Commuters interested in conspiracy theories about George Soros, Hillary Clinton and the Republican National Committee have a new option, courtesy of the Russian government.
Early this month, a radio station based in Liberty, Missouri, signed a three-year deal to broadcast Radio Sputnik across Kansas City.
The English-language programming airs for three hours each morning and again in the evening on three frequencies controlled by KCXL: 1140 AM, 102.9 FM and 104.7 FM.
It’s produced by the U.S.-based branch of an organization created in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin to promote Russian interests abroad.
The organization, Rossiya Segodnya, hopes to restore a “fair attitude to Russia in every country in the world,” according to court records.
For now, Radio Sputnik only broadcasts in two American cities: Kansas City and Washington D.C., where its programming has aired since 2017.
“We’d love to broadcast in all major U.S. markets,” a Radio Sputnik spokesperson told KCUR via email. “But unfortunately, U.S. authorities are working really hard to prevent us from doing so.”
Many details about the deal are known only because of a 1938 law called the Federal Agents Registration Act, or FARA.
The act requires people lobbying for, or otherwise acting on behalf of, a foreign government to register with the U.S. Department of Justice as a foreign agent.
In this case, that agent turned out to be a Florida man named Arnold Ferolito.
Ferolito brokered the deal between KCXL and Rossiya Segodnya, a Moscow-based organization that controls both Radio Sputnik and RT, a television news network formerly known as Russia Today.
Ferolito also brokered the deal to broadcast Radio Sputnik in Washington D.C., and court records detailing his negotiations with Rossiya Segodnya indicate he offered to put their programming on the air in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Boston.
It isn't clear why those other deals fell through.
The government pressed Ferolito and Sputnik to register under FARA after U.S. intelligence agencies investigated Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. One report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that Radio Sputnik is part of a “state-run propaganda machine” that served as a “platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”
Ferolito told KCUR he is simply a businessman who conducted an arms-length transaction and became “caught in the middle of a political issue.”
Ferolito said he previously made deals to broadcast Voice of Russia — a predecessor to Radio Sputnik — in New York City to little fanfare.
“It worked quite well for six years,” he said. “In the middle of that (the DOJ) came after me… the whole thing fell apart.”
Ferolito sued the DOJ through his company, RM Broadcasting, arguing that he shouldn’t have to register under FARA. A federal judge ruled against him, and Ferolito last year began to publicly disclose his transactions with Rossiya Segodnya.
He signed an initial deal to broadcast Radio Sputnik on KCXL during a "trial run" last fall, Ferolito said. The new deal, signed in January, doubles the daily time committment and runs through 2022 at a rate of $49.27 per hour of programming.
Ferolito disputed the notion that Radio Sputnik broadcasts propaganda, and pointed to other state-run media organizations such as Voice of America and Chinese Radio International, which Reuters reported has broadcast in more than a dozen American cities.
“I really think we should have the ability to listen to anything you want,” he said. “Today people are growing up with a stupid ideology.”
Under many broadcasting partnerships, the radio station pays a content creator for the right to air programming. The deal Ferolito brokered between Rossiya Segodnya and KCXL is reversed, with the Russians paying $324,000 to broadcast Radio Sputnik for three years.
Ferolito told KCUR he takes a percentage off the top and sends the rest to KCXL, but he declined to say how much. KCXL did not respond to a request for comment.
The station broadcasts an eclectic mix of programming, ranging from music to Bible study to TruNews, a program labeled by the Anti-Defamation League as a “fundamentalist Christian streaming news and opinion platform” that frequently discusses “extreme conspiracy theories.”
Its host, Rick Wiles, recently described the impeachment of President Donald Trump as a “Jew coup.”
KCXL came under fire in 2018 for giving airtime to Steve West, a businessman who espoused anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views under the name “Jack Justice.” West won the Republican primary for a Clay County seat in the Missouri House of Representatives but lost in the general election.
Conspiracy theories can also be heard on Radio Sputnik.
During a recent morning drive-time broadcast of “Fault Lines,” guest Robert Luongo claimed George Soros — a billionaire investor who is a frequent target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — wants to split the Democratic party in two. Soros’ ultimate goal, Luongo said, is “the destruction of America.”
Fault Lines, which calls itself “the most disruptive radio show in the Milky Way galaxy,” is co-hosted by former Breitbart News reporter Lee Stranahan and Garland Nixon, an ACLU National Board member and retired law enforcement officer.
Other topics up for discussion on the show have included the impeachment proceedings as an “attempted CIA intelligence coup;” the “deep state's” control over President Trump; and, whether Hillary Clinton is “setting herself up to come in to a brokered (Democratic) convention and become the nominee.”