From Building Homes to Building a Radio Network

Doug Sherman was a home builder when he founded Immaculate Heart Radio in January 1997.

At the time, it was only the seventh full-time Catholic radio station in the country. Immaculate Heart has gone from operating a single station, KIHM, in Reno, Nev., to 12 stations throughout the western United States. In addition to stations in California and Nevada, the network recently began broadcasting throughout New Mexico.

Sherman, who also serves as the chairman of the Catholic Radio Association, spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake from Lake Tahoe, Nev.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Pasadena, Calif. I’m the youngest of three brothers. My father was an attorney; my mother was a school teacher. We were a Presbyterian family that had strong Baptist roots. My mother’s mother was the spiritual matriarch of the family. My mother was raised Southern Baptist.

What led you to the Church?

I met my wife, Janet, in high school some 40 years ago. She was one of the first Catholics that I remember meeting and getting to know well. We were married a few years after high school and were married in the Catholic Church. That led me to becoming Catholic.

It was easy for me to agree to be married in the Catholic Church and raise our children Catholic because I saw us both as Christians. My wife’s Catholicism was more important to her than my Presbyterian faith was to me. I went along for 20 years going to Mass, but not understanding the Catholic faith.

A little over 17 years ago, I was put in the position of being the token Catholic on the board of a new interdenominational school for our area. That meant that I had to represent the Catholic Church and the faith. I took it seriously, but didn’t have enough knowledge to answer the questions and comments and misconceptions that came up at every board meeting. With the help of my wife — who built a Catholic library of books in our home — I did a lot of research. Over time, that’s how I was catechized and learned the Catholic faith, trying to explain the Church to these non-Catholic Christians who had many misperceptions about the Church.

When I learned what the Catholic Church was, and that Jesus Christ had established one Church and that I was in it, I realized that the Church was like a spiritual goldmine with nuggets spilling out of it, waiting for us to give them to as many people as we could, and they would be replenished.

My wife insisted that we take our whole family to World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. That was a life-changing experience for me, because I heard the Pope telling the young people that everyone needs to do something to evangelize the world. I knew I couldn’t knock on doors or be a street evangelist, but I wanted to do something.

Shortly after that, I took a trip across country to bring our son, who was in college in Vermont, a car. Prior to the trip a woman from our parish gave me a grocery bag of audio tapes. They included tapes by Scott Hahn, Father Michael Scanlon and Father John Bertolucci. As I was driving across country, it hit me that this was the Truth and that this needed to be on the air. That was the birth of a passion to try to start a Catholic station in our town.

How did you decide to get started in Catholic radio?

The son I was delivering the car to graduated soon after. He had had a similar experience at World Youth Day and wanted to do something for the Church. We decided to make it our project to try to start a Catholic radio station. I was going to keep building homes, and he was going to take on the radio project.

A priest told us about EWTN radio on shortwave. I bought a shortwave radio and became hooked on the programming. My son and I both flew to Alabama and met with Mother Angelica to see about picking up their shortwave programming. She gave us her blessing, prayed over us and sent us to meet with her engineers. The engineers told us that feeding a shortwave signal into an FM transmitter couldn’t be done.

Two weeks later, an engineer called to tell us that if they added one piece of equipment, they could make it happen. They had been sending their television signal up to a satellite and discovered that they had a vacant band available. With the change, they told us that they could make their programming available to us.

We signed a contract to become the first station in the country to rebroadcast their programming. Our license application was delayed, so my son returned to college to study graduate theology, entered seminary, and left me holding the bag that said Catholic radio on it.

How has it grown from one station to a dozen?

I intended for it to be just one station. I never would have become involved if I thought it was going to become more than one. Once we got our first station — an AM fixer-upper — on the air, a media broker told me about a station for sale near Sacramento. We ended up buying that and it just evolved from one to another.

I didn’t know anything about radio going into this, but at the same time a mortgage broker in St. Louis and a dentist and computer expert in Jacksonville, Fla. also started Catholic radio stations. Between the four of us, we had monthly telephone calls about how to solve the problems we were encountering.

That was the start of the Catholic Radio Association (CRA). We were overwhelmed with the job of running our own stations and were being contacted by many people across the country wanting to know how to start stations of their own. CRA President Steve Gajdosik is now working with 75 groups across the country teaching them the process of starting their own stations and helping them apply for new licenses.

What do you see as the fruit of Catholic radio?

The fruit of this work is shocking. Across my desk now, I’ve heard from thousands of listeners who say that hearing the Catholic faith on the air has changed their lives. It has either brought them back to the Church, back to the sacraments or into the Church for the first time. We’ve heard from those whose marriages have been saved. We’ve heard of babies who have been born that otherwise would not have, and we’ve heard from people who say they were saved from suicide.

It’s not good enough to just call yourself a Catholic radio station. The programming has to be faithful to the Church’s teachings. The reason we hear of these life-changing reports is because the programming is so faithfully Catholic and clear in terms of catechesis and evangelization. We have the best teachers on the air, such as Scott Hahn, Rosalind Moss, Father Benedict Groeschel, and programs like “Catholic Answers Live,” along with the Mass and the Rosary.

Your network is unique in that you have some of your own original programming. Tell me about that.

When we start a new station we offer an hour a day to the local bishop to use as he sees fit. Sacramento Bishop William Weigand has developed the “Bishop’s Hour,” a live one-hour-a-day show. Each Sunday, he broadcasts Mass from a different parish in the diocese. Santa Fe Archbishop Sheehan has started the “Archbishop’s Hour.” Both programs have their own host and producer. The bishops themselves are on the air about once every 10 days. Each bishop has access to go on the air simply by walking down the hallway.

Bishop Weigand took advantage of this when the Sacramento Bee had headlines blasting the Church on clergy sexual abuse. Bishop Weigand was able to go on the air and refute the article within 10 minutes. Just for his flock to be able to hear the other side of the story so quickly is very powerful.

We also produce a pro-life show — “Voice for Life” — that airs weekly. All of these shows are available, including in Spanish, 24 hours a day, through our website. Some are available through podcasts.


Immaculate Heart Radio

Catholic Radio Association