TAMPA, Fla.—Catholic radio is springing up all over the United States — but not always in the format you'd expect.
Celine Dion, Phil Collins and Kenny G are among the artists whom listeners hear on diocesan-owned KLUX 89.5 FM in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“We are an easy-listening station,” said station manager Marty Wind. “We are ranked sixth in listenership out of 37 stations rated in the Corpus Christi market. We make a connection with people who would never pick up a Bible or go to church. Our goal is to touch people with the spirituality of our Lord and of the Catholic Church.”
This goal is achieved through the use of 60- to 90-second messages sprinkled throughout the broadcast day. These snippets may contain a message from a priest or bishop, an answer to a frequently asked question about the Church, a description of a saint's life or details of a significant event in Church history.
“We must be very creative,” said Wind. “It's what advertisers are asked to do every day. Radio is a form of mass media, and we want to reach the biggest possible audience. It is a very effective form of evangelization.”
Another player in the field, Catholic Family Radio, a network of eight stations sprinkled across the United States, is engaged in “stealth evangelization,” said chief operating officer John Bitting.
“We are trying to reach the nominal Catholic, the person who may have fallen away from the Church, or who only goes to Mass on Christmas,” he said. “We offer quality talk programs that tackle issues from a Catholic perspective. We want people to regain an interest in their religion.”
Seven talk show hosts are featured on Catholic Family Radio, including Ray Flynn, a former Boston mayor and one-time ambassador to the Vatican.
“We are not necessarily preaching the Gospel,” said Bitting. “We are committed to the orthodox teachings of the Church, from Pope John Paul's perspective. Depending on the subject being discussed, we are the ‘devil’ to either the conservatives or the liberals. People are adamant about their viewpoints when it comes to matters of faith and morals, and will defend their positions vigorously.
“Talk radio is based on controversy. It is what keeps interest up.”
“Everybody has their own idea of what Catholic radio should be,” said John Morris, station manager of diocesan-owned Spirit FM (WBVM 90.5 FM) in Tampa, Fla., which reaches 55,000 regular listeners. “We are very progressive as far as the variety of music that we play,” he said, referring to the station's lineup of contemporary Christian music.
“The dynamic for success in radio is that you need to have a one-on-one connection between the announcer and the person who is listening as they drive around in their car,” Morris continued. “In that sense, we have become more personality oriented than in the past. At the same time, we are very community oriented.”
When a local organization, the Divine Providence Food Bank, was robbed of $2,000, Spirit FM parked its van in front of a local Home Depot the next day to raise money. “We collected nearly $3,000,” said Morris. “People came up to us and said, ‘It's really great that you care about what's going on.’”
In addition, the station has a prayer line where people can call in their prayer requests, which are aired daily. “People trust us enough to share their problems and secrets with us,” said Morris. “They know that people listening will pray for them.”
Eternal Word Television Network, based in Irondale, Ala., broadcasts a vast array of radio programs 24 hours a day on the EWTN radio network. These shows are picked up by 55 affiliate stations across the country, which broadcast them from one hour per week to 24 hours a day.
“We offer our service at no cost,” said director of programming Thom Price. “We don't do demographic polling. Our mission is to get the Gospel out to everybody, from children to the elderly. A soul is a soul.”
To achieve that goal, EWTN offers a smorgasbord of shows, from “Kids Sing-A-Long” and “Life on the Rock” to Register Radio News and “The Best of Mother Angelica Live.”
Because of the variety of approaches taken, it is hard to define what constitutes “Catholic radio.” Mike Dorner is a Catholic layman in Mandeville, La., who researches, writes and distributes the electronic weekly “Catholic Radio Update” newsletter for Catholic broadcasters in North and South America.
According to Dorner, there are currently 49 Catholic AM and FM stations in the United States, including a handful not yet on the air.
“If the station does not exist primarily for educational or cultural purposes — if the central part of its mission is the advancement of the Catholic faith and the revelation of Christ — I included it in my most recent tally,” Dorner said.
“You want your broadcasting to fall within the magisterium of the Church,” said Caron Fox, general manager of KBVM 88.3 FM in Portland, Ore., the first lay-owned Catholic FM station in the country. “Our goal is to help as many people as possible come to know Jesus Christ. You can't love him and serve him until you know him.”
To achieve that end, KBVM offers its 48,000 regular listeners a lineup similar to that of WBVM in Tampa. (The stations are not related, but are both dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.) Contemporary Christian music, prayer, and Catholic talk shows fill the station's format.
“Through our baptism, we are called to be missionaries, and KBVM is answering that call in the most unchurched region of the country,” said Fox. “For example, Oregon is the only state where doctor-assisted suicide is legal. Why? Because the majority in this area don't know God.
“Catholic radio is on the front lines of the battlefield between good and evil. God is asking us to plant the seeds of faith, love, hope and truth — he does the rest. We see the fruit of what we do in phone calls and letters that we receive, when people let us know how something they heard has touched their heart.”
Fox has a dream for Catholic radio that is shared by many in her multi-faceted field: “I hope there will be a Catholic radio station in every radio market in this country, and that we'll all work together to bring people to Christ.”
Dana Mildebrath is based in Seminole, Florida.