The Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Spark of Catholic Radio
Spurred on by stories from prisoners who found hope amid darkness listening to Catholic radio, Len Oswald shares providential moments leading EWTN Radio’s largest affiliate for 27 years, as the Guadalupe Radio Network continues to grow and inspire listeners.
“Go into the deep waters in order to save more souls …”
Those were Bishop Robert Baker’s words during the 2005 EWTN Radio conference in Birmingham, Alabama. To many in attendance, they were inspiring words, but to Len Oswald, who had just jumped into the deep buying his first Catholic radio affiliate, he took it as a personal message and a strong calling to expand his EWTN Radio station in even bigger markets like Dallas.
Catholic radio has touched the lives of millions across the globe, much in part due to Mother Angelica’s mission with EWTN Radio and the tireless work of people like Oswald. Airwaves traversing the earth into far-reaching corners, including remote areas that lack access to the sacraments or prison cells where so many suffer from loneliness, Catholic radio is in the business of saving souls.
It's hard to fathom that in 1999, only six Catholic stations existed across the country. In 2005, there were still no stations in any of the top 10 radio markets. Now, in 2023, competing networks vie for listeners on terrestrial radio as well as online and podcasting platforms. And Oswald has been hard at work for the last 27 years, guiding a budding network in the Southeast of the country, including major markets like Dallas and Washington, D.C.
Oswald worked indefatigably, wearing two hats as a successful oil executive in Texas while lassoing station after station for Mother Angelica’s mission. Toya Hall, chief operating officer of GRN, shared her thoughts on Oswald’s retirement. She told the Register:
“A particular quote from Mother Angelica comes to mind that is so fitting of Len at this time is, ‘Faith is what gets you started. Hope is what keeps you going. Love is what brings you to the end.’ I was blessed to witness a man after God’s own heart, give his all, so that others could come to the saving knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and our treasured Catholic faith. I will always be thankful for Len’s consent when I asked him to join this mission in 1996, for he was a pivotal player in the unfolding of God’s plan. I truly hope and pray that this next chapter is one of much joy for Len and his family after many hard years of toiling in the vineyard of the Lord.”
Spurred on by a portrait of the Sacred Heart painted by a prisoner serving time and stories of Catholics returning to confession after tuning in, Oswald shared his divinely inspired journey into building EWTN Radio’s largest affiliate — and why “God’s timing is always perfect.”
Len, you spent 27 years building what is now EWTN’s biggest radio affiliates alongside your dear friend and colleague Toya Hall. But it really wasn't radio that first brought you two together. Can you tell us about a chance encounter on a pilgrimage in Venezuela?
That was Holy Week of 1996. Toya was the development director for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Midland, Texas. She was organizing a pilgrimage to Batani, Venezuela, which is an approved Marian apparition site. I met Toya for the first time on that pilgrimage. The expectation by the pilgrims on this particular pilgrimage was that we hoped to meet Maria Esperanza, the visionary and mystic. We had the honor and privilege to meet with her for about 10 hours on Holy Saturday, which she had never done with any previous group before. Maria had the ability to read hearts. For me personally, she shared two events in my life. One event was from the past, which only my deceased mother knew about, and one event would happen in the future. Sharing the event from the past really got my attention. I knew this was a very special lady. So I was very attentive to what she was going to say regarding future events. She then shared how I would be signing several documents in the coming weeks and how I would be using my strong organizational and planning skills for a special project that was about to happen unbeknownst to me.
Toya and three other members of her prayer group felt they were being called to do something, but they were unsure as to what they were supposed to do. So their hope was that the pilgrimage would confirm what God was calling them for. As it turned out, shortly after returning to Midland, they felt they were being called to build a Catholic Resource Center in West Texas. As part of that calling, they asked me if I would be the president of the organization called La Promesa Foundation. La Promesa is Spanish for “the promise.” So the organization was named in honor of the promises Toya and the three members of her prayer group had previously made toward Our Lady of Guadalupe.
You know, that’s such a providential moment; and in another yet divinely inspired moment, in 1999, when Pope John Paul II was passionately talking about the New Evangelization, mixed with some late-night viewing on EWTN of Mother Angelica urging viewers: “If you buy and build the station, we’ll give you the programming for free …” you learned about a station that Elvis Presley had once visited. Can you tell us about acquiring KJBC?
One morning back in 1999, Toya contacted me about how she had watched Mother Angelica’s TV show the night before; she shared with me that Mother had said that if someone would buy a radio station, she would provide the programming for free. So that is what we decided to do to: buy a radio station in West Texas, which we hoped would become the seventh Catholic radio station in the United States. The Holy Spirit led us to KJBC-AM, a country-music station, which Elvis Presley visited back in the 1950s. We immediately started a fundraising project to buy the station. We called it “Project Millennium.” The goal was to go on the air with Catholic radio in our Lord’sJubilee Year 2000. We were very blessed to go on the air on July 19, 2000.
Such an amazing story. To think, there were only seven Catholic radio stations in this country in 2000! Len, not many people know of the long days of starting a Catholic radio station — it’s all volunteer-based — getting it off the ground. You were putting in double, if not triple, duty, with your day job as an executive at an oil company, and working the deal, and the daily duties of La Promesa. But the sleepless nights and hard work started to pay off when you heard about the impact KJBC was having on people's lives. What were you hearing?
Yes, the impact was indeed significant. We were hearing about the impact in three different ways. First, more visitors to the Guadalupe Resource Center who were wanting to check out books and videos. After hearing a program on the radio, they wanted to obtain more information about what they had heard. Second, there were RCIA class leaders in the area, parishes who said that four Protestant ministers had joined RCIA due to listening to Catholic radio. And, third, there were priests who were sharing with us that there had been a noticeable increase in the number of confessions for people who had been away from the Church for long periods — 10, 20, 30 years and longer. Priests asked them what brought them back to confession, and they said it was due to listening to Catholic radio.
It was back in 2005, attending the EWTN Radio Conference in Birmingham, that your desire to grow the network was ignited by some strong words from Bishop Baker speaking that year at the conference. Can you tell us about that?
Yes, Bishop Baker, who was the bishop of all of South Carolina at the time, was the keynote speaker. He challenged everyone at the conference to do more for Catholic radio. He said that we needed to go into the deep waters in order to save more souls. Many of the conference attendees still had not put a radio station on the air yet. So they took it to mean that they needed to get their stations on the air. For us, since we had nine stations on air at the time, we took that to mean that we needed to go into big markets. In 2005, there were no Catholic radio stations in any of the top 10 radio markets. Bishop Baker’s words inspired us to go into Dallas-Fort Worth, the No. 5 radio market in the U.S.
Wow, that is impressive. And that was just 2005, not that long ago. And that is not an easy acquisition or operation. You were knee-deep in a lot of the things you had to do. Family time was becoming less and less, more time at the office working on this new enterprise. At one point, you actually wrote a letter of resignation that ultimately was never submitted. What changed your mind and opened up a new devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?
Yes, I was going to throw in the towel and resign as president. However, God's timing is always perfect. Right before I was going to submit my resignation, a big envelope addressed to me came in the mail. The envelope had two items in it: a heartfelt letter from a man who was incarcerated in a prison located in one of our West Texas radio markets. In his letter, he shared about how Catholic radio had changed his life for the better in prison and that his life would also change for the better when he was eventually released from prison. He thanked me for all the hard work we were doing to keep the radio stations on the air. His thank-you letter made me think about my own resignation letter. The second item in the envelope was a hand-drawn picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus using colored pencils. It was approximately 11 by 17 inches and was incredibly beautiful. It was inscribed with words: Thank you, Guadalupe Radio Network. This picture really touched my own heart and was what caused me to change my mind and not resign after all. Again, God’s timing was perfect.
Of course, another providential acquisition came with the GRN affiliate in Washington, D.C., which is really the nucleus of our country — so many laws established nationally there that don not protect the unborn, do not protect the family. I was once blessed to be at the helm there, producing EWTN’s drive-time morning show there in the nation’s capital, with the beautiful, domed Capitol Building right in our view. I would hear about fundraising issues at times, but God seemed to be at work in this, as well as you were able to buy that frequency outright …
WMET 1160, our 50,000-watt am station blankets our nation's capital. As I shared earlier, we went on the air in Dallas-Fort Worth in 2006. That was followed by a 100,000-watt FM station in San Antonio in 2007. In 2022, we were blessed again when we were able to install a new 50,000-watt transmitter, which greatly improved our signal quality. We were so thankful to Our Lord that we have now been on the air in our nation’s capital for 13 years and two weeks. Praise God.
Len, you and Toya built up, against all odds, from a Marian Guadalupe Resource Center and lending library now into a budding system of stations. It is now one of the largest EWTN affiliates, and it follows the same faith and determination that Mother Angelica had when she had yet $200 in her pocket and a garage. What have you learned about relying on God and all that you have done? It is such a beautiful story of evangelization.
In my secular position as an executive in the oil and gas industry, I did not rely on God very much for making daily decisions both big and small. However, with GRN, that all changed. I tried to pattern my faith and determination after Mother Angelica’s perfect example. So that meant trying to seek out God’s will before doing anything. It has been blessed simply because we’ve tried to do his will in everything we do. It has not been easy. We have faced a lot of challenges over the last 27 years. But when you look at the big picture, there’s no way we could have accomplished what we did without faith in God Almighty.
It is such a beautiful story, Len, and it continues. You are now helping out behind the scenes. I understand you currently operate 39 stations but that will soon increase to 45 in the coming weeks, acquiring six more stations in Texas. What is next?
As I shared earlier, we have always wanted to do God’s will, so we are always looking for signs as to where the Holy Spirit is leading us to go next. We do not know; that answer will come in time. I do know that we do not want to see any EWTN affiliates lost due to a station operator wanting to retire or cease operation for another reason. So the Guadalupe Radio Network (GRN) is open to speaking to anyone about taking over their radio-station operation. We definitely feel that is one area that is next for us, as far as station acquisition.
If anyone is feeling convicted to start a Catholic radio station in their area where they live, what advice would you offer them?
They need to reach out immediately to someone who is currently involved in Catholic radio station operations to help them. Contact the EWTN Radio Group — Jack Williams, Steve Splonskowski — or contact the Guadalupe Radio Network. We are always willing and excited to help anyone who wants to start a Catholic radio station.