Ten Major Markets to Get Catholic Radio in $58.2 Million Deal

Ignatius Press and Franciscan U. will collaborate on venture

SAN FRANCISCO—Ignatius Press and Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio have become partners in a radio venture that will bring 24—hour Catholic radio to 10 major markets across the United States by this fall.

On April 17, representatives of Ignatius Press and Franciscan University signed a definite purchase agreement for 10 AM radio stations that will be known as the Catholic Radio Network (CRN) for a purchase price of $58.2 million. They will broadcast 24—hour talk radio in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City (Kan.), Dallas, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and New York. There is a possibility that two more stations may be added to the deal in the coming weeks.

“The goal is to reach the widest possible audience with radio that is based upon Catholic principles,” said Father Joseph Fessio SJ, president of Ignatius Press, which publishes Catholic books and magazines, including The Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

“Specifically Catholic doctrine or teachings will probably not be a big part of our program base, but it will be a part of it. We are trying to go out and reach the non—committed people of good will, even non—Catholics, with contemporary issues from a Catholic point of view,” Father Fessio said.

The purchase of the stations will not be finalized for three or four months, pending FCC approval. If all goes according to schedule, the CRN could begin broadcasting by Sept. 1. CRN will also be available to a worldwide audience over the Internet and through satellite technology.

Catholic Radio Network is supported by a foundation that will accept charitable contributions, but CRN will own the radio stations as a for—profit business, unlike the non—profit Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). Father Fessio explained that the for—profit status was necessary in order to finance such a large transaction.

“This could not be done by donations, so we simply had to make this a commercial enterprise. If we succeed spiritually and are able to reach a large audience—even 1% would be enough to make this viable—then we can pay for it through the advertising because we will have national, network, and local commercial advertising on these stations,” Father Fessio explained.

“It is meant to support itself,” he added. “It is meant to give a return on investment for investors. The primary goal, of course, is to help to change our society and help support a Catholic voice in this country.”

The announcement of this Catholic radio venture comes on the heels of a national conference held in Denver last month on implementing technology and communication to spread the Catholic faith. Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., who co—hosted this conference, is serving as the episcopal advisor to the CRN project.

“Archbishop Chaput is a strong believer in radio as a cost—effective way to get the message out,” said Francis Maier, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver.

The CRN will provide “solid, reliable Catholic material, and will be a force for conciliation in the Church, not division,” Maier added.

John Lynch, president and CEO of the Catholic Radio Network, said that there has been a “tremendous reaction” to the announcement of this project.

“I have gotten calls from many veteran broadcasters who have come out of the woodwork and said that they are devout Catholics and want to be involved in this,” he said.

Lynch, who was formerly the president of Noble Broadcasting, is in the process of hiring staff for the CRN. Much of the broadcast day at the 10 stations will be filled with network programming, and there is a possibility that a few of the programs from WEWN, Mother Angelica's short—wave radio enterprise, may be aired on the CRN. Lynch said that they also hope to have some local programs produced in each of the CRN cities.

There are approximately 10,000 radio stations nationwide, 1,600 of which have a Christian programming format—though only a handful are Catholic. Lynch said that they are learning from the example of the Christian stations.

“We know the strengths and weaknesses of Christian radio—we are trying to glean from the best,” Lynch explained. “We want to create something that really has appeal and will reach a very broad audience.”

“[Dr. James] Dobson is one of the best at what they do. We would like to do some things together, and discuss our similarities and differences,” Lynch said.

This venture may be just a first step for the CRN.

“We want to extend our reach through purchasing more stations and through increased network affiliation,” Lynch said.

Catholic radio consultant Chris Lyfort is very pleased about the growth of Catholic radio represented by the acquisition of these stations by the CRN.

“I think that the good thing is that something so big is happening,” Lyfort said. “It needed someone who is a Father Fessio to put this deal together.”

The stations being purchased by the CRN were formerly part of the Children's Broadcasting Corporation. Lyfort said that this will make for a “huge transition” for these stations.

“All 10 have been kid's stations, so there is no base—listenership for adults,” explained Lyfort. “There will be a 100% transition from what is being aired now and what will be aired.”

Lyfort used to work full—time for the Catholic radio station in Portland, Oregon, before starting his California—based Lay Catholic Broadcasting Network (LCBN). The LCBN produces shows for Catholic stations already on the air, and is developing a Catholic Music Service that can be fed, via satellite, to stations across the country. The LCBN also holds conferences to give those interested in Catholic radio the essential information about becoming involved in this very complicated business.

“There are many, many pitfalls in this business,” Lyfort stated. “Father Fessio and the CRN are walking through a jungle with a machete, and they've actually gotten pretty far in. We need to pray for them and support them to the full extent that we can.”

Molly Mulqueen writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.