DOWNTOWN – The slur-slinging, ex-con radio host from whom the Federal Communications Commission is demanding answers about his ownership of a group of Metro East radio stations, now has those stations filing for federal bankruptcy protection. But one local bankruptcy attorney says the move appears to be an “end run” to keep the money he might lose if the feds take away his broadcast licenses.
Bob Romanik is the man at the center of the controversy. He appears on radio station KQQZ-AM in Belleville, Ill., calling himself “The Grim Reaper of Radio.” On his program racist rants using the so-called “n-word” repeatedly are the rule rather than the exception. On his September 27th program, he used the bigoted slur nine times in the first two minutes of the show after the open.
Although the FCC has received countless complaints over the years about Romanik’s language, it is his status as a convicted felon that has an FCC hearing scheduled for July 2020. It is there that his licenses could be revoked.
The FCC has accused him of purposely trying to hide his ownership of the stations in an effort to avoid such a move. In fact, the owner of the four stations is listed as Entertainment Media Trust, or EMT, not Romanik.
The bankruptcy filing came on Sept. 11 in the Southern District of Illinois. In the Chapter 7 paperwork, EMT claims about $2 million in assets. The stations’ FCC licenses and equipment make up almost all of that money. They list debts of a little over $120,000, the vast majority of which is legal fees.
So why would someone with $2 million file bankruptcy when he owes only a fraction of that amount?
“What he is attempting to do is essentially control ownership of the radio stations,” bankruptcy attorney Andrew Magdy told MetroSTL.com. Magdy is not associated with any parties in the case, but reviewed the material at our request.
“Given the circumstances, it is probably a very smart move,” Magdy said of the filing.
By filing bankruptcy, EMT, and presumably Romanik, put the assets in the hands of the trustee in the bankruptcy case. Under normal circumstances, the trustee would oversee the sale of the assets, and the payment of the debts owed by the group filing.
The key in this case, according to Magdy, is this: After paying off the $120,000 or so in debts, and about $83,000 in trustee’s fees, the remainder of the proceeds would go back to Entertainment Media Trust and, if you believe the allegations, Romanik himself. If the stations actually sold for the listed $2 million value, Romanik could end up pocketing well over $1.5 million.
Conversely, if the FCC hearing moved forward and his licenses were taken away, he would be left with nothing but the debts.
“This is a tactic to stop the FCC from continuing its hearing,” Magdy said.
The federal government apparently agrees. The U.S. Attorney and the FCC filed objections to the bankruptcy filing on Sept. 27. A hearing on Oct. 1st was continued, with the judge ordering both sides to file arguments by Oct. 8th.
This is the latest in a battle over Romanik’s presence on the airwaves that has gone on for years. Antonio French, publisher of MetroSTL.com, The NorthSider and The SouthSider newspapers, has been among Romanik’s on-air targets. French and the editorial pages of this publication have been active in seeking more complaints to be filed against Romanik with the FCC.
It was that pressure, in part, that led the federal watchdog to finally hold a hearing on Romanik and his stations this summer.
That hearing was called, according to an FCC statement at the time, “to determine whether the company has violated any rules held by the commission. The hearing was scheduled after a seven-year investigation concluded that Romanik allegedly created the EMT brand, provided funds to purchase four radio stations (KFTK-AM, WQQQ-AM, KZQZ-AM and KQQZ-AM), and ran these stations with the knowledge of having a criminal background as well as being convicted of a felony, which is a violation of commission’s rules.”
The statement pointed out that Romanik’s girlfriend and others were named as owners and trustees of EMT, “however, the host acknowledged himself as the de facto owner of both the stations and company on multiple occasions, even though his name was never documented in the company’s application for a broadcast license.”
Romanik, a former police chief of Washington Park, Ill., was convicted of bank fraud in 1999. He also pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States and obstructing justice for facilitating an illegal gambling operation in 1998. St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern filed a complaint in 2012 for the FCC to investigate the ownership of Romanik’s licenses with these present convictions, and followed up again in 2016. It wasn’t until June of this year that a hearing was finally held.