SAN FRANCISCO — A small group of priests and individuals gathered atop a hill in the Bay View area of San Francisco Dec. 10. Their presence barely registered a ripple in the bustle of the city. Yet, as a priest blessed the radio tower site for the launch of a new Catholic radio station, those gathered knew that their efforts would send forth ripples that might echo in eternity.
“The hill overlooks the bay named for St. Francis,” said Doug Sherman the morning of the station’s launch. “From the hill, everywhere you look is a city named after a saint.”
Sherman is president of Fair Oaks, Calif.-based Immaculate Heart Radio, and with the launch of the new station, Sherman hopes to bring forth more saints for the Church.
The apostolate began broadcasting in the country’s fourth largest radio market at noon that day. The station, 1260 AM, the result of a long process spearheaded by Sherman, will serve more than 8 million people in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Dioceses of Oakland, San José and Santa Rosa.
“Purchasing a station to bring Catholic radio to the Bay Area is exciting and clearly a gift from the Lord,” said Sherman. “We have already been given strong support and blessings from Bay Area bishops. They see this as a great opportunity for the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith to be broadcast over the airwaves of the Bay Area, where millions will be able to learn more about our faith.”
The station is one of the oldest in the country. Formerly KYA, it has had a broadcast license from the FCC since 1925. Throughout its history it has been owned by various entities, including NBC and Hearst Newspapers. Bonneville International, owned by the Mormon church, purchased the station in 1983.
According to the Catholic Radio Update newsletter, Bonneville preferred to sell the station to a “fellow religious group rather than a commercial interest.”
The station acquisition was not without its difficulties. The new station has received $11 million in pledges and donations towards the total cost of $15 million. Immaculate Heart will require a loan to close the deal around the beginning of the New Year.
Sherman, a home builder, is no stranger to acquiring or starting Catholic radio stations. He started with a single station, KIHM, in Reno, Nevada in January 1997. Today, Immaculate Heart Radio operates 20 broadcast facilities — 9 full power AM and FM stations and 11 translators — throughout California, Nevada, and most recently, New Mexico.
New Mexico’s stations came about by working with the radio trade group the Catholic Radio Association (CRA) and Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.
Sherman was offered a group of stations in the Midwest and Texas, but had no interest in stretching that far geographically. Through the Catholic Radio Association, Sherman was able to purchase the stations and turn them over to the Covenant Network in St. Louis and Guadalupe Radio in Midland, Texas.
One of the smaller translators was located in eastern New Mexico.
“I wrote an introductory letter to each of the bishops to let them know what we had been given,” said Sherman. “Archbishop Sheehan wrote back with his approval and blessing and said that what he would really like was Catholic radio in the larger cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe.”
As a result, Immaculate Heart Radio and the Catholic Radio Association worked with the archbishop’s radio taskforce — a group of lay leaders and diocesan employees — to find stations, purchase them, and help fundraise.
“The original plan was to start one station in Albuquerque and one in Santa Fe,” said Sherman. “We now have six stations on the air, reaching the majority of the population of New Mexico.”
Sherman used a similar collaborative effort in acquiring the San Francisco station. He first approached Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron three years ago. He was also aided in his efforts by members of Legatus and the Order of Malta, the Legionaries of Christ and the Catholic Radio Association.
“The purpose of the CRA is to make sure that there will be as many Catholic radio stations started as possible,” said Sherman. “They are there to give free advice to anyone who is interested in making this happen, including helping them through the process of filing for a new license.”
In fact, in October, the CRA helped submit 225 applications to the FCC for new non-commercial educational FM licenses from Anchorage to Key West. Of those, several are preparing for the next steps to go on the air. They include Dodge City, Kan., Hopedale, Ohio, Ebensburg, Pa., Ash Grove/Springfield, Mo., and Dexter/Sikeston, Mo.
“We pulled together archdioceses, parishes, Knights of Columbus councils, lay apostolates, donors, lawyers and engineers in the largest effort ever to acquire radio licenses for the sake of the Church’s work of evangelization,” said Steve Gajdosik, executive director of the association.
“One of the fruits of the CRA has been that by working together in solidarity with our staff, other Catholic radio apostolates and the hierarchy, groups like Immaculate Heart Radio and Guadalupe Radio Network have gained the knowledge and confidence to attempt larger markets like San Francisco and the recently established stations in Dallas/Fort Worth,” said Gajdosik. “This and efforts like it, are harbingers of what is to come. There is no limit to what can be accomplished through communion with each other and our Blessed Lord.”
With San Francisco under his belt, Sherman isn’t content to rest. He has his eyes on other major western markets.
“Immaculate Heart’s goal is to spread Catholic radio throughout the west,” he said, “particularly in San Diego, Los Angeles and Phoenix.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.