The controversial English-language service run by the Russian government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya has secured another outlet in the U.S., this time in America’s heartland. Peter Schartel’s Alpine Broadcasting’s talk/religion KCXL Kansas City (1140) will carry the “Radio Sputnik” format for six hours per day—from 6-9am and 6-9pm. In addition to its AM signal, KXCL also simulcasts on two Kansas City-licensed FM translators in the market: K275BQ at 102.9 FM and K284CH at 104.7 FM.
The format comes through a three-year agreement by Alpine to lease KCXL to Arnold Ferolito’s RM Broadcasting under a time brokerage agreement that runs through Dec. 31, 2022 that will pay a reported $324,000. In turn, RM Broadcasting has a contract with Rossiya Segodnya to carry the Radio Sputnik on the station.
With a lineup that includes Michael Savage and religious programming, KCXL may seem like an unusual outlet for Radio Sputnik. But the station’s website says it’s not afraid of doing things a bit differently. Here’s how KCXL describes itself:
Radio Sputnik already leases time on WZHF Washington (1390) and the Reston VA-licensed translator W288BS at 105.5 FM under a similar arrangement between RM Broadcasting and WZHF owner Multicultural Radio Broadcasting and translator owner John Garziglia. The format has repeatedly come under fire as a propaganda arm of the Russian government. The stations air a disclosure that says the programming is on behalf of Rossiya Segodnya, telling listeners additional information is on file at the Dept. of Justice. That’s because RM Broadcasting was required to file as a foreign agent after losing a court fight with the government last May. The filing shows Rossiya Segodnya paid more than $1.43 million to clear Radio Sputnik on the Washington stations.
A 2017 U.S. intelligence report found that Sputnik was part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” describing the radio format as “another government-funded outlet producing pro-Kremlin radio and online content in a variety of languages for international audiences.” The report said Sputnik, along with the RT cable channel, helped to facilitate Russian interference and influence in the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump.
In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Ferolito disputed allegations that Radio Sputnik is pro-Russian propaganda. “Ninety percent of the programming is generated right here in the United States,” he told the paper.
Ferolito said the legal battle he has had with the U.S. government has cost him more than he’s made on the leasing business, which he describes more as a hobby than a money-making venture. “There’s people hell bent on Russia, Russia, Russia. One of these days it’s going to be China,” he told the Star.
The root of the programming has led several members of Congress to ask the Federal Communications Commission to look into Radio Sputnik and examine whether stations should be required to offer better disclosures to listeners. “A reasonable listener of AM radio cannot be expected to know that Rossiya Segodnya is a Russian government-funded propaganda outlet,” said a letter from several House members to the FCC in September.
The FCC has said that the requests were turned over to the Enforcement Bureau to see if sponsorship identification rules had been violated. But even if they had, under current FCC guidelines, the Commission told lawmakers that it would be unlikely a station would face license revocation.