TOUCH 106.1 gets boost in push to get back on-air license

Backers of the embattled Grove Hall radio station TOUCH 106.1 took a new approach to returning the station’s signal to local airwaves: a non-binding ballot question. It did the job, but there’s more work to be done.

Voters in the 7th Suffolk District were faced with an additional ballot question on Election Day, Question 5, which asked voters to instruct their state representative “to vote in favor of legislation to facilitate the licensing of low power radio stations in underserved communities.”

From April 2014: TOUCH 106.1 FM pulled off the air after raid

The business in question was TOUCH 106.1 and the “Save Touch 106.1 FM” ballot committee had been set up on October 22, with Jim Fleming, a West Springfield-based campaign consultant, as its treasurer. No chairman is listed in the group’s filings with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The ballot question was approved by 77 percent of the vote in the district: 3,191 to 967. Campaign filings show that Fleming donated $980 in robo calls promoting the measure and another $3,617 for printing while postage was paid by Brookline-based Harold Hubschman of the consulting firm Spoonworks.

Charles Clemons, a co-founder of the station known to the TOUCH audience as “Brother Charles,” told the Reporter on Tuesday that the ballot question supporters are “taking the fight to the federal level” to secure a special license from the FCC to put the radio station back on the air. Clemons is not listed on any of the ballot committee’s campaign documentation.

“TOUCH has always been a trailblazer and this was a way to show the community that all politics is local,” Clemons said. “I want to have a tsunami effect for this initiative.”

Federal officials shut down the radio station and seized broadcasting equipment in April charging the business with operating without a license. Since then, the station has continued, unencumbered, online. Before the election, it ran ads voiced by Clemons in support of Question 5, which had no organized opposition.

The only hitch for TOUCH 106.1 FM: a public policy question is non-binding, effectively toothless. Such ballot questions are designed, says the secretary of state’s office, to “afford the opportunity to the public to apprise their senators and representatives of their sentiments upon important public questions.” As such, elected officials are not required to act on public policy ballot questions.

On Nov. 4, there were 16 policy questions in 55 House districts across the state. In Boston’s 12th Suffolk, a lone public policy ballot question asked if the “representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to propose an amendment” to end campaign contributions from corporations, seeking to reverse the Supreme Court’s so-called Citizens United decision. It passed with 68 percent of the vote.

“This, at the end of the day, shows a specific number of people in a district are concerned about the issue that they voted on,” said state Rep. Dan Cullinane, who represents the 12th Suffolk. In addition to his work at the State House, Cullinane said he will also write a letter to the congressional delegation.

As to Touch 106.1, 7th Suffolk state Rep. Gloria Fox, who arguably has been called to action by the ballot results, did not return requests for comment. But Mary Tuitt, Fox’s chief of staff, said the representative has previously reached out to the congressional delegation about the station’s on-air license, and “we know we are going to pass this on to our congressional colleagues.”