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A U.S. Station Switched From Bluegrass to Radio Sputnik—and Got Threats From the Feds

A broadcaster of the Russian-sponsored news and opinion channel was made to register as a foreign agent.

Illustrator: Mengxin Li for Bloomberg Businessweek


When a Washington, D.C.-area radio station owner switched from playing bluegrass music to Russian-sponsored news and opinion last summer, he didn’t expect the U.S. Department of Justice to treat him as a foreign agent. For nine years, John Garziglia had a deal with American University’s public radio station, WAMU, to rebroadcast its HD Bluegrass Country programming on his 105.5 FM station in Reston, Va. When WAMU canceled the bluegrass program because of its shrinking audience and a $142,000 operating deficit, Garziglia turned to a broker to find someone else to buy his station’s airtime.

By the end of 2016 the broker had lined up several suitors, including Radio Sputnik, a Kremlin-controlled media company whose reports sometimes reflect a Russian point of view. On-air talent includes former Breitbart News reporter Lee Stranahan, the 2016 vice presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and several fixtures from RT, the Kremlin’s television network. At the top of each hour, an announcer intones, “You’re listening to Radio SPOOT-nik, telling the untold.”