Occasionally my mind, unable to comprehend or to deal with current events, leaps cheerfully to Ye Goode Olde Tymes. One such tyme, far enough back that it requires no data from short-term memory but not so far back that it’s dangerously obscured by mist, was the intermittent fifteen years — between 1958 and 1995 — I spent in broadcasting.

And this morning, perhaps because I was listening to music of Ginastera, I thought about payola. You know, accepting favors or gifts in exchange for on-air promotion of something important to the gift-giver. (Ginastera and payola? Yes.)

I willingly accepted payola three separate times. Begin with the first, because it was first and because it was
the most-nearly honorable instance: I received a gift but did nothing in return.

In the late Fifties, I wrote TV news for a radio/TV station. One afternoon, a radio DJ asked if I’d like a record. “What kind?” I asked. “Any kind you like,” he said. “Sons of the Pioneers,” I said. “Okay,” he said, “you got it.”

Sure enough, a few days later a record promoter stopped by the newsroom and gave me a 33⅓ LP album of SOTP. I was amused and pleased, and not at all guilty. The DJ said the promoter had a hell of a time finding it — had to go out and buy it himself — but was determined to make good on a promise. First time he’d met anyone north of Mason-Dixon and east of Kansas who wanted a Bob Nolan record.

Next, because it was almost honorable and defensible, was the Ginastera. [Warning: this is the slow movement.] In the late Nineties, I was a classical DJ. (At a different station. Much different.) A music distributor asked me if I thought the station music library was missing anything important. I told her the only South American music we had was a couple of badly-scratched old LP albums. Two days later she stopped by with a two CD albums of music by Villa-Lobos and Ginastera — one for the station, and one for me. I took it, gladly and without shame.

And the last one, the most-nearly blameworthy and the least-musical, was back in the Nineties again, same radio-TV station as number one. Only this time the venue was the TV station. A large metal-producing company, which shall remain nameless, had just opened a new plant in the region, a significant item in the local economy and therefore a legitimate news item. I sent a cameraman to cover the ribbon-cutting ceremony, then put film and a story on the evening news.

Two days later, a large carton arrived at the station addressed to the news department. The news director and I opened it. He took one look, said “No shit,” and walked away laughing. So I got to keep, for my very own, all sixteen boxes of aluminum foil.

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