The Pittsburgh Press (December 31, 1940)
40,000 Songs Silenced –
NEW YEAR’S BELLS TO TOLL START OF A.S.C.A.P. RADIO WAR
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.