The man who calls himself “The Grim Reaper of Radio” is about to face the Grim Reaper of the FCC.
An Order of Dismissal of the license renewals, Chapter 7 asset liquidation plan and Construction Permit application for a new FM translator in Highland, Ill., has been issued by the Commission’s Administrative Law Judge.
The decision essentially supplies the nails for the coffin the Commission has constructed for all of the assets of Entertainment Media Trust in St. Louis.
In the ruling, distributed Wednesday by ALJ Jane Hinckley Halprin, EMT was assailed for failing to take advantage of the FCC’s offer to present its arguments and state its case. “The Presiding Judge stood ready to receive EMT’s evidence and consider arguments in favor of granting its applications, and afforded EMT several procedural concessions to facilitate discovery,” Halprin said. “EMT chose not to take advantage of those opportunities, however, and instead has increasingly detached from this proceeding, culminating in its
failure to submit any response to [a] January 24 Order.”
As such, the presiding judge in the matter declined “to expend further government time and resources on this matter.”
The ruling puts KZQZ-AM 1430, founded in April 1922 as WIL-AM, in danger of being unable to celebrate 100 years on the air, as its call sign and license are on the road to deletion, pending a final FCC ruling on whether the station should be erased from existence or part of a forced divestment.
The other stations impacted by the Order are KQQZ-AM 1190 in Fairview Heights, Ill.; daytime-only WQQW-AM 1510 in Highland, Ill.; and KFTK-AM 1490.
The difficulties for Entertainment Media Trust bellowed in June 2019, when a multi-year inquiry by the FCC’s Media Bureau determined that an individual convicted of felony offenses for obstruction of justice and bank fraud actually controls the four stations.
This counters documentation filed with the Commission showing Dennis Watkins as EMT’s Trustee. Indeed, documents showed Watkins as the 100% interest holder in the Belleville, Ind., entity.
Watkins was the party asked to participate in the ALJ hearing; he didn’t. In January 2020, Watkins responded not by appearing at the hearings but through a pleading submission eventually deemed “procedurally and substantively deficient.”
The problems for EMT began to mount in 2012, when the company filed renewal applications for the four stations.
A petition to deny those applications from “local resident and listener” Mark Kern.
Kern is the Democratic County Board Chairman in St. Clair County, Ill., and served as Belleville, Ill., Mayor from 1997-2016.
It is Kern who alerted the Media Bureau that the stations were actually controlled by an individual other than Watkins. That individual would be Robert S. “Bob” Romanik.
Romanik is a “shock jock” who calls himself the “Grim Reaper of Radio” and is a shotgun-toting former police chief of Washington Park, Ill.
He is also a convicted felon who served time in a federal penitentiary.
Romanik has been convicted of felony offenses for obstruction of justice and bank fraud, a violation of the Communications Act and the Commission’s rules. However, Romanik wasn’t exactly secretive in sharing his ties to the four stations. The Bureau’s investigation found that Romanik has identified himself as a radio station owner on various forms disclosing his political contributions.
The Bureau also found that Romanik purported to assign EMT’s beneficial interest in the radio stations to his longtime girlfriend, Katrina M. Sanders, and directly participated in negotiations involving the 2016 Local Programming and Marketing Agreement initially signed with former KFTK-FM in St. Louis owner Emmis Communications for KFTK-AM.
There’s more: the Media Bureau investigation showed that EMT’s 2012 trust instrument was executed after EMT acquired the stations and does not appear to contain provisions insulating Romanik from ownership of the stations as required under Commission rules.
Further, Romanik provided EMT with the initial $500,000 it used to acquire WQQW, and some $1.2 million was given by Romanik to EMT to purchase KZQZ.
That amounts to 100% of the funds.
It was also discovered that Romanik gave EMT $450,000 to acquire KFTK-AM, and $600,000 to buy KQQZ.
These actions were purportedly done so that Romanik’s adult son, Stephen Romanik II, could fulfill his dream of entering the radio broadcasting business.
This saw the creation by the now-deceased Stephen Romanik of “Insane Broadcasting,” which would operate and manage the EMT stations. But, this didn’t exactly remove Robert Romanik from the mix, as Kern’s claims note that Romanik appears “to exercise control over the hiring of personnel and management” of the stations.
With the the September 17, 2015 death of Stephen Romanik, a power of appointment contained in EMT’s Trust Agreement tied to Insane Broadcasting was given to Robert Romanik.
EMT asserts that Romanik declined this appointment and later decided to
assign his rights in the Trust. But, a key issue stood out for the Media Bureau: EMT did not explain who exercised control over the stations in the year between Stephen Romanik’s death and Romanik’s purported assignment of his beneficial interest in EMT to an individual with the surname of Sanders.
The Hearing Designation Order for EMT was dissected in detail in a June 2019 column authored by retired Foster Garvey of counsel Erwin Krasnow and Jacksonville-based attorney John Wells King.
In short, Krasnow and King said the Bureau’s HDO for EMT “provides a road map for broadcasters who do not want to jeopardize their station licenses.” They pointed to a “straw man” and “sham entity” and unlawful de facto control.
The Hearing Designation Order also ended up derailing a Chapter 7 voluntary petition filed Sept. 11, 2019, designed to pave the way for the stations’ sale in a liquidation that would o resolve debt tied a handful of creditors, with liabilities of $121,495.77. Fletcher Heald & Hildreth was owed $99,632.14.
EMT listed its asset worth as $2.02 million, court documents show.
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