Catholic Radio Making an Impact

The numbers prove it: Listeners return to church because of what they hear.

Jeff Abbas, manager of KPVL-FM radio station in Postville, Iowa, is pictured during a live broadcast in 2009 in the studio. Catholic and other religious organizations hope low-power stations like KPVL will grow in number.
Jeff Abbas, manager of KPVL-FM radio station in Postville, Iowa, is pictured during a live broadcast in 2009 in the studio. Catholic and other religious organizations hope low-power stations like KPVL will grow in number. (photo: CNS photo/Bob Roller)

RENO, Nev. — New survey results on the effect of Catholic radio show what Catholic radio operators have long known: The medium is having a positive impact on listeners, their parishes and the Church.

The survey, conducted in November by MBA students at John Paul the Great Catholic University on behalf of the Immaculate Heart Radio network, showed that just over half the survey respondents are more active in their local parishes as a direct result of listening to Catholic radio.

“The results are overwhelming,” said Doug Sherman, founder and president of Immaculate Heart Radio, which broadcasts on 24 stations throughout the American Southwest. “We knew we were having an impact on people … but we had no idea what a profound difference our stations were having.”

Among the survey’s other findings:

- 94% of listeners said they are more spiritually engaged and inspired.

- 83% say they’ve learned a great deal about their Catholic faith.

- 69% are better able to teach their children the truths of the faith.

- 47% attend Mass more frequently.

- 31% have returned to the Church because of the programming.

Steve Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, said he wasn’t surprised by the survey results.

“Anecdotally, we hear stories like this all the time,” said Gajdosik. “The survey quantifies it and confirms what we’ve known all along.”

The State of Catholic Radio

While the total number of Catholic stations still pales in comparison to the more than 2,000 Protestant stations nationally, Catholic radio continues to grow. The number of Christian radio stations in the U.S has increased 15% over the past several years. Catholic radio is served by four traditional networks (Ave Maria, Immaculate Heart, EWTN, and Relevant Radio) and one Catholic satellite radio network (XM/Sirius’ The Catholic Channel). Catholic radio has grown from approximately 40 stations eight years ago to 178 today, with approximately 75% of them on the AM dial.

Gajdosik says that in upcoming years, Catholic radio’s presence has the potential not only to double, but also to invert, with the majority on the FM dial. This is possible because of two recent developments.

As a result of efforts by the Catholic Radio Association in 2007, just over 200 permits were applied for with the FCC for Catholic Non-Commercial Educational (NCE) FM stations. Already, 100 of them have been granted, and stations across the U.S. are in various stages of fundraising or construction. Among them, new FM stations include WNOC in Toledo, Ohio; KEDC in College Station, Texas; and KMDM in Polson, Mt.
In addition, Gajdosik says that there’s a good chance that applications for low-power FM stations may become available in 2011. Low-power FM stations are small entities that can broadcast within cities over a several-mile radius. They are ideal for medium to large-sized cities.

Explained Gajdosik, a strategically placed low-power FM station can reach as many listeners as a full-power station elsewhere. As an example, he cited Houston.

“In Houston alone, there’s a potential for 13 low-power FM stations,” said Gajdosik. “They’re relatively inexpensive to build and they’re accessible for schools or parishes.”

Modern Evangelization

“Our primary audience is educated Catholics stuck in traffic,” said Father Francis Hoffman, senior director of mission, programming and development for Relevant Radio. Relevant Radio owns and operates 12 stations and 21 affiliates nationally. “92% of adults listen to the radio every day. It’s much more powerful than television in shaping attitudes and is uniquely adapted to the task of evangelization.”

“The survey reinforces what I know to be true in my own life,” said David Rydberg, program director of Relevant Radio-affiliate KYES 1180 AM in St. Cloud, Minn. “My faith is nourished and fortified by listening to Catholic radio. It’s encouraging that others are also being fed by this kind of programming.

“As Catholics, we all have a role to play in evangelization,” said Rydberg. “By supporting local Catholic radio, you’re engaging in evangelization and making evangelization possible.”

The Catholic Radio Association is in the process of making the John Paul the Great survey available for its members so that it can be conducted nationally to validate the information gathered by Immaculate Heart Radio.

“Radio is alive and well,” said Gajdosik. “Catholic radio is a great instrument because it can so effectively convey Christ to the average person. It fits with the preaching of the Word. Just by turning on the station, you’re opening yourself up to hear Christ. That’s a winning combination.”

Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.