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For a particular generation of Top 40 music fans, “The Mighty 690” is still remembered for its early 1980s programming targeting Los Angeles, San Diego and much of Southern California from a transmitter located in Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico.
Today, this facility is still being used to target U.S. audiences. But, the programming choice has drawn the ire of one influential D.C. politician. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants to put a stop to the mega-watt AMs use for “URadio.”
Why? Cruz says “URadio” is nothing more than an information fountain for the government of the People’s Republic of China.
“China should not be able to set up shop in Mexico and blanket America with propaganda,” Cruz exclaimed in a statement released late Friday (4/24) that reveals his intent to introduce legislation that would prevent the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China from “exploiting” FCC loopholes to propagandize to Americans from radio stations in Mexico or Canada.
While Cruz mentions Canada, CRTC regulatory policy enacted in 1980 largely ceased the use of Canadian radio station with the expressed purpose of serving U.S.-based audiences. The lone exceptions are Bell Media’s CKWW-AM, branded as “Motor City 580” and targeting both Windsor, Ontario and Detroit; and two FMs owned by Byrnes Communications that are now targeting Buffalo listeners through a strategic alliance with Buddy Shula’s Radio One Buffalo. In key Canadian markets with large Chinese populations, Fairchild Media has been the leading provider of Mandarin-language programming, with stations in Vancouver and Toronto.
Cruz’s fight, however, appears to focus on Phoenix TV, a privately owned Hong Kong-based broadcast company that receives funding from the Chinese government in Beijing.
In autumn 2018, Phoenix TV emerged as a suitor for XEWW-AM 690, with 77kw during daylight hours and 50kw at night. This is the former “XTRA,” which began life as XEAK — using the moniker “The Mighty 690.” It was a Top 40, until abruptly dropping the format in 1961 for what may be the first all-news radio station. Then came the change to the famed XTRA calls, and Beautiful Music, Top 40, Oldies, Sports Talk (under Clear Channel operation until 2006, when the FCC said it had to count against its San Diego-based operations) and from Feb. 6, 2006 through summer 2018 Spanish-language News/Talk programming as “W Radio.”
That’s when URadio took over the facility, as part of a FCC-approved use of the station administered by the government of Mexico.
On July 9, 2018, the FCC accepted an application from “W Radio” operator GLR Southern California LLC to send foreign transmissions of broadcast programs to a Mexican radio station.
As RBR+TVBR reported in August 2018, a petition to deny was filed to block the application.
This came on Aug. 8, 2018, from Chinese Sound of Oriental and West Heritage, a radio company that owns stations such as low power KQEV-LPFM 104.7 in Walnut, Calif., a San Gabriel Valley community with one of Los Angeles County’s largest Chinese populations.
The FCC moved forward in allowing GLR to bring URadio to XEWW, with the intent of reaching the Chinese population found along the CA-60 and I-10 corridor between downtown Los Angeles and the Inland Empire community of Ontario.
XEWW’s city-grade signal easily covers these L.A.-area communities, such as Monterey Park and Alhambra, as well as the entire San Diego, Oxnard-Ventura, Santa Barbara and Riverside-San Bernardino markets.
What is URadio? In the 8am hour on Monday, spoken word programming featured two women, “Snow Joe” and Yiyi, speaking in Mandarin. Programming is locally focused, with Los Angeles-focused interview programs meshed with traditional Chinese music.
Marketing messages tout how URadio covers more than 1 million Chinese in greater Los Angeles.
URadio’s base of operation is an office building in the San Gabriel Valley city of Irwindale, Calif., known for its speedway.
The building has a Phoenix TV sign displayed at the entrance to its parking lot.
This connection to Phoenix TV, despite its locally originating programming schedule, is what has raised eyebrows in Washington. Formally, GLR agreed to sell its interest in XEWW to Vivian Huo’s H&H Group USA, a division of a New York-based investment banking firm. Huo is a U.S. citizen.
Nevertheless, Cruz, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has made it clear the Phoenix TV connection to URadio is, in his view, problematic. And, given the origination of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China (pictured, at top), frustrations over the pandemic could be playing a role in why Cruz is seeking legislation that would amend the Brinkley Act in the Communications Act of 1934.
This amendment would prohibit the Commission from issuing 325(c) licenses to broadcast applicants who intend to change the language of the station they are purchasing, unless the FCC can certify that the programming of the station “will never be influenced by a foreign government or governing party.”
This immediately begs the question as to what a radio or TV broadcasting company would be required to do if they wanted to change their programming to Spanish-language fare, or any other multicultural option. Given the interest in U.S. Hispanic media by companies based in Spain and Mexico, could new scrutiny be based on those properties, too?
It’s doubtful — should Cruz’s proposal ever become law once introduced in May, following Congress’ short Spring recess. Constituents in Texas, where South Asian media has sprung in Dallas and Houston and Spanish-language radio was born at KCOR-AM in San Antonio, would likely raise red flags at any attempt to thwart their business endeavors.
Besides, Cruz’s ire is clearly at Beijing, and Phoenix TV.
“China should not be able to set up shop in Mexico and blanket America with propaganda,” Cruz said. “Every year, the [Communist Party of China] spends billions of dollars purchasing news outlets and waging information warfare to extend the reach of its propaganda and whitewash the unflattering and politically inconvenient truths about its totalitarian regime. We are seeing this play out right now as news outlets across the country parrot Chinese talking points about the coronavirus pandemic – a pandemic that could have prevented. I look forward to introducing this legislation when Congress returns and closing FCC loopholes that allow China to wage their information warfare from across the border in Mexico.”
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