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Russia is paying to spread propaganda on US radio stations

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Russian television, June 20, 2019. (Kremlin/Released)
February 14, 2020

A Russian state-sponsored radio program that launched in Kansas City, Mo., in January may appear to be impartial to left or right politics, but its goal is to divide Americans, according to a New York Times report.

Some of the topics which the radio program seeks to divide Americans on include the impeachment trials of President Donald Trump, the American political system, the United States’ military presence in Iraq, and the media, the New York Times reported.

Radio Sputnik was launched by Alpine Broadcasting Corporation of Liberty, Mo., on Jan. 1, making Kansas City the second city in the United States to air the radio program. The first city was Washington, D.C.

Radio Sputnik had a trial run on KCXL, an AM radio station based in Liberty, Mo., playing for one hour in the morning for one month.

The deal was brokered by Florida-based firm RM Broadcasting, which searches for airtime to sell to Rossiya Segodnya, Radio Sputnik’s parent company.

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Alpine Broadcasting Corporation owner Pete Schartel took the deal because Radio Sputnik pays $30,000 a month to broadcast in Washington. That amounts to $2 million over three years, beginning in December 2017 for the Washington broadcasts.

“I’m going, ‘Oh my Lord, that’s twice what my whole budget is,’” Schartel told KCUR last week. “They must have some money. Let’s investigate this.”

According to RM Broadcasting’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filing, the fee is $324,000 for three years, or $49.27 per hour, in Kansas City. Schartel said he gets $27.50 of that hourly rate.

“They are paying for airtime and I make a percentage,” said RM Broadcasting’s owner, Arnold Ferolito, who was outraged he had to register as a foreign government agent. “I am not being paid to represent the Russian government.”

The whole situation has locals in the area who tune into 104.7 FM for the old programming, like jazz, very angry.

“Who needs a ridiculous Red Dawn invasion,” one listener said, referring to the movie wherein Russian army invades a small town in America. “Your overlord, Mr. Putin, will be addressing you soon, so it’s best to prepare now,” another commenter wrote.

An editorial in the Kansas City Star warned listeners to “beware,” adding that “it’s sad, but not astonishing, that an American entrepreneur would put business above patriotism.”

This latest development shows a lot of similarities to Russia’s efforts to sow discord and divide Americans before the 2016 election by stoking up anti-Trump rhetoric as well as racial divides across the United States.

That effort, according to new research, may not have been all that useful, as the targeted individuals Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency were already highly polarized.

Duke University researchers released their findings in the 2016 election interference by IRA Dec. 2. The conclusion suggests that “Russian trolls might have failed to sow discord because they mostly interacted with those who were already highly polarized.”