Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seven-Inch Vinyl excerpt-Chapter Twenty-Eight: Payola

(From the soon-to-be published novel Copyright 2010 Donald Riggio)

...The year before, television was rocked with scandal. Certain contestants on some of TV’s most popular quiz shows were provided answers to questions prior to airtime. Some were even coached on how to best dramatize their response. A House Legislative Oversight Committee formed in congress. They conducted an extensive investigation, grilling network executives and former contestants. Soon, they uncovered enough evidence to prove that some of the shows were rigged. The networks tried to alibi their way out claiming the quiz shows were considered dramatic entertainment and should not be held to such a high standard of honesty. The committee disagreed. Quiz shows ratings plummeted. Many shows were cancelled.
Fueled by this success against corrupt broadcasting practices, ASCAP urged Washington to broaden its investigation to include radio. Disc Jockeys became the prime targets. The accusations were that record company executives paid radio personalities to play their records on the air. A new word entered the vernacular, a contraction of the words pay and victrola: Payola.
In all, some twenty-dive deejays and executives found themselves questioned at the hearings. Called to testify, Joseph and Leo presented their company books, open to official scrutiny. Leo’s meticulous accounting of every penny earned and spent, as well as the ability of both men to answer every question put to them impressed the Congressmen. Chanticleer Records received a clean bill.
Phil Gambetta strolled through the lobby of one of the finer hotels in midtown Manhattan with a gorgeous, provocatively dressed young, blonde party doll on his arm. They turned the heads of men and women alike as they walked along a lavender blue plush carpet to the bank of hotel elevators. They entered the next available car and rode to the penthouse floor without exchanging a glance or a word between them.
Phil was still the number two man at Alexis Records, holding the official position of Vice President. Normally, an errand such as this was assigned to an employee of much lower rank but Richie Conforti made it clear to him how important this job was. Phil assured Richie he’d take care of it personally. Exiting the elevator, Phil and his buxom companion stood outside the door of one of the two rooms on the floor. Phil knocked softly on the rich wood. Seconds later the door flew open to reveal the occupant, a tall, gaunt looking man wearing a dressing gown and rimless glasses. Strands of hair from his embarrassingly bad comb-over flew up from the slight breeze created by opening the door. His leering gaze fixed immediately on the blonde’s deep cleavage.
“Mr. Bertram, my name is Phil Gambetta. Richie Conforti from Alexis Records sent me. This here is my friend, Jo-Ann.”
“Hello, Jo-Ann.” Bertram tried to be sexy and flirtatious. He stepped aside allowing his visitors to enter. Phil looked around, surveying the lavish surroundings of the suite. An ice bucket containing an opened bottle of expensive champagne sat on a room service cart. Another empty bottle lay on the floor. The remnants of a thick T-bone steak and a partially eaten baked potato were also in evidence.
“I hope you’re finding everything to your satisfaction?” Phil asked. He couldn’t help but think to himself what a pretty penny all this must be costing the Record Company.
“Why yes I am. Thank you very much indeed.”
Phil reached into his inside jacket pocket and produced a white, business sized envelope expanded to the thickness of about one inch by whatever it contained.
“Mr. Conforti also wanted you to have this.” He said as he handed the envelope to Bertram. “Perhaps you’d like to take Jo-Ann out on the town, see a show? Then again, maybe just order up some more room service?”
“I think we’ll just go with the room service. I have rather a rather early flight back to the Capitol tomorrow. That is of course, if that’s all right with you my dear?”
“Sure, whatever you say sweetie,” came Jo-Ann’s sultry reply. “You’re so cute. We can have our own little party right here, just the two of us.”
“We’ll have a car take you to the airport in plenty of time.” Phil assured him.
“That’s very kind. I want you to assure Mr. Conforti that he has nothing to be concerned about.”
“He’ll be happy to hear that, I’m sure.” The two men shook hands and Phil let himself out of the suite. He smiled as he made his way back to the elevator. He liked Jo-Ann and didn’t envy what she had to endure for the cause. But then, he thought, what the hell, she wasn’t anything more than a common tramp. Besides she, like everybody else was well paid.
The following Monday morning, US Congressman Stanley Bertram from the state of Delaware was back in Washington DC in his capacity as co-chairman of the House Special Committee on corruption in the recording industry. The report on his recent findings indicated there was no need to call anyone from Alexis Records to testify before the committee. Payola was indeed everywhere.
The attention of the investigations soon fell on the two top disc jockeys in the country, Dick Clark and Alan Freed. Clark testified that he became involved with outside interests associated with the recording industry solely for the tax advantages they provided. He denied accepting any monies or gifts, but admitted to divesting himself of whole or part interest in thirty-three companies, after the Payola issue surfaced. This accounted for over twenty-seven percent of the records he played on American Bandstand. While his admission did not exonerate him, he escaped the hearings with his reputation intact.
The same could not be said about Alan Freed. Though granted immunity, Freed refused to admit to any misconduct. Clearly, he was prepared to be the scapegoat and take the fall.
In May of 1960, a New York Grand Jury handed down misdemeanor indictments charging Freed and seven others with receiving over $116,000.00 in illegal gratuities. Freed was soon fired from both WABC-Radio and WNEW-TV. The man credited with coining the term “rock and roll” was through in the music business.

Rock and Roll quote of the day: "Do that again, you're driving me insane. Kiss me once more, that's another think I like you for." From: I Like It - By Gerry & the Pacemakers.

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