Mother Angelica may be best known for starting a Catholic television network, but her launch of shortwave radio on Dec. 28, 1992, has also held its own in the work of the New Evangelization. EWTN Radio has seen tremendous growth, with 215 stations now on the air and new projects in the works.
For the 20th anniversary of EWTN Radio, David Vacheresse, general manager of EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about the radio network’s past, present and future.
What was Mother Angelica’s inspiration for launching EWTN Radio?
In the control room at EWTN Radio, there is a large sign that hangs over all the equipment which says, “Then I saw another angel flying high overhead, with everlasting good news to announce to those who dwell on earth, to every nation, tribe, tongue and people” (Revelation 14:6). I believe this, better than anything else, sums up Mother’s inspiration for starting radio.
In fact, I believe it explains Mother’s inspiration for everything she started. It was all about souls. More correctly, it was about each individual soul. Mother Angelica once explained that she would have gladly gone through all the difficulties and trials associated with starting EWTN even if just one soul was converted. Like St. Don Bosco before her, Mother Angelica can claim as her motto, “Give me souls … and take the rest.”
How did you get your start with EWTN and EWTN Radio?
I have been associated with EWTN and Mother Angelica in one way or another since 1988. I began working with EWTN Radio shortly after the shortwave radio service was launched in December of 1992. In 1996, Mother Angelica announced that EWTN would make its radio signal available via satellite to AM and FM stations throughout the country free of charge. In January of 1997, I became the station manager of EWTN’s very first full-time affiliate station located in Reno, Nev. (KIHM 920 AM). That single station has now grown into our largest affiliate group, Immaculate Heart Radio, which operates 26 radio stations throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
I spent the next 12 years working with groups around the country who were interested in starting EWTN affiliates in their local communities. Because of Mother’s generosity and the talented people involved with EWTN, the number of affiliates has grown from five at the end of 1997 to 215 today.
What have been some of the highlights during the past 20 years?
From the first day of broadcast, we have heard from listeners whose lives have been changed by what they have heard on EWTN Radio. In fact, we have heard from people whose lives were actually saved by the broadcast. There are too many to mention, but one that stands out for me personally is the woman who called one of our affiliate stations and told them she had come across their station while on her way to the abortion clinic. After hearing the program that was being aired at the time, she turned her car around and kept her baby.
We know that many lives are changed and converted through EWTN Radio. We know this because Scripture tells us when the word of God goes out, “it does not return void, but accomplishes that for which it was sent” (Isaiah 55:11). The many phone calls, letters and emails that we and our affiliates receive testify to this truth.
As each new station has been added over the last 20 years, and EWTN Radio has been picked up for carriage by secular-radio broadcast behemoths, by new media services such as Sirius Satellite Radio and iHeartRadio, a new, ever-increasing audience is able to hear the teachings of the Church that Jesus Christ founded on the apostle Peter.
Can you talk about the growth of Catholic radio generally?
The growth of Catholic radio throughout the U.S. is largely attributable to selfless men and women who come forward in their communities and introduce the idea of bringing an EWTN affiliate station to their area. Many of these individuals and families make great sacrifices to get a station on the air. The partnership that Mother Angelica created with EWTN, through free programming and these individuals and groups, has been the fuel that has led to the spectacular growth of Catholic radio over the last 20 years.
It took over 10 years for EWTN to reach 100 affiliates and less than five years to go from 100 to over 200. Based on the interest we continue to see from lay Catholics around the country who are interested in starting new EWTN affiliate stations, that growth should trend upward well into the future.
What impact is Catholic radio having?
I believe it’s changing the culture in each community where it is present. Archbishop [Joseph] Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., said that his local EWTN Radio affiliate (1090 AM, The Catholic Radio Network) has become his most effective tool for teaching adults the faith in his archdiocese. Marcus Grodi, the host of Journey Home on EWTN, said that many Protestant pastors who are on their way into the Church or have already become Catholic credit their local Catholic radio station as igniting the “spark” that led to their decision.
And let’s not forget to mention the many men and women who credit Catholic radio specifically for their religious vocations. A large percentage of those who call into our daily live shows are non-Catholics. So EWTN Radio truly is contributing to the New Evangelization efforts introduced by our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and so strongly promoted by Pope Benedict XVI.
Where are you seeing growth?
New EWTN Radio affiliates continue to establish themselves in communities across the United States. In 2012 alone, affiliate groups launched stations for the first time in cities such as Lafayette, La.; Montgomery and Wheeling, W. Va.; Augusta, Ga.; Kodiak, Alaska; Syracuse, N.Y.; Tulsa, Okla.; Abilene, Texas; and Front Royal, Va. It was a record-setting year, as 40 new EWTN affiliate stations were added and are now a part of the EWTN Radio Network's family of affiliates.
Also, EWTN Radio has pushed beyond the days of using only transmitters and towers. In addition to the 215 AM and FM stations across the United States, there are numerous ways to listen live to EWTN Radio through the EWTN website at EWTN.com/radio, Sirius Satellite Radio (Channel 130) and iHeartRadio or on mobile devices (http://www.ewtn.mobi/).
Where are EWTN Radio’s newest stations?
By the end of January 2013, we will see new EWTN Radio affiliates on the air in New Orleans, Las Vegas and, not far behind them, Houston.
There are projects under way to bring stations to New York City and Los Angeles.
Based on the proven effectiveness of the stations that are on the air, we really need to have stations in every market and community in the U.S. I believe the work and mission of Catholic radio is best summed up by the exhortation of St. Jude: “Convince some who doubt and save some by snatching them from the fire” (Jude 22-23). On a daily basis, we hear from people who have had their doubts allayed and from those who share remarkable stories of radical life changes that have come about through programs they hear on EWTN Radio.
What’s next for EWTN Radio?
EWTN Radio’s greatest opportunity for growth, both nationally and internationally, is in the area of our Spanish-language service, EWTN Radio Católica Mundial. In addition to our English language broadcast, we also provide a 24/7 Spanish-language feed (delivered via satellite) free of charge to AM/FM stations both inside and outside the United States. Our goal for the future is to have two full-time AM or FM radio affiliates in each market — one for our English-language audience and one for our Spanish-language audience.