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 Channel.”
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) stations.
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 new stations.”
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 Mississippi.
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.
“Portland’s 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 Catholic world.”
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 News.”
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.