The program would be voluntary, and the government would split some of the revenue with the participating stations.
The NAB, which represents both radio and television stations, says the government should reimburse stations for any costs associated with the auctions.
“Given the NAB opposition to radio broadcasters paying their fair share owed to artists for their work, it requires turning a blind eye to irony to embrace the NAB’s position that they shouldn’t pay their own business costs,” the music groups wrote. “It’s like a bank robber complaining about his ATM fees.”
They noted that the public, not the broadcasters, owns the airwaves.
“It would seem to us that the NAB is not entitled to spectrum owned by the public, or costs associated with relinquishing it, and the federal government reclaiming this spectrum for purposes of deficit reduction is the kind of shared sacrifice that is required in these difficult times,” they wrote.
Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the NAB, said he was puzzled why the music industry would call for auctions of television spectrum.
“By coupling a TV spectrum issue with an unrelated performance tax on radio stations, the music industry sets the standard for grasping at straws," he said. "This is a Hail Mary pass that deserves to fall incomplete.”
The music groups argued spectrum auctions would improve access to high-speed wireless service.
“We endorse measures that encourage broadband adoption because they grow the number of Internet users and, in turn, hasten the migration of music fans to cutting edge platforms that compensate artists,” the groups wrote in the letter.
Artists are paid when their songs are played on Internet radio but not on traditional over-the-air radio.
This post was updated at 2:36 p.m.