hard hit because many of the trills and shadings of melodies used in swing have been copyrighted by ASCAP and no extemporaneous music will be permissible on the radio lest a copyrighted ASCAP strain creep in. ASCAP has listening and recording posts all over the country.

Mutual Broadcasting System, which also will be on a complete non-ASCAP basis beginning tomorrow, occupies a different position from the other major networks in the controversy. Mutual officials said that since the network was a co-operative one – with each station independently owning its own facilities but tied in on the network – there was no question of litigation between MBS and ASCAP.


Brooklyn Eagle (January 2, 1941)

ASCAP Calls Substitute Songs ‘Murder’ – BMI Sees Listeners ‘Satisfied’ After First Day
By Jo Ranson

A poll of Brooklyn and Long Island radio listeners today revealed that they were not too much aware of any change in the type of music heard on the airlanes yesterday, the first day that member stations of the National Association of Broadcasters did away with the vast reservoir of music in the library of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

More than 600 radio stations in this country substituted with Broadcast Music Inc.’s popular music and new arrangements of melodies in the public domain. Several listeners did say that they noticed an unusual number of old melodies on the air.

John G. Paine, general manager of ASCAP told the Brooklyn Eagle today:

I never heard such a murder of music in all my life.

He declared that BMI’s arrangements of the classics were badly done and that in many instances the tunes were not recognizable in their new dress.

Broadcasters Satisfied

The National Association of Broadcasters, daddy of BMI, on the other hand thought the new setup as iot bowed in yesterday was more than satisfactory.

Neville Miller, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said:

From all indications the public was eminently satisfied with the radio music yesterday, we are all extremely pleased with the way BMI met this emergency, and when the deadline came was in a good position to supply all types of music the public is accustomed to from hymns through symphonies and patriotic music to the most popular jazz.

All day long yesterday ASCAP’s recording machines were busy throughout the country recording their music of non-ASCAP stations with a view to discovering any infringements. More than 30 such machines had been placed in key cities and the transcriptions will be shipped to the New York headquarters for examination. The checking is to continue indefinitely. The board of directors of ASCAP will meet this afternoon to discuss the public’s reaction, if any, to the BMI music on the air.

BMI Takes $1,000,000 Insurance

BMI has taken out $1,000,000 in copyright insurance to protect artists, radio stations and advertising agencies against copyright infringement. According to Variety:

Seaboard and Underwriters companies took $250,000 each and Indemnity Insurance handled the remaining $500,000 of the total policy.

Morris Novik, director of Radio Communications for the City of New York, announced this morning that Irving Caesar, well-known popular songwriter and member of the board of directors of ASCAP, would commence his weekly series on “Songs of Safety” over WNYC, the municipal outlet, Sunday, Jan. 12 at 12:30 p.m., the same time the program occupied on WOR before the ASCAP-EBI fight began.

Bands Music Censored

The New Year’s Day Bowl football contests were broadcast yesterday with careful precautions taken to keep from the listeners’ ears the usual band music, for fear that any of it might prove to be part of the music copyrighted by ASCAP, with the result that the broadcasters might thus be compelled to pay the new ASCAP scale.

In an open letter to members of ASCAP, the National Association of Broadcasters sought to go over the heads of ASCAP by arguing that the association was controlled by a self-perpetuating board of directors and suggesting that the members take things into their own hands and overrule the board.

Elias Godofsky, general manager of WCNW, the Brooklyn station on 1,500 kilocycles, announced that his was the only New York City outlet holding BMI, ASCAP, Society of European Stage Authors and Composers, and Jewish Society licenses.

We are primarily a foreign language station and need them all.


The Pittsburgh Press (January 8, 1941)

Tommy Dorsey says public is taking unfair rap
By Si Steinhauser

New York, Jan. 8 –
Tommy Dorsey, the sentimental gentleman of swing who is no such a thing, sounded his “A” today in the matter of ASCAP vs. BMI, proclaiming that the turbulent air waves might be slicked by appointment of an impartial arbiter after the fashion of the movies and Will Hays or baseball and Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Dorsey thinks somebody ought to be done to keep radio from boiling over into the public’s lap. His solution?

Get somebody in there who represents the public; somebody who doesn’t care about radio or songwriters or anything, except he wants the public to be able to hear the songs it wants. Radio doesn’t belong to the networks, the song publishers or anybody who just writes a tune. It belongs to the public. They ought to have a say in it.

His band is probably the least affected by the row, in which ASCAP-controlled tunes no longer may be played on stations affiliated with the National Association of Broadcasters. A year ago, Dorsey foresaw the fight and began collecting ownership of tunes for just such an emergency.

Five years ago, I got caught in a radio-music fight and I’ve been wary ever since Warner Brothers got sore at radio and decided they were going to make their own way. I had just recorded six Warner tunes and I couldn’t play them on the air. So when I heard that this ASCAP-BMI thing was coming, I didn’t listen to the boys who said it couldn’t happen, that it would all be settled. I got copyright on 70 or 75 tunes. I can play those and work in these new BMI numbers.

He Can Get Along

He figures a program can be made up of a few tunes he owns, some BMI numbers like “There I Go,” swing arrangements of uncopyrighted pieces like “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” plus one or two original compositions amateurs submit him. Swing tunes he controls have a characteristic flavor.

None of them ever made the “Hit Parade,” but Dorsey figures few of the tunes he is known by were there until he brought them along – numbers like “Marie,” “Once in a While” and “I’ll Never Smile Again.” He can’t play any of these on the radio now.

Though he is an ASCAP member, by virtue of ownership of a music firm, the Sun Publishing Co., Dorsey holds no particular brief for any of the combatants. He feels that the public ought to decide what goes on the air.

The whole thing now is a clash of personalities. The issues have been lost in the fight.

Though he is philosophical about it, other band leaders are less financially able to ride the storm. Dorsey’s library of music, virtually all of it banned from the air, cost him about $100,000.

I’ve got about 2,000 numbers in the library and each one cost me about $50. That’s average pay for an arranger. Now I can’t use it on radio. We band leaders are in the middle in this thing, just like the public.

He believes the war will be settled by a negotiated peace.

I just got the Lindy lowdown this noon. Everybody says there’s going to be a 90-day moratorium or armistice or something like that. In the meantime, the government’s going to step in and settle everything. That’s what I hear, but I don’t have to believe it. The same guys were telling me three months ago that everything would be settled by Jan. 1.

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