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A free-speech controversy has erupted over a small, suburban Kansas City radio station’s decision to air propaganda from Russia’s government.
Liberty, Mo.-based KCXL reportedly collects $5,000 a month to rebroadcast a program called “The Critical Hour” produced by Kremlin-controlled Radio Sputnik.
Station owner Peter Schartel says he has been branded a traitor and received threats for broadcasting this content which apparently consists of a three-hour block that the station airs twice a day.
“Some will talk to me, but others will still call me a piece of whatever,” Schartel told the Associated Press about the criticism for “The Critical Hour” and other Radio Sputnik programming.
“What I am thankful for is we are still living in a country where they can call me up. Even if they aren’t thinking about free speech, they’re exercising that right,” he said.
The KCXL website condemns the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine as reprehensible and inhumane. The homepage adds that “The only answer is to pray for peace and engage in dialogue to find peaceful solutions. This can’t happen if free speech is canceled. Right now the biggest threat to America is from those within our own borders who want to stick their heads in the sand and cancel others.”
With many stations — even those in big cities — encountering difficulties to retain market share on a routine basis, and thus advertising revenue, terrestrial radio is not what it was, especially with the emergence of on-demand podcasts. Leased airtime is sometimes an option for some radio stations trying to make ends meet.
“Schartel acknowledged that he initially accepted the Radio Sputnik contract because he was struggling to keep KCXL afloat. The station operates out of a dilapidated, cluttered building. He said he stopped taking a salary months ago, though he does nearly all the work,” AP noted.
“Schartel said he airs programs that are not commercially viable and don’t depend on advertising, which he contends influences news reporting. He said he is promoting free speech by providing a platform for people who otherwise aren’t heard,” AP added about the low-budget station.
He began broadcasting Radio Sputnik content in January 2020, but evidently, people only started to notice once the war started.
Washington, D.C.-based WZHF-AM is reportedly the only other station in America that takes Radio Sputnik programming.
The National Association of Broadcasters, the industry trade group, has called upon radio station operators to stop carrying misinformation from Russian government sources.
In an editorial published earlier this month, the Kansas City Star opined, in part, that “Much like the National Association of Broadcasters, we advise KCXL to drop all programming that paints Putin in a positive light. The Russian president is no victim; he is for sure no war hero…Free speech is worth sacrificing for, Schartel said. Humble stations such as his face a multitude of challenges just to stay afloat. OK, but the solution isn’t to broadcast Russian propaganda over the airwaves in Kansas City.”
“KCXL’s other programming includes shows that are heavily religious, offer opinions across the political spectrum and promote conspiracy theories,” AP claimed.
Watch a report on this controversy from Kansas City’s KMBC-TV:
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