A Chinese-language broadcaster faces the choice of relocating their studios to Mexico or going dark across Southern California. That is because the Federal Communications Commission has revoked the temporary permit held by H&H Group to transmit Phoenix Radio programming to the Tijuana-based “U-Radio 690” XEWW. The signal is licensed to Rosarito, Mexico which is beyond the FCC’s reach. But H&H Group’s studios are currently located in Irwindale, CA and that means the company needs FCC approval to rebroadcast back into the U.S.
The problem for H&H Group was its failure to disclose that Phoenix Radio is partially owned by two entities with Chinese government ownership, Extra Steps Investment Limited and China Wise International Limited. That led the FCC’s International Bureau to dismiss the application, saying it is unable to assess the two entities’ role in Phoenix Radio and whether the proposed service should be allowed to continue permanently.
The Irwindale studios are owned by Grupo Latino de Radio (GLR), which had been feeding Spanish-language “W Radio 690” programming to XEWW. But in a heavily-redacted ten-page order, the FCC said GLR’s role “does not negate Phoenix Radio’s vital role in the use and maintenance of the studio to create programming for delivery to the station as contemplated.”
H&G Group has been allowed to feed Phoenix Radio programming to XEWW under a Special Temporary Authority while its application was reviewed. But with the decision, the FCC revoked that authority on Monday. It gave H&H Group 48 hours to cease operations at the California studio. That means XEWW – which has 77,000-watts day and 5,000-watts night covering much of Southern California – will soon go dark unless H&H Group relocates its operations south of the border.
H&H Group first filed paperwork in 2018 seeking permission to buy GLR’s equity stake in XEWW. H&H Group is controlled by investment banker Vivian Huo and Julian Sant, both U.S. citizens. In turn, H&H signed a programming and sales agreement with Hong Kong-based Phoenix Satellite TV to carry its radio format.
But the move soon proved controversial in Washington, drawing fire from Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), who alleged the AM would simply be a pipeline for Chinese propaganda into the U.S. Earlier this year Cruz said he uncovered information that showed a majority ownership in Phoenix Satellite TV is held by the state-owned China Mobile. That led him to file a bill that he said will close a loophole in federal law that allows “propaganda” to beam into the U.S. from radio stations licensed to Mexico or Canada.
But the switch in programming also drew protests from within the market too. Chinese Sound of Oriental and West Heritage, the operator of KQEV-LP, Walnut, CA (104.7), said allowing Phoenix Radio to air on XEWW would not only hurt its ability to reach the southern California Chinese-speaking community, but also flood the airwaves with “pro-Chinese Communist Party propaganda.”
Huo has denied H&H Group brokered its radio deal as Phoenix waited in the shadows. In a filing with the FCC last year, H&H said Huo had “invested substantial time and financial resources” to acquire the XEWW stake. It also said she modeled the arrangement on what GLR had done before it. H&H Group also said its mix of Chinese-language music, news and traffic isn’t all that unusual with what else is on the radio. “No claims of hidden messages or propaganda have been raised,” it noted. Even if Phoenix were involved, H&H also argued that under current U.S. law it would be allowed to broker time on an American radio station or act as a syndicator and run the same programming lineup it currently clears on XEWW without FCC approval.
The FCC didn’t address any of the content issues raised in the order. Instead, the International order said that H&H Group can resubmit another application with more information about the ownership structure of Phoenix Radio. “If such a revised application is filed that includes Phoenix Radio as an applicant, the Commission would review it under applicable law,” the FCC said in a statement.