From the late 1920s until the late 1980s the amount of records the BBC could play on its radio stations was severely limited by a system known as ‘needletime’. Officially this was an arrangement between the BBC and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), acting on behalf of the major record companies. However it was also subject to scrutiny and intense lobbying by the Musicians Union (MU) which was dedicated to restricting the amount of records played on the radio as part of its determined campaign to ‘keep music live’. Based on a series of previously unseen documents, this paper examines the history of the needletime agreements, their scope and the controversies which emerged between the contending parties. It suggests that an understanding of the needletime agreements sheds further light on the historically complex nature of the UK’s music industries and on the interactions between those representing music makers, music publishers and music users.