Radio Exec Sparks Fury With Possible Racist Remarks

Radio Exec Sparks Outrage | 'Rush Hour 3': Sequel With Laughs | Sting: Slippery Elm And A Kid's Debut | Ted Turner

Cox Radio Possible Racist Remarks Spark Fury

It wasn’t tough enough for Judy Collins and Sam Moore, two famous and popular singers, to testify in front of a Congressional committee on Tuesday about the need for a performance royalty on radio stations. (Singers on hit records aren’t paid when a record is played on the radio; only the writers are.)

Now Robert Neil, the head of Cox Radio, which owns 80 stations in 18 markets, has infuriated them with what some consider to be racist remarks regarding their right to earn a living. And R&B legend Moore, for one, is demanding that he be fired.

Neil said: "I saw the (congressional) testimony yesterday, and the reality is a lot of those people would be sitting in a shack somewhere in a small town if it wasn't for the fact that radio supported their music when it was coming up.”

Moore is furious. He feels the term “those people” is pejorative. At first he wanted an apology. Now he wants Neil's head. Cox Radio owns R&B stations and oldies stations that Moore says have made their money from black artists for 40 years.

Neil doesn’t take this seriously. "The reality is that if radio doesn't play their music, they're not gonna sell their recordings. And if we have to pay tons of money to do that, then what you're going to see is fewer and fewer music stations because nobody is willing to pay it. It would be absolutely deadly to small radio stations. It's just silly. It's absolutely silly. There's no other word to describe it."

When I spoke to Neil Thursday, he told me his comments weren’t intended as racist. What about “those people”? “I didn’t even know who testified,” he said, “I just read about it in the wire reports.”

He told me that if the performance bill passed, he would charge artists to play their records. “That’s not payola, because it’s out in the open. It’s perfectly legal,” he said. And what if they didn’t want to pay? “It doesn’t matter to me,” Neil said.

Neil told me that the ‘symbiotic relationship” between radio stations and record companies was built on this structure. “The songwriters may make a million dollars over a lifetime on their royalties,” he said. “But the performers made a hundred million dollars up front on record sales and concerts. Now they’re coming back and telling us to pay them. We won’t.”

In other words: it was up to the record companies to pay the artists. If they didn’t, or the money was squandered years ago, too bad.

Just a refresher: Singers who never wrote their own songs but had hit records are not paid a royalty when the songs are played on the radio or anywhere else. So Collins singing “Both Sides Now” or “Send in the Clowns”— radio staples — or Moore’s voice on “Soul Man” or “Hold On! I’m Coming” — it’s all free to radio stations. The singers derive no income from this at all.

Other singers who don’t write their own songs but had many, many hits include Linda Ronstadt and Whitney Houston. Celine Dion doesn’t write, but she insists on taking a cut of songwriters’ royalties. Elvis Presley used to do the same thing, courtesy of his manager Col. Tom Parker.

Many of the “oldies” that populate the radio fall into this category. And many of the artists, like Moore, are black.

Among Cox Radio’s best known stations are WBLI and WBAB in Long Island, NY and six stations in the Tampa, Florida area. All of them play music by “those people,” many of whom will be as mad as Moore when they find out the CEO thinks of them has having been rescued from a life in shacks in exchange for receiving no remuneration for their work.

'Rush Hour 3': Sequel With Laughs

Brett Ratner’s "Rush Hour 3" is a hit. I saw it Wednesday afternoon, and I can tell you that there are plenty of laughs. Even when some in the Broadway Screening Room didn’t want to give in, they had to.

Let’s face it: Chris Tucker is brilliant. He’s often criticized for not making any movies without boy genius Ratner. But it doesn’t matter. Tucker can take nearly any situation and make it funny. That helps, because "Rush Hour 3" has a plot that gets more and more convoluted before it’s brought to a merciful end.

The biggest surprise in this latest installment of the odd buddy movie is director Roman Polanski, who plays a French police chief quite exasperated by Tucker’s L.A. police detective James Carter and Jackie Chan’s Chief Inspector Lee. Polanski plays short and comic well.

The plot of "Rush Hour 3" — a relatively short film at a hair less than 90 minutes — is incidental. Whatever it is, it’s just a set-up so that Carter and Lee can reunite and have some adventures in Los Angeles and Paris.

Don’t miss the beginning of the film, though: Tucker’s opening sequence as a traffic cop who causes accidents because he’s welded to his iPod is positively priceless.

So too are a number of Ratner’s action sequences. There are two especially good ones, including the big finale at the Eiffel Tower. Paris has never been used so well in anti-art film. But I also liked the big martial arts confrontation toward the beginning of the film. Even though the motivation is questionable, the results are worth it.

One more thing about "Rush Hour 3": there’s a great, funny scene with the underrated New York actress Dana Ivey as a French-speaking nun who must translate between the cops and a criminal they take into questioning. It’s absolutely priceless, albeit a little reminiscent of Barbara Billingsley’s jive-talk scene in “Airplane!” Ivey is wonderful, and the scene gives the movie a nice punch in the gut.

"Rush Hour 2," released six years ago, is considered the highest-grossing comedy of all time with $350 million in ticket sales worldwide.

My guess is that No. 3 will do just as well, if not better. And the good news is that it sets the stage for No. 4 — a sure bet.

Sting: Slippery Elm And A Kid's Debut

Have you heard about The Box? It’s the decadent theater-bar-nightclub burlesque house on Chrystie Street in downtown New York City that’s become all the rage. It’s like “Cabaret” meets “The Gong Show.” There’s talk of midgets, lesbian sex, flame throwers and the like.

The Box is where Sting and the Police had their big after-Madison Square Garden debut last night.

It’s also where Sting and Trudie Styler’s tall, pretty, waifish 17-year-old daughter, Coco, made her own debut as a singer-songwriter performer in front of a crowd that included her parents, Glenn Close, Bette Midler and a lot of heavy-hitters.

Coco performed two self-penned songs, and the results were magical. People who were at The Box will remember the night the way Whitney Houston’s introduction at 16 at Sweetwater’s is always recalled. Hopefully, Sting and Trudie can get Coco to stay in and finish high school. But one day after graduation, they could have another natural talent on the charts.

And no, there were no midgets on stage after Coco, but lots of campy fun, too many tap dancers, a sort of X-rated Beyonce who sang “Sex and Candy” dressed like a cheerleader and a novel duo called Hubby and Jessy who played roots music as the Square Struts. If David Letterman gets hold of them, they’ll be huge. A real find.

Earlier, Midler and Close were joined by Chris Botti, Ronald Perelman with his two youngest daughters, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher and Uma Thurman, all of whom caught the Police’s first show at MSG in several hundred years.

Even Sting told the crowd, “We played here in 1878.” It must have felt that way. But like every Police show, this one rocked. Maybe this one more than the others.

Sting was quite chatty with the audience (he hasn’t spoken much at other shows.) He prefaced “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by saying he had been a schoolteacher, but the song was not autobiographical.

He and Andy Summers engaged in some long, bluesy jams on several songs in ways they haven’t so far on this tour.

On “So Lonely,” Summers really commanded the stage. Stewart Copeland was more authoritative than usual, as well. It must have been being “back home,” as Sting said.

And what of his voice? Well, here’s his secret, since Sting’s vocals seem to be getting better and better: Slippery Elm.

Slippery Elm is said on Wikipedia to contain mucilage that’s good for sore throats. Whatever it is, it works.

Ted Turner: Pulitzer Tempest In A Small Teapot

I nearly did a double take when I saw the little scandal about Ted Turner, his new girlfriend Elizabeth Dewberry and her soon-to-be ex-husband, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler.

I must tell you that it’s in great part thanks to yours truly that Butler even exists in the literary world.

When I met him in 1983, he was on his second marriage — Dewberry is his fourth — and living in a salt box cottage in Sea Cliff, Long Island in New York. He was writing novels while traveling round trip on the railroad to Manhattan, where he was working for a trade magazine.

The late and legendary Anatole Broyard discovered him in a writing class. He gave Butler’s first novel, “The Alleys of Eden,” published by the tiny Horizon Press, a rave in the Times.

In 1984, after the amazingly talented editor Bob Wyatt brought “Alleys” to Ballantine Books —where I was a publicist — it was yours truly who took him to Robert Gottlieb at Knopf.

I still recall sitting in Gottlieb’s office, in a plastic chair in the shape of a hand, as he showed me all his famous triumphs like "Catch-22."

I also brought Butler to the late, great agent Candida Donadio, who couldn’t wait to represent him along with her associate Eric Ashworth (also deceased, sadly). The pair immediately snatched him up, and result was a pair of fine novel: “On Distant Ground,” published in 1985, and “Wabash” a couple of years later.

That novels did Bob a lot of good, but we could never have anticipated the response to "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain," a collection of short stories he wrote after moving to Lake Charles, La., divorcing wife No. 2 and marrying wife No. 3, a lovely local girl who was a great stepmother to his then 13-year-old son. "Good Scent" was a throwaway, a book Bob thought was beneath him. He was a novelist, after all.

Wife No. 2, a charismatic Catholic with a history of sexual abuse and mental infelicity, by then was long gone. Bob, having dealt with her baggage, was a porter looking for more people to save.

When the Pulitzer came in 1993, it couldn’t have been at a worse time. His ego was already on “explode.” I tried to explain to him what winning an award like this could do to your life. He didn’t listen.

Affairs began, in lockstep with readings around the country. He became a stereotype. In one week, he announced that he was leaving No. 3 for a married woman he’d met at a conference.

Before that plan even took hold, he’d met Dewberry, pronounced her a “great writer,” and saw his future at last. What he had been thinking, married to a civilian? And No. 3 was over, and No. 4 began.

But it was also the end of our friendship. The Bob Butler I’d met a decade earlier was completely gone, replaced by an unrecognizable "star." Maybe I should have listened to the late journalist Gloria Emerson. The only woman to really cover Vietnam, she told me when I introduced her to Butler in 1983 that he was a “fraud.”

Butler’s whole cache then was having been in Vietnam, and writing about it. But Emerson sensed in him an unreliable reporter. She’d been there, too. She didn’t know what the heck he was writing about, she said. Knowing Gloria, I took this with a grain of salt. After all, I was only 26 and I knew everything.

I haven’t heard from Bob Butler since he flipped one wife for another, meaning Dewberry (who was known as Betsy in the '80s) in ’95. I’m not surprised. He’d become a Pulitzer Prize-winner. The writer I’d helped promote and guide in the mid-'80s had long since vanished.

I was saddened to hear that he’d only made it from Lake Charles to Tallahassee in all these years. It’s not the stellar literary career any of us had envisioned. I wasn’t too surprised, either, to hear about the Dewberry-Turner mess. Karma is a tough thing to shake.