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Local

Kansas City radio station agrees to broadcast Russian-owned ‘propaganda’ program

 

A Kansas City area radio station can broadcast Russian state-owned media programming, the type that U.S. intelligence called a “propaganda machine,” for six hours a day through a lease agreement struck by a local radio operator.

RM Broadcasting LLC, a Florida-based company that has agreements to broadcast the Russian state media program Radio Sputnik, reached a deal on Jan. 1 to lease air time through Alpine Broadcasting Corp. in Liberty. Alpine Broadcasting Corp. broadcasts on three frequencies in the Kansas City area: KCXL 1140 AM, 102.9 FM and 104.7 FM.

The lease agreement lets RM Broadcasting air its programming from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. seven days a week. KCXL’s website, which says that it’s the radio station that will “tell you the things that the liberal media wont (sic) tell you,” lists Radio Sputnik in its morning programming.

A 2017 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that evaluated Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election described Sputnik as “another government-funded outlet producing pro-Kremlin radio and online content in a variety of languages for international audiences.”

Sputnik, along with Russian television outlet RT — formerly Russia Today — “contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences,” the DNI intelligence assessment said.

Those descriptions were part of a larger set of findings by the Director of National Intelligence that said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign during the 2016 elections that sought to undermine public faith in the U.S. election process, denigrate Hillary Clinton and promote Donald Trump.

RM Broadcasting is run in Florida by a man named Arnold Ferolito. He disputed the government’s assessment of Radio Sputnik.

“Ninety percent of the programming is generated right here in the United States,” Ferolito told The Star in an interview.

RM Broadcasting in 2019 was ordered by a federal judge to register as a foreign agent under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires political agents in the U.S. acting on a foreign government’s behalf to disclose their relationships, finances and activities.

Ferolito took exception to the government’s requirement to register as a foreign agent.

“I just sell air time that’s all I do,” Ferolito said. “The government put a gun to my head and forced me to sign.”

Paul Manafort is a prominent example of how FARA applies to foreign agents. Manafort, former chairman of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to register as an agent of the Ukrainian government and its former president Viktor Yanukovych.

The radio station’s order came after the Justice Department in 2018 said RM Broadcasting was acting as a “publicity agent” for Rossiya Segodnya, a Russian government-owned news agency, by broadcasting its radio programs.

At the time, RM Broadcasting was airing Rossiya Segodnya programs on an AM frequency in Washington, D.C. RM Broadcasting had argued that it merely bought and re-sold air time on radio stations, some of which happened to include Russian state media programs. A federal judge found that argument unpersuasive.

When RM Broadcasting first registered as a foreign agent, it disclosed that it had received $1.43 million in payments from Rossiya Segodnya to buy air time for Radio Sputnik from 2017 to 2019.

“They don’t pay me for anything other than the air time,” said Ferolito, describing his work as more of a hobby after selling his other businesses in 2000.

“It’s costing me more money than I’m making, that’s the sad part about it. The American dream is dead in a lot of ways. There’s people hell bent on Russia, Russia, Russia. One of these days it’s going to be China.”

Radio Sputnik, according to a Foreign Registration Act filing, broadcasts in capital cities in China, France, Germany, Egypt and the United Kingdom.

RM Broadcasting buys air time for Radio Sputnik only in Washington D.C. and Kansas City. RM Broadcasting’s filing regarding KCXL indicates RM Broadcasting is being paid a $324,000 service fee from Rossiya Segodnya to transmit shows in Kansas City.

KCXL’s president is Peter Schartel, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. Messages to the radio station were not immediately returned.

Schartel bought the station in 1993, according to a 1997 story in The Star. That story quoted Schartel characterizing himself as “basically a liberal, patriotic American...but our government has done some horrible things.”

KCXL grabbed attention in 2018 for providing air time to Steve West, a Republican candidate in Clay County for the Missouri House of Representatives who used his “Jack Justice” radio show to discuss what The Star then described as “fanatical conspiracies about ‘Jewish cabals’ that are ‘harvesting baby parts’ through Planned Parenthood, that torture and molest children and that run the Republican Party.”

KCXL’s website today describes itself as an outlet that “will bring you the truth.”

“America is a very different country than it used to be,” KCXL’s website says. “We used to be a country of freedom, job, opportunity, and equality. Now, we are a country that looks down upon traditional values. We are a country that puts its citizens second to citizens of other countries.”

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