Editorial: Battle of the Music-Makers (12-3-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (December 3, 1940)


It looks as if radio listeners are going to be minus a lot of old friends, starting Jan. 1. And thereby hangs a fascinating tale. It is the story of “ASCAP” vs. the radio industry; “ASCAP” being the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

ASCAP regards itself as the patron saint of the geniuses and lesser craftsmen who write the music America listens to; the broadcasters regard it is an “exclusive club” and “a monopoly for the benefit of a few.”

Stephen Foster, who died broke, would never have known poverty if ASCAP had existed in his day. ASCAP boasts that none of its members “who writes successful music, or anyone dependent upon him, shall ever want.” And that is a boast it can back up, for it takes in more than five million dollars a year – and is looking for more.

That search for more is the cause of the conflict now approaching zero hour. ASCAP’s five-year contract with the broadcasters runs out on Dec. 31. ASCAP is demanding a bigger slice of radio’s receipts. Radio is resisting, and preparing to get along without ASCAP. It has set up its own rival organization, "Broadcast Music, Inc.” and rounded up its own songwriters as well as buying up hundreds of songs owned by various publishers.

The Columbia chain has not even waited for the contract to expire; a month ahead of time, it has dropped ASCAP works from its “sustaining” programs. Some smaller chains (like Elliott Roosevelt’s Texas string) and individual stations have made their peace and signed with ASCAP. But it looks as if the big networks are bent on a finish fight this time.

And this means that, except where radio advertisers may buy some rights from ASCAP at their own expense, listeners to anti-ASCAP stations will hear no more Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and not even (though the composers are dead) any more George Gershwin, John Philip Sousa or Victor Herbert. Hundreds of other composers will be similarly blacked out. We will be hearing a lot of new works by unknowns, and a lot of classics, both “serious” and popular,” on which the copyright has expired (though ASCAP controls the best arrangements on some of these).

For instance, we may hear more often than ever the sweet melodies of that same Stephen Foster who died broke. But we may get an awful bunch of claptrap by Tin Pan Alley third-raters who haven’t been able to crash the somewhat exclusive gates of ASCAP (whose members have dished up plenty of lemons themselves).

So – ASCAP may lose revenue, the radio may lose listeners, and those who refuse to accept “something just as good” as the best modern-day composers may have to buy a jukebox or learn to whistle.

Can’t you boys get together?

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