GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Traci Matheu returned to the Catholic faith several years ago, she realized she had always surrounded herself with a lot of noise. The television was always on in the background at home or in the back of the car, for instance. Music always played on the car radio.
So she made a decision: In her car, the only “noise” she would allow was praying the Rosary, talking between her and her kids or, in a move that would help deepen her faith life, click on the radio to the local Relevant Radio station.
She turned it on, and one of the first programs she heard was Father John Corapi’s.
“I heard a straightforward, direct talk,” said Matheu of Frankfort, Ill. “That was what drew me into Relevant Radio. It was direct. There was no dancing around. It wasn’t all peace, love, hope, fluffy. It was the fullness of the truth. ... I was very drawn to that because I’m a very direct person, and I appreciated where he was coming from. I began to turn it on when my kids were in the car so they could hear this, and they began to ask questions. That began to be the only thing that I would allow on in my car.”
She also began to love the morning news program — “Morning Air” — with Sean Herriott and a show on spiritual direction by Chuck Neff, “The Inner Life.”
“I began to understand that we as Catholics have to be responsible for learning our faith,” she said. “It was a little bit like Catechism 101. I began using some of the things I was learning in my Bible studies, and I was starting to quote Relevant Radio — because I realized we hadn’t learned our faith. How could we defend it and live it if we didn’t know it ourselves?”
Educating and inspiring Catholics across the country — or, as the network likes to put it, bridging “the gap between faith and everyday life” — has been Relevant Radio’s goal since it started in 2000. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the network will be holding various celebrations this year. The first one will be held on Aug. 31 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, Wis., where Bishop David Ricken will celebrate Mass.
The network — which includes 12 stations and 21 affiliates in 12 states, including in the Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul areas — was founded by three local businessmen in Green Bay, who started a local radio station in November 2000.
But Mark Follett, one of the businessmen, envisioned a network of Catholic stations throughout the United States. And so, as the years went by, the network began buying stations.
But, 10 years later, the network is running a tighter ship. Layoffs occurred several years ago, and the direction of the network is to stabilize what it owns.
“Right now, we’re focusing on firming up, stabilizing and securing our broadcasting in the markets that we serve, and we continue to improve the programming that we offer,” said Tom Vorpahl, chief executive officer of Starboard Media Foundation Inc., the parent company that owns the network.
One program that was added recently: Matthew Kelly’s “The Dynamic Catholic Show.”
“We have no plans to drop stations,” Vorpahl added.
The network survives solely on the generosity of its listeners, and Vorpahl admitted that it is not easy to survive during difficult economic times.
“It’s a rocky road in Catholic media,” he said. “You live the Lord’s Prayer — ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’”
Despite the lean economic times, Father Francis Hoffman, executive director of the network, said it is a time of growth, meaning listening audiences are growing.
He cited several statistics that reveal that once someone starts listening to a Relevant Radio station, they become hooked. “Our average listener listens to us more than six hours a week,” he said. “They love it.”
For those who do listen to a particular Relevant Radio station, 83% say that it is their No. 1 station, he said.
“It is effectively a platform for adult education of Catholics in traffic jams,” Father Hoffman said.
He said the network also looks forward to greater collaborations with all Catholic radio stations across the country, including the EWTN and Immaculate Heart radio networks.
Stephen Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, said Relevant Radio is an example of what happens when people respond, in faith, to the call of the Holy Spirit.
“It is faith that helps someone take great risks for the glory of God,” Gajdosik said. “It is stunning what God accomplishes through us. … Relevant [Radio] is an example of the Holy Spirit saying ‘I want Catholic radio in this country.’”
He said that Catholic radio is adept in teaching the faith and in making disciples of people.
“Radio, more than just teaching, helps disciple people,” he said, “and we’re missing a little bit of that in church today. We don’t disciple well; we teach well, but we don’t disciple well. The Holy Spirit has this desire for Catholic radio, and Relevant Radio has played a wonderful part in that, by filling in areas, by building up stations in small towns and major markets across the country. But those areas might not have Catholic radio today were it not for Relevant Radio.”
Carlos Briceño writes
from Naperville, Illinois.