This week on the music beat

VIDEO BILLED THE RADIO STAR Looks like Alan Freed, payola’s sacrificial lamb, died too soon. In a bold move, upstart music television channel Access Entertainment Network is now charging record labels for airplay. For a fee, the L.A.-based AEN — which currently has 6.7 million subscribers in various parts of the country — will produce what it calls an ”artist segment,” which includes an interview with the artists in question and an airing of their current video on such shows as SPINTelevision (a coproduction with Spin magazine).

AEN claims that 30 of the 41 top labels are coughing up the cash to promote acts that have trouble getting their clips on MTV or VH1. Morty Wiggins, general manager and senior VP of marketing at A&M Records, is one of several execs who thinks the network offers a pragmatic solution to an old problem: ”We could sit around and complain that MTV doesn’t play our videos, or we can [utilize AEN] to expose our music to the consumer.”

A division of Access Television Network (which produces infomercials), AEN hit the airwaves July 8; its disingenuous tag line is ”It’s the Music That Matters.” Turning a blind eye to the reality that it’s actually the money that matters, AEN senior vice president Sheri Herman gushes about the channel’s ”real, organic, and nonplastic” creative presentation (basically, a hybrid of MTV’s and VH1’s approaches). ”We call it ‘keeping it real,”’ she says.

So how many real dollars do labels pay AEN? ”We’d get killed if we told you that,” laughs Herman, although a source calls AEN’s fees ”very expensive.” Nonetheless, the network envisions a steady expansion, with a goal of 15 million cable homes by 2000. Of course, that’s small potatoes compared with MTV and VH1, which reach 70 million and 64.5 million homes. ”MTV and VH1 are having their best years ever,” says an MTV Networks spokesperson. ”We wish [AEN] the best of luck.”