UPDATE: What will radio programmers do after the Michael-Jackson-was-a-pedo doc runs on HBO?

Leaving Neverland, the explosive documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of children, will conclude its two-night broadcast on HBO tonight, has the Jackson estate very freaked out with a lawsuit and attempts to discredit the doc before the broadcasts.

Michael Jackson fans have also come after the producers, weighing in with opinions without having seen it. Phrases like “tabloid character assassination” are being thrown around. Call them “Michael Jackson truthers.”

Dark stories about Jackson (here are 10 verified facts) have circulated for decades with little overall effect on his popularity or the sales/streaming of his music. But now that we’re deep into the #MeToo era–a time when men with power are being called to account for their sins–things could be different this time.

Jackson could be branded not just a pariah (even more than he already is) but posthumously as a criminal who preyed on children, a serial pedophile who bought the silence of his victims. (Can you believe this story?)

This is one of the few crimes for which there is no return for the perp. It can’t be explained away nor can it be forgiven. The offender is forever shunned.

If Michael Jackson ends up in this bucket of repulsion, what happens to his music?

Judgment has already been passed in Chicago where the MJ musical has been canceled. So much for making it to Broadway. Sponsors won’t touch it.

And then there’s this: Radio may finally be forced to drop Jackson’s music.

These sorts of actions are already being taken. I point to the case of Ryan Adams. With all the recent #MeToo allegations against him, radio stations are reportedly dropping his songs. Have you heard much R Kelly on the radio lately? No, I didn’t think so. There are plenty of others, alive and dead, who may yet face some kind of reckoning.

By all accounts, Leaving Neverland is a devastating takedown of the King of Pop. Will the evidence it presents finally swing the majority of public opinion against Jackson? Will there be demands for radio stations to pull his music from playlists?

Jackson’s music continues to be very popular on North America radio. Last week, his songs were heard on the radio 15,744 times according to Nielsen BDS Radio. “Billie Jean” alone was played 1,830 times during that period.

Radio plays Michael Jackson’s songs because they test well with audiences. Or at least they have up until now.

These days Jackson’s songs are heard on Adult Contemporary stations and Adult Hits outlets (that’s what we call oldies for Baby Boomers.). Each type of station will have somewhere around a dozen Jackson songs in regular rotation.

Leaving Neverland might change that.

Jackson might end up like Gary Glitter who ended up in prison on pedo-related charges. His “Rock and Roll Part 2” used to be a staple at sporting events. When was the last time you heard that at a hockey game? What about the last time you ran across Lostprophets after the child abuse conviction of singer Ian Watkins?

There will be those who argue that in cases like this the music needs to be separated from the person. Others will say that anything that does anything to enrich an abuser should be extinguished.

Let’s play radio programmer for a moment. Do you drop Jackson’s music? if so, do you do it quietly with no fanfare? Or do you make a statement with a big announcement? Or do you continue to do nothing at all?

Michael Jackson, the best-selling solo artist of all time, has a long way to fall. I’ll be watching Leaving Neverland. So will the radio industry. What will it do?

UPDATE 1: BBC Radio 2 has dropped all of Jackson’s music.

UPDATE 1a: No, they haven’t.

UPDATE 2: The discussion about what radio should do about Jackson is picking up steam.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

6 thoughts on “UPDATE: What will radio programmers do after the Michael-Jackson-was-a-pedo doc runs on HBO?

  • March 2, 2019 at 11:27 am

    These allegations will come as a surprise to absolutely no one. This has been an open secret for almost thirty years, and we have made countless jokes on the topic (and the artist/estate has made countless millions) over that time. Why this documentary is suddenly causing the world to adopt a different attitude is a bit perplexing.

    If we’re going to banish his music to that same unknown place where Kevin Spacey’s career ended up, then so be it. But be careful with what you ask for. If we require a historically clean record of behaviour from famous musicians, we may end up with very little material to listen to.

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  • March 4, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Fuck all will change, there is no reason for it to, there has been rumours of his actions for 20+ years, and they still play his songs and sell his CD’s.

    So what has changed?? HBO is not a court, and no one who believed his side before is gonna wake up and go “OH SHIT HBO SAYS HE LIKED BOYS, WHO KNEW!!” I thought he was a predator long before the HBO story was even dreamt of and nothing they say/do is going to change that, and I doubt I’m unique in that.

  • March 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    After watching the documentary and listening to those guys describe the horrific things that MJ allegedly did to them as kids, it’s hard to listen to MJ’s music and not think of that. If I was a radio programmer I’d stop playing his music. There’s so much music out there that you don’t have to play the music of an alleged child molester. People who really want to listen to MJ’s music will use ways other than radio to listen to his music.

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  • March 5, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    The new Doc. with a “MADE” destroyed his carrier, because she want money…simple is that don’t trust her not even one word


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