pay·​o·​la | \ pā-ˈō-lə How to pronounce payola (audio) \

Definition of payola

: undercover or indirect payment (as to a disc jockey) for a commercial favor (as for promoting a particular recording)

Examples of payola in a Sentence

These radio disc jockeys accepted payola to play particular songs. payola in the music industry
Recent Examples on the Web Joi’s recorded performances embodied all the funkiness my little soul had been waiting for at a time when Black radio was pinned under the thumb of payola. Longreads, "Funk Lessons in Sonic Solitude," 27 Apr. 2020 Rolling Stone magazine in August published an article alleging payola lives on through independent middlemen who purportedly use cash-transfer apps and corporate accounts to move money in exchange for radio airplay. Anne Steele, WSJ, "FCC Asks Record Labels to Document Anti-Payola Policies," 22 Jan. 2020 Even trash disposal hasn’t escaped political payola. Jane Ferguson, The New Yorker, "Why Lebanon’s People Are Turning on Their Politicians," 12 July 2019 If $13 billion a year in payola can’t appease Quebec, the cause is probably beyond salvaging. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "Green Politics and Global Instability," 22 Jan. 2019 When embarrassing information or legal threats don’t work, people with power and financial means often turn to old-fashioned payola. Ben Widdicombe, Town & Country, "How Much Does It Cost to Keep Your Name Out of the News?," 18 Jan. 2019 Let’s spend a moment on the payola theory, just for fun. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "Netflix Invests in Obama’s Celebrity," 25 May 2018 Sure, the Los Angeles Times and other papers can still pull off exposes such as the freeloading scandal in Bell or the payola bonanza involving the developer of a Harbor Gateway project. Steve Lopez,, "The staggering body count as California newspapers founder, and democracy loses," 14 Apr. 2018 Still alive are such other Karma Bracket payola scandal mentions as long-time NBA G League programs, Kentucky and Duke. Bill Livingston,, "Mad, Mad March: Retrievers and other underdogs have their day -- Bill Livingston," 19 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'payola.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of payola

1938, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for payola

pay entry 1 + -ola (as in Pianola, trademark for a player piano)

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The first known use of payola was in 1938

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Cite this Entry

“Payola.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2020.

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How to pronounce payola (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of payola

chiefly US, informal
: money that is paid to someone for illegally helping to sell or advertise a product
: the illegal practice of giving or receiving payola


pay·​o·​la | \ pā-ˈō-lə How to pronounce payola (audio) \

Legal Definition of payola

: a secret or indirect payment (as to a disc jockey) for a commercial favor (as for promoting a particular record)

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