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Tuning In To The Truth: The Growing Witness of Catholic Radio | Valerie
Schmalz | September 15, 2005
Lively Catholic voices are being raised on the radio dial around the country
in a movement that appears to be picking up steam, with a major Catholic
station launched in New Mexico this month, joining more than a hundred others
around the country.
"We have people listening to us because they are just sick and tired
of the stuff on the air. Its the rap music, the sexual content on
the radio. They dont want to hear it. They dont want their kids
to hear it on the way to school," said Teresa
Tomeo, host of Ave
Maria Radios "Catholic Connection" in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"People are going out of their way to tune inif they cant
listen to you in the car, they are listening to you on the Internet when
they come home."
"Our mission is to evangelize and share the Catholic faith," said
Tony Holman, president of Covenant
Network, founded in 1997 and now grown to seven stations and five translators
in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as parts of Illinois, Nebraska, North Dakota
and Indiana. Translators rebroadcast a radio signal to expand range.
The movement is new. Most Catholic radio stations began broadcasting less
than ten years ago and most rely on base programming provided free by Eternal
Word Radio Network, the radio arm of Mother Angelicas highly successful
24-hour Catholic television broadcasting network, Eternal Word Television
"Were not just in little towns any more," said Thom Price
of EWTN Radio.
"Were in Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia. We just got a new
affiliate in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. Its really an exciting
time to watch all this happening."
Catholic radio is also available via satellite and the Internet, and EWTN
even broadcasts short wave, Price said. "I got an e-mail from a man
in Communist China who was listening to us on a short wave."
"When we started our first radio station in Reno, Nevada, eight years
ago, it was the seventh radio station in the whole country," said Doug
Sherman, president and founder of Immaculate
Heart Radio and a founding board member of the Catholic
Radio Association. The trade association was founded in 1999 to focus
on supporting and expanding Catholic radio and counts as members most Catholic
radio apostolates, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and several
"Immaculate Heart Radio now has ten stations and there are about a
hundred Catholic radio stations in the country," said Sherman.
In contrast, Evangelical Christian radio is entrenched. ChristianRadio.com
lists approximately 2,400 stations around the United States, a 24:1 ratio
to Catholic stations. The Catholic model is non-profit and relies on listeners
and donors. Many of the non-Catholic Christian stations operate successfully
on a commercial basis, selling time for both programming and spots.
Sherman is unfazed.
"Theres 30,000 Protestant denominations. We only need one Catholic
station in each market." But Sherman admits "they got a head start
while we were asleep," Thirty years ago, Protestants began acquiring
stations from the Federal Communications Commission, when licenses were
free, while Catholics, whose bishops were not interested in the idea after
losing millions in a Catholic television venture, shied away from it.
"I think we were just asleep at the wheel. Here we led the way with
Bishop Fulton Sheen, and then its as if the Evangelicals got it and
we didnt. Now the consequence is were faced with these huge
price tags that we have to pay just to catch up," Sherman said. Sheens
decades-long radio and television evangelism, beginning in 1930 with "The
Catholic Hour" radio show, made him an American household name. (In
2000, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints officially opened the Cause
of Archbishop Sheen and conferred on him the title, "Servant of God.")
Ave Maria Radio in Michigan, Starboard Network which operates Relevant
Radio from Green Bay, Wisconsin Immaculate Heart Radio, and St.
Louis-based Covenant Network are the major Catholic radio station networks.
There are many more individual Catholic radio stations. Most rely on EWTN
for a large portion of their base programming, and some also supply local
programming. While most of the Catholic radio stations are independently
owned non-profit stations, there are seven diocesan radio stations, mostly
in Texas and Florida, directly under the local bishops operational
In a way, Catholic radio in New Mexico is something of a hybrid. Santa Fe
Archbishop Michael Sheehan asked Immaculate Heart Radio, which owns stations
in California and Nevada, to collaborate with the archdiocese. The Archdiocese
of Santa Fe raised $1 million to purchase a 100,000 watt FM station in Milan,
New Mexico, as well as stations and translators to spread the signal, and
then handed the station over to IHR to own and operate the stations in cooperation
with the archdiocese. This is the first time lay Catholic radio people and
a bishop have collaborated in such a unique relationship. IHR president
Sherman predicts, "This thing is going to snowball. The first few years,
the bishops didnt know what to do with us, they didnt know if
we were vigilantes."
Indeed EWTN, Immaculate Heart, and the other Catholic radio organizations
are financially and organizationally independent of Catholic hierarchy and
tend to be more loyal to Magisterial teaching than the majority of U.S.
Catholics. EWTN vets its shows with its own theology department, for instance,
and also has a working relationship with Vatican Radio, broadcasting some
of its shows, Price said.
Pat Ryan Garcia manages the
radio arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, producing the
show Catholic Radio Weekly and overseeing five other shows that are distributed
to stations. On September 13, the bishops conference inaugurated their
own, in-house studio, with an eye to expanding their programming, she said.
"Its a booming thing," Garcia said.
Most Catholic stations do not participate in the Nielson or Arbitron ratings,
which are what tell advertisers how many people listen to a station. But
Ave Maria radio host Tomeo is convinced that Catholic radio and live Catholic
talk shows in particular are drawing listeners. "We are just blown
away by the number of listeners and the response we get on the pledge drive,"
Tomeo got her start in commercial broadcasting and switched over to Catholic
radio. She is part of a small cadre of professional broadcasters who are
leading the way in Catholic radio.
Southern California-based Catholic
Answers produces radio programming as part of its apologetics apostolate.
Jerry Usher, host of "Catholic
Answers Live", is another radio professional. "The majority
of people starting stations now are not radio people. Their background is
not in the industry. But,what is fueling them is much more important this
zeal for souls."
While Usher says the Holy Spirit is at work, this lack of expertise can
at times make progress more difficult: "If you take someone whos
been in the business for fifty years, they know who to call, what buttons
to push. There are groups forming and it is sometimes taking them years
to get on the air. None of this is a criticism. In fact, even though wed
all like to see it happen more quickly, the whole process is a marvel to
Catholic Radio Association President Stephen Gajdosik says that is where
the Catholic Radio
Association comes inwith support and help to start and operate
The Federal Communications Commission has indicated it will open up the
noncommercial end of the FM dial by years end and later on will allow
application for Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, Gajdosik said.
The Catholic Radio Association plans to provide the engineering studies
and help with the applications of 200 Catholic organizations or people who
want to apply, Gajdosik said. Gajdosik encourages interested Knights of
Columbus Councils, Regnum Christi and Opus Dei chapters, and other groups
the radio association for more information. Local groups are preferred
by the FCC and will have an advantage even over such well-known organizations
as National Public Radio, Gajdosik explained.
"Were undergoing a huge push. Its the biggest weve
ever done," Gajdosik said. In addition to helping with engineering
studies and FCC applications, the association is also helping some bishops
start Catholic Spanish language stations. Gajdosik is assisting the bishops
of Charleston, South Carolina and Amarillo, Texas, with Spanish language
stations as well as in Sacramento, California, Sherman is working with the
bishops to develop another one. (For those interested in starting a station,
Gajdosik recommends attending the 2005 Global Catholic Radio Conference
October 20-22nd in Birmingham, Alabama, sponsored by EWTN and the association.)
The goal, broadcasters said over and over, is evangelization. "When
you hear the beauty of the faith, truthfully expounded, its like a
tuning fork," said Gajdosik. "You hear Christ and it resonates
in your soul."
"The stories, we hear them all the time," said Usher. "We
give God the glory, obviously, but for Him to use our humble little radio
programto see whats going on is amazing. We have people
who have been away from the church for thirty years, and theyll go
back to confession," Usher said. "Its just the day-to-day,
rubber hits the road, diaper-changing moms, truck-driving dads, who are
having their lives changed by Catholic radio."
"I got a phone call from a man who identified himself as a Protestant
minister," Immaculate Heart Radios Sherman recounts. "He
said he had never heard the Christian message delivered in such a loving
way and he was planning to go to his first Catholic Mass on Sunday."
Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a
reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast
media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San
Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at
Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco.
Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.
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