At midnight Wednesday (6:00 pm ET), the Hungarian government pulled the plug on Slager Radio, the country’s most popular national radio station. Emmis Communications, which owned a majority stake in Slager, is still pursuing legal action in an attempt to win back the license, but for now Slager is silent.
“We’re just deeply disappointed,” Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan told RBR-TVBR after Slager went off the air.
Emmis/Slager did get a brief appearance before a judge to argue for an injunction against the transfer of Slager’s frequencies to an upstart aligned with one of the country’s two major political parties. Smulyan told us that injunctions are almost unheard of in Hungary and the judge did not block the license change. She did, however, schedule a full hearing for December, indicating that there is reason to move quickly on the allegations that the license bidding was rigged by political insiders.
Smulyan isn’t giving up. “We’re looking at alternatives,” he said.
Hundreds of supporters showed up outside the Slager studios to protest as their radio station was silenced. “It’s a sad day for Hungary,” Smulyan said. He called it a great loss for the 100% Hungarian staff at Slager and for their 3.5 million listeners.
Regardless of the outcome in Hungary, Emmis remains involved in Eastern European broadcasting. It also has radio investments in Slovakia and Bulgaria.
Emmis issued this statement late Wednesday:
“Emmis Communications’ Hungarian national radio station, Sláger, was taken off the air today (Wednesday, 11/18).
Emmis won the broadcasting license in 1997. During its 12-year stewardship, Emmis and Sláger invested almost 30 billion forints ($170 million at current exchange rates) in Hungary’s economy, provided employment to its all-Hungarian staff, brought world-best practices to the local industry, and operated in a completely transparent and politically non-partisan manner.
The Hungarian public responded quickly to the station: Sláger was consistently the top-rated station in Hungary, reaching 3.5 million listeners per week (out of a population of 10 million).
Despite the many benefits Sláger and Emmis provided, and despite the fact that our financial bid to renew our license would have demonstrably generated the most income for the Hungarian Treasury, the Hungarian equivalent to the FCC, the National Radio and Television Board (ORTT), awarded the license to a Hungarian political party. At the same time, they awarded the other national license, Danubius, to the other national political party.
There has been enormous international pressure on the Hungarian Government to reverse their decision, including a House resolution introduced today in the United States Congress.”
RBR-TVBR observation: A real tragedy for the people of Hungary, who are, however, quite aware of the political corruption that’s silenced their favorite radio station. If any good is to come of this, it may be that the people will hold their politicians accountable and demand a clean-up.