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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
HomeNewsArchives"Free Speech" Radio Show Discontinued, Station to Be Sold

"Free Speech" Radio Show Discontinued, Station to Be Sold

Free Speech radio host Roger Morgan says he is currently pursuing opportunities in California.Financial woes have forced Paradise 93.5 owner and talk-show host Roger W. Morgan to sell the radio station, which is now under interim management, Morgan confirmed Tuesday.
As his listeners already know, his widely followed, flagship weekday call-in radio show, "Free Speech," did not air Friday, Monday or Tuesday and apparently is now at an end as well.
Amanda Friedman, owner of WMYP-FM (98.3), a Spanish and Caribbean music station near Frederiksted, is now managing the station. Her husband, Jonathan K. Cohen, also owns several stations, in the territory.
Morgan blames the recession and high expenses for his woes.
"The economy is ultimately my biggest enemy here," Morgan said Tuesday. He purchased his lease on the station with the help of generous financing from three investors on the island, he said. "They very nicely allowed me to repay it as an interest-only loan every month," he said. "But with rising WAPA rates and just paying the salaries and bills, it came to a point where even that was more than I could handle."
He said he met with the investors and was close to working out a new arrangement, but they themselves were becoming financially pressed and needed their capital back, so he was forced to sell.
"I still hold the license, for a very limited time, until a buyer is in place," Morgan said. "I no longer am manager of the station."
Referring to Friedman’s team, Morgan said, "They are on 90-day due diligence, an LMA [license-managing agreement] as we say in the business, where they lease the radio station with the authority to sell ads and collect revenue and manage," he said. The FCC license transfer procedures involve a 90-day delay, he said. (An LMA is a license-managing agreement for a broadcast station, where the new management does not yet hold the license and is not responsible to or at risk for any license issues.)
"[Friedman] is doing the due diligence to see if they can or want to assume the assets and liabilities of the station," Morgan said.
According to Morgan, he was told Thursday that Friedman had decided to discontinue his show.
"It was the shock of a lifetime," he said. "That show was responsible for over half the revenues of the station. Listenership was phenomenal. Advertiser interest was spectacular. Caught me by total surprise, that did."
Wednesday morning, Friedman confirmed she was now managing the station through an LMA.
"I haven’t made any final decision about the purchase of WVVI," she said. "I am really uncovering the whole financial picture right now."
Initially, Friedman said she planned to keep Morgan on the air as host of "Free Speech."
"He told me he was pursuing another opportunity but would continue for a period of time," she said. Partway through the 90-day due diligence period, however, Morgan told her the show’s name was trademarked and that she could not use it after he left.
The surprise revelation "left a sour taste" and led toward the decision to take Morgan off the air, she said.
"It was a combination of his making it difficult to move forward and putting restrictions on us, and us having a lack of control over what happened," she said.
Friedman wants to continue the call-in show, perhaps under a different name, as soon as a good host can be found, she said.
"It is important to me the community knows I value the talk show, the venue it provides for the ability to voice your opinions," she said. "We hope to have the community involved in finding a great host to take it on and start changing it up."
But she wishes Morgan well.
"I wish Mr. Morgan godspeed in his next endeavors," she said.
As to WVVI, it appears Morgan may have saddled the station with a large amount of debt, affecting its potential value, Friedman said. A number of Morgan’s creditors, some of whom do not want to be named, have backed up Friedman’s suggestion, saying Morgan has borrowed extensively from an array of sources and has left them scrambling for repayment.
One creditor, Andres Tietje, who loaned Morgan $25,000 as down payment on the purchase of a Virginia radio station, has sued Morgan for repayment in V.I. Superior Court and won a judgment against him.
Also, Morgan’s landlord has filed to evict the former radio host for nonpayment of rent—something Morgan says is a misunderstanding over the cost of improvements he made to the property.
And questions are also being raised about the tax-exempt status, or lack thereof, of donations to several charitable efforts led by Morgan.
That so many loaned money to Morgan is perhaps ironic, as court records indicate he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Nebraska in 1998.
Morgan, meanwhile, is now scrambling to find employment, but remains optimistic.
"A lot of people have said really wonderful things to Kangja [Morgan’s wife] and me; that is one of the nicest things about what is going on," he said.
While disheartened, he is not angry, he said.
"We are not enemies," he said. "I admire them [Friedman and Cohen] for recognizing a good business deal."
The "Free Speech" show has had a long and colorful tenure on St. Croix. People from all walks of life would call and vent, sometimes sharing insight and inside information, sometimes sharing their personal misconceptions.
"People would share the most amazing things on that show, it was wonderful," Morgan said. "I swear, I think people would tell me things there on the radio they wouldn’t usually tell their closest friend."
The show made its list of enemies, especially among elected officials who took umbrage at what they felt was unfair criticism. After the V.I. Senate nearly doubled the governor’s salary to $150,000 and raised senators’ salaries to $85,000 a year, from $65,000, in a late-night, end-of-session vote in December 2006, callers to Morgan’s show began a recall petition campaign against four St. Croix senators, three of whom voted for the bill and one of whom was absent at the time of the vote.
Although the recall effort failed, the three St. Croix senators who voted for the pay raises were voted out in the 2008 election. St. Thomas senators, however, were less affected.
In retaliation, a group of senators petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to deny Morgan’s attempt to acquire the FCC license for his station, arguing Morgan tried to "destabilize the Legislative branch of government … and to promote divisiveness within the St. Croix community."
The FCC dismissed the complaints. Since then, complaining about "call-in radio shows" and their purported inaccuracy and scandal-mongering has been a regular pastime among legislators.
So what is next for Morgan? If he could, Morgan would prefer to stay in the territory because he loves it here, and his children have moved to St. Croix and are happily employed here, he said. He would stay on if the owners wanted, he said. "But I have no indication they would want me back."
So, with decent radio-host jobs somewhat scarce on the island, he has been shopping around stateside. Morgan said he has been in serious conversations with one Los Angeles station and another elsewhere in Southern California.
Meanwhile, with his children living in the territory, he will have "an excuse to come visit often," he said.

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