Less than six months after coming on air, CHIME FM 100.9, owned and operated by Grant Communications has been shut down due to alleged political pressure being brought to bear on the state-controlled National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC).
Owner of the company, George Grant confirmed to THE NEW TODAY newspaper that on Monday morning he received a letter from the commission whose Chairman is Dr. Linus Spencer Thomas indicating that he was broadcasting illegally and should shut down immediately.
A copy of the letter which appears on the front page issue of this week’s newspaper suggest that government was moving against the local FM radio station because it had submitted “an ineligible application for renewal of broadcasting license”.
The letter warned the broadcaster, who was given a broadcast licence under the former Congress government of Tillman Thomas, that he runs the risk of being fined up to EC$1 million or imprisonment of 10 years if he does not pull Chime FM off the air.
Grant immediately contacted the NTRC office to speak with an official who reluctantly confirmed to him that the threatening letter did not originate from them but that they were only asked to bring it into effect against him.
Speculation is rife that the letter was directed from within the Ministry of Communications and Works that is headed by Public Utilities Minister, Gregory Bowen.
Grant intends to challenge the NTRC decision to pull the plug on CHIME FM before a high court judge.
At least one prominent Queen’s Counsel has contacted Grant to express a willingness to join his legal defense team to contest the draconian decision taken against CHIME FM by the authorities.
After five years of getting the licence from the Thomas government, Grant approached the NTRC for a renewal of the licence since it was about to expire.
He was told by the commission that he first had to pay up outstanding fees before the renewal could be granted.
According to Grant, he worked out a payment schedule with the Dr. Spencer Thomas-led body in which EC$13, 500.00 was paid in three installments in order to fall in line with the requirements.
Of this amount $12, 500.00 was for outstanding licence fees and $1000.00 for the renewal fee.
Grant said he was given the frequency of 101.7 when the licence was first issued by NTRC under the Congress government.
He said that when he started to do test broadcasting on May 15, it was discovered that the same frequency was now being used by a more powerful radio station in neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago and it was interfering with the signals of CHIME FM.
Grant went back to NTRC to inform them of the problem and another frequency – 100.9 was promptly assigned to him.
It was the same NTRC-assigned frequency that he used until the Spencer Thomas-led outfit allegedly bowed to pressure from government to shut down the station.
During the 2003-08 rule of the island by the New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Mitchell, the broadcaster had met personally with the then Grenadian leader to request a broadcast licence to set up his own radio station.
Grant told this newspaper that the meeting took place in 2007 and was attended by Barry Collymore, the Barbadian-born then Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.
He said Dr. Mitchell informed him that there were no more frequencies available.
Prior to the meeting with the Grenadian leader, Grant had contacted NTRC and was told that there were lots of frequencies still available.
The broadcaster said that when he brought this information to the attention of PM Mitchell, the Prime Minister was stunned and offered a rather lukewarm response.
Dr. Mitchell replied: “Oh, I didn’t know that” and quickly added that there were other applications for requests for broadcast licenses before his, especially from the churches and they would have to be dealt with first.
According to Grant, PM Mitchell told him to meet with then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works, Gregory Bowen to follow up on the licence issue.
He declined the invitation based on an earlier encounter with Minister Bowen who had made a certain request of Grant which he considered to be unbelievable and obnoxious.
Grant said that Collymore sought to assure him that he should meet with Bowen because he was confident that “them fellahs will help him” with respect to the broadcast licence.
Two weeks after the meeting with PM Mitchell, Grant decided to contact Collymore for a follow up on the meeting with Minister Bowen.
He said the response from the Barbadian Press Secretary was rather interesting and Collymore with a chuckle in the voice uttered the following words: “George, you were right them boys and them won’t give the license”.
NNP lost the elections in July 2008 and within months, Grant was called by then PM Thomas in December 2008 to be informed that his Cabinet had approved the broadcast licence for him.
THE NEW TODAY contacted NTRC Chairman, Dr. Spencer Thomas on Tuesday and he said that at this point in time Grant does not have “a valid licence” to broadcast in the country.
He said it is the minister who is responsible for broadcasting in the country, Gregory Bowen who has the power to renew the licence and this has not been done.
The NTRC boss did not refute claims that officials within NTRC had given Grant the go-ahead to continue broadcasting on CHIME FM pending a resolution of the issue of the renewal of the licence with government.
Spencer-Thomas also admitted that several of the local FM radio stations, although having a valid licence to broadcast in the country were owing the Treasury thousands of dollars from their non-payment of licence fees.
However, he quickly added that these stations have all been put on a payment schedule in order to clear their outstanding balances with the Treasury.
Spencer-Thomas did not say if these stations are making regular payments.
Most of the FM stations operating in the country are known to be closely aligned to Mitchell’s NNP.
Grant told THE NEW TODAY that he was not surprised at the move against him since official sources with NTRC had been sending signals to him in recent months that the NNP regime was bringing pressure to bear to close down the FM station.