Fort Myers rock radio station goes ‘Trump Country.’ Is it legal?
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Experts in FCC and FEC regulations say the situation is virtually unprecedented.

A format change for a Fort Myers radio station ditched rock for country, while also marking firm political ground.

Trump Country 93.7 launched Wednesday, mixing singles about tailgates and heartaches with segues from a President Donald Trump impersonator. The move not only caused discord among now silenced 93X rock listeners, but raised questions about the use of public airwaves in the largest swing state to promote a single candidate in the highest-profile election in America.

An array of experts in election finance and broadcast say promoting a candidate for a media entity is virtually unprecedented. Most agreed the same legal exemptions protected pundits and editorials, meaning station management likely hasn’t run afoul of campaign laws and equal time regulations. But both Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and Trump himself may well have the right to raise a beef with station leadership.

Sun Broadcasting announced the switch to trade publication Radio Insight the day of. General Manager Jim Schwartz did not return calls to Florida Politics about the format change. At least on the first day of broadcast, there was no advertising on the station — and no disclaimers about the financing of 24/7 content.

Nancy Watkins, a longtime Republican treasurer for federal campaigns in Florida, could not say whether the rules governing ads for campaigns and political campaign committees applied to Trump Country.

“It depends on what they are saying,” she said, “and why they are saying it.”

Throughout the day, as a Trump-like voice described how the station was now “winning” and “making (the) country great again,” there was little reference to the coming presidential election.

The programming consisted so far of country singles (including by some Trump critics like Keith Urban and Sam Hunt) with the occasional prerecorded audio of a man giving a rough impression of the President.

The remarks have not been derogatory in any significant way toward Trump, nor have they sounded any flat-out call to action like voting in November.

“Look, my whole life is about winning. Now I’m winning in radio,” the impersonator stated between songs in the 11 a.m. hour.

“What would be better than Trump Country 93.7,” sounds another segue. “Nothing, it’s the best.”

But then, merely branding the station as Trump Country feels like an appeal to Trump voters, if not an outright endorsement of the President’s agenda.

Eric Robinson, another Florida campaign treasurer who primarily works with Republican political committees, said free speech protections generally afforded to talk show hosts and media commentators should apply to a radio station — even if it promotes Trump all day.

“At first blush, first blush, it doesn’t sound different than anyone else doing it,” he said. “They are just doing more of it. But it’s not different than large news stations like MSNBC 24/7 promoting Biden and ‘peaceful protests.’”

At the Federal Elections Commission itself, public information specialist Myles Martin said he could find no advisory opinions that applied to a situation like Trump Country.

Many say an argument could be made media exemptions would protect the station in the event Democrats or the Biden campaign filed a complaint.

But there are also questions about the use of public airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission did not respond to inquiries about whether this breaks the rules requiring equal time to all campaigns. But generally, that applies to ad time sales.

Susan Nilon, a former radio station owner and the executive director of the International Intellectual Property Institute, said the use of a clear impersonator likely means the station can call itself a parody. That affords a lot of protection from any censorship. And assuming the impersonator is the station owner or someone reflecting the owner’s position, protections of free speech also likely apply.

One segue cracks jokes that seem to disparage Biden.

“Now that they’ve heard Trump Country 93.7 in Southwest Florida, Joe Biden decided to buy a radio station in Delaware. Yeah, I heard it’s called Fake News 2020. Nice. So nice.”

But whatever the slant — or the quality — of the comedy, it’s hard to mistake the impersonation for that of the real Donald Trump, and the attempt seems on its face to be humor.

Still, there’s another question in play as well. How does Trump feel?

“Of someone pretending to be Trump and suggesting Trump is endorsing a radio station,” she said, “then that’s a problem.”

Mark Herron, an election law attorney in Tallahassee who typically represents Democrats, said he saw little evidence the station violated any campaign laws.

“Are they expressly advocating for the election of or the defeat of Donald Trump, or for the election or defeat of Joe Biden,” he asked, “or is it just a gimmick to get people to listen to the radio station? Right now, I think it’s just a gimmick to get people to listen that, you know, are Trump supporters.”

Trump Country certainly appears positioned to take advantage of Trump’s appeal to country music audiences by its very existence. And that’s likely a surprise to few. While the demographics of country listenership are continually changing, there are facets similar to the Trump base. A slightly lower percentage of country listeners are college graduates than the population as a whole, according to the Country Music Association. The music often celebrates a rural lifestyle seen most often in places where Trump performed best in 2016.

And if the name is supposed to act as a description of the Fort Myers media market, “Trump Country” feels accurate. In 2016, the Republican won Lee County over Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 67,000 votes, Collier County by more than 44,000, and Charlotte County by nearly 27,000. The net vote gain for the region constituted a sizable chunk of his nearly 113,000-vote margin statewide.

The country format has also found success in the Fort Myers-Naples radio market, though there are plenty of other stations occupying that space, including Cat Country 107.1 and 101.9 Gator Country. A new station needs something to make country listeners turn the dial to a frequency that previously was more likely to play Thirty Seconds to Mars than Florida Georgia Line.

That’s where the Trump branding may run afoul, Nilon said. Considering Trump, in particular, has guarded his brand for decades and used it to sell everything from real estate to steaks, knowing an independently owned radio station put his name in the title may be less flattering than the owners expect.

“Whether Trump has a problem, I don’t know,” she said. “But if you don’t have permission for a candidate, endorsing something without permission, that’s just a baldfaced lie.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.


12 comments

  • Nicki Wood

    September 18, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Bull shoot! This is a Republican State & the station can primote who they want. If you do not like a station, don’t turn it on. Just like CNN others promoting liberal ideas.

    • Ocean Joe

      September 19, 2020 at 10:17 am

      Only 35% of Florida’s 13,925,531 registered voters are Republican (as of July 2020), so no, it’s not a Republican state. It’s a heavily gerrymandered state with minority control.

      That’s why we have all these constitutional amendments all the time. Which pass. Because the legislature thwarts the will of the people so the public is forced to bypass Tallahassee.

      • Lester Bowen

        September 19, 2020 at 1:52 pm

        Get all the democrat scum out of Florida! Make Florida Great Again!

      • Cotteneye Joe

        September 20, 2020 at 6:43 pm

        Florida has always been a red state, it’s just when all the northerners escaped their Democratic Northeastern states within the last decade to retire here of all places, that the demographic started shifting

  • geekie hiway

    September 18, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    It’s amazing how many have sold their soul for this con artist. We have a man-child for President and yet they grumble about the loss of dignity to the office because of Obama and Clinton. You claim to be a Believer but you honor the most ungodly among us. Good luck getting to the Gates.

    • Christine

      September 18, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      If this is a private radio station, I am pretty sure they can do whatever they want to do as long as they abide by FCC guidelines. There are so many legitimate problems in this world, why make a big deal about things that are inconsequential?

    • John McMahon

      September 19, 2020 at 9:46 am

      Geekie that’s a good name for you girl! So could the ungodly Trump get into heaven if he only adopted the Democrat party Platform advocating abortion slaughter of human babies up to the 9th month of pregnancy? Does the sound of babies screaming as they die bother you at all or are you smug like the National Socialist Party Nazi doctors, who did the exact same thing to Jewish and gypsy children? Your deplorable party is still killing black folks by removing the police in your demonkkkrat ghettos as we speak. Truth hurts I know but you Stay safe!

      • James Robert Miles

        September 19, 2020 at 2:59 pm

        It’s a matter of a woman’s right to choose but since all right-wingers are fascist, you would NOT understand that. If men got pregnant, this would not be an issue! Let women decide if they want to have a child, not some draconian law. After all, it is their body now isn’t it? What a concept You and your ilk want to force a woman to do something against her will. If there is a God, she will have to deal with her maker. Your “dear leader” is forcing immigrant woman to be sterilized. Does that bother you. I bet that it doesn’t as your cult group of lemmings for Trump think that ANYTHING the A-hole in the White House does is OK with you! You can’t think for yourselves being the weak minded idiots that you are. The police are killing people without good cause! If you can’t see this than your as dumb as dirt! If as many white people were being killed for no good reason I bet you’d be out there protesting. Bet your a racist like all good Trumpsters just like Trump! The truth hurts but please do us all a favor and don’t war a mask. One less Nazi will increase the intelligence of the human gene pool!

        • Cotteneye Joe

          September 20, 2020 at 6:53 pm

          As a legal immigrant I’m bothered by fence hoppers being called ‘immigrant’. They are illegal aliens. ‘Immigrant’ is only legally given to to people with immigrant visas, which they do not have. Also, that story was an isolated case inside an ICE facility in Georgia, there are no other facilities that report that behavior. It cannot be blamed on Trump even if you want it to.

          Also, as a reminder the Nazis were a Socialist party. More like the Democrats and their KKK that have historically targeted black people and denied their right to vote. Democrats and their Planned Parenthood facilities primarily are found close to black communities. If you can’t see that it’s you who are dumber than dirt.

          How about actually looking at Trump’s speeches rather than blindly assuming that what MSNBC spouts is truthful based on their twisted interpretation of what was actually said?

      • geekie hiway

        September 20, 2020 at 8:51 am

        Who said I was a Democrat and supported their agenda? I am referring to your hypocritical beliefs, and then of course your own lies to support it.

  • Joshua Adams

    September 22, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Its a radio industry stunt, and a dang good one. They are getting tons of free promotion from all the articles being written.

  • Richard Anderson

    October 1, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    Show some proof that baby’s are being aborted up to the ninth month of pregnancy, not some quote from Rush Limbaugh or any other Fox “News” commentator. Neither side wants that. The irony is that the Republicans concern for fetuses ends at the ninth month, once they are born. Once they take a breath, Republicans forget about them, except to vote against any programs that would give some much needed help to these new mothers and their child/children. Hypocrisy squared, just like your president.

Comments are closed.


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