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FCC Ruling Lets More Catholic Radio Blossom
BY TIM DRAKEREGISTER SENIOR WRITER
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dr. Ray Guarendi
dispenses parenting advice over the air on Relevant Radio — which often
features Register publisher Father Owen Kearns. Register editors discuss the
week’s headlines on Sirius satellite radio Channel 159 — “The Catholic
While Catholic radio stations still
lag behind Protestant stations in total, the numbers are slowly growing.
Come October, Catholics will have an
unprecedented opportunity to double the number of FM terrestrial stations
operating across the country. That’s when the Federal Communications Commission
is opening the application window for new FM non-commercial educational (NCE)
At present, there are approximately
150 operating Catholic broadcast facilities, said Steve Gajdosik, president of
the Charleston, S.C.–based Catholic Radio Association.
“We expect that the NCE could bring
the total to 300,” said Gajdosik. “Last year was our biggest year yet with 21
In the last six months alone, new
Catholic radio stations have been added in Colorado Springs, Dallas, Fort
Myers, Fla., and Pensacola, Fla. Spanish and English stations have started up
in Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas.
Such efforts are often cumulative,
building on one another. That’s the case with Pensacola’s new station — Divine
Word Radio. It’s the result of EWTN’s availability on Sirius Satellite Radio.
President and general manager Gene Church
said that he felt called to start a new station after listening to EWTN.
“I listened to Catholic radio
constantly on Sirius and thought that this was great,” said Church. “Through
the catechesis of Catholic radio, I began to grow in the conviction that this
needed to be accessible to more people.”
Divine Word hopes to widen its
reach, eventually broadcasting to the Gulf Coast regions of Florida and
Gajdosik said that a small but
growing number of bishops are taking an interest in the ability of Catholic
radio to reach large numbers of people in their dioceses.
Bishop Richard Malone is seeking seven or eight NCE applications in Maine.
Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo is pursuing six,” said Gajdosik. “Archbishop José
Gomez of San Antonio, Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Archbishop Raymond
Burke of St. Louis, and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., got on early
when Catholic radio wasn’t popular. They put their names behind it and helped
raise money to promote this effort because they saw the benefit.”
“I can drive from one end of the
state to the other and have Catholic radio,” said Bishop Robert Baker of
Charleston, S.C., commenting on the state’s two Catholic radio stations. “I
myself get educated.”
Gajdosik said that 2007 holds the
promise of new stations in Houston and San Francisco.
“We can reach 5 million people for
the cost of sending out 26,000 newspapers,” said Gajdosik. “Catholic radio
currently broadcasts to more than 95 million people in the United States. NCE
has the potential to add another 20-30 million listeners.”
Another new radio effort that
appears to be having a positive impact is the Archdiocese of New York’s
“Catholic Channel” on Sirius Satellite Radio. Lino Rulli has been hosting
Sirius’s “The Catholic Guy” since The Catholic Channel’s launch Dec. 4, 2006.
“I had a lot of fears and doubts about the direction, whether it would work,
and if we would have an audience,” said Rulli.
He said he has been pleasantly
surprised by how much people like it.
“We have listeners all across
America, in Canada and Mexico. Our programmer said that we are getting the same
number of calls as a regular channel would get,” said Rulli. “We also have a
ton more non-Catholic listeners than I thought.”
He knows because they call in,
e-mail him, and link to his page on MySpace. It’s a different audience than
Sirius’s neighboring channel, EWTN.
“EWTN is like a master’s level
course,” said Rulli. “Our audience doesn’t know what ‘catechetical’ is. We’re
proud of that. We want to give them something that has never existed in the
That doesn’t mean competition is
always good. Sirius Canada used to carry both EWTN and The Catholic Channel. In
March, Sirius Canada released a new channel lineup, dropping EWTN.
“A number of people called and wrote
to complain,” said Brady Grant, regional manager for EWTN Canada. “We’re
working on getting EWTN back on Sirius Canada and have been told that will
happen with their new lineup in July or August.”
In addition to new stations and channels,
some radio professionals are producing new Catholic content.
Jeff Gardner, formerly of Relevant
Radio, and Catholic journalist Tom Szyszkiewicz have created Catholic Radio
International as a way to provide content for Catholic stations.
“Historically, the Church has been
at the forefront of communications,” said Gardner. “Whether the printing press
or Vatican Radio, the Church has been about the business of spreading the Good
Yet, says Gardner, when it comes to
modern communications, the Church has had little if any involvement in
television or motion pictures.
“Those have been the bulldozers for
popular culture,” said Gardner. “The Internet, as a delivery platform for
media, changes that. It’s a great social leveler and presents an opportunity to
communicate with an audience at an economy never before seen.”
So, Catholic Radio International
launched three programs in early May. The two commentary-style programs and one
news program are available for download on the Internet.
“We’re trying to raise the quality
of Catholic radio programming,” said Szyszkiewicz. “We need a Catholic response
to National Public Radio.”
While their content is currently
available online, the next step involves getting their programs aired on
Catholic radio stations.
Programming, said Gajdosik, is
improving, but what is really needed is more stations. He said that the next
issue facing Catholic radio is tools and services to help it to be more
effective. Such services include things such as low-interest loans that the Catholic
Radio Association has helped secure to help Catholic stations get started.
“We know how to get stations on the
air. We’re going to be adding new services to do more strategic planning,” said
Gajdosik. “A lot of apostolates get in and fail because there isn’t enough
guidance in the early years.”
Gajdosik is also hopeful that given
the potential FM availability through the NCE application process, Catholic
radio may be able to expand much more rapidly than it has in the past.
“Twenty stations a year could be a
slow year,” said Gajdosik. “Depending upon how the permits get issued just from
the FCC, we could see adding 100 stations a year.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.