Dionne Warwick at the musicFIRST 2010 news conference in Washington (Mar 2, 2010)

*Dionne Warwick appeared on Capitol Hill today urging Congress to make radio stations pay fees to singers, backup singers and other performers, similar to those paid to songwriters.

Appearing at the musicFIRST 2010 news conference to discuss the importance of fair pay for musicians, the legendary singer said radio stations have gotten a free ride long enough.

“I’m sure you all thought that I walked on by with my little check in hand,” Warwick said in a reference to her popular tune “Walk on By.” “I wish I had, but all I did was walk on by.”

Under current laws, satellite radio, Internet radio and cable TV music channels pay fees to performers and musicians, along with songwriter royalties. AM and FM radio stations do not pay royalties to performers, only to songwriters.

Dionne Warwick adjusts tie of Rep. John Conyers

The National Association of Broadcasters, which opposes the measure, says a fee would put thousands of radio jobs at risk. The association also argues that stations drive listeners to buy music and concert tickets.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., compared the lack of royalties paid to performers to involuntary servitude.

“They work and they don’t get paid,” Conyers said after the event. “That’s involuntary servitude. They don’t even get any choice of whether they want to work or not — they just take their work product.”

Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the broadcasters’ association, said the legislation would leave radio stations with less revenue, and thus many will take less risk in playing the work of new artists.

“This is a job-killing bill that threatens a musician’s No. 1 promotional vehicle while transferring hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of companies based in Tokyo, Paris and London,” Wharton said in a written statement.

Committees in the House and Senate have approved similar measures on the issue, reports the Associated Press. It’s unclear whether either chamber will bring them to a vote this year.