Catholic Radio

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

June 24, 2003


            Something is happening in Catholic radio. The Holy Spirit seems to be moving lay Catholics to a new kind of evangelization on the airwaves.

            Ten years ago there were only four Catholic radio stations in the United States. Today there are 66 Catholic stations. More are being added every week. By the end of the year there will be 100 Catholic radio stations in the U.S. That is more than one station per week for the last half of this year. A 60% growth rate in one year.

            Ten years from now, according to Gene Zurlo, Chairman and co-founder of the Catholic Radio Association of Green Bay, Wisconsin,  “We will, God willing, be talking about 1000 Catholic stations nationwide.”

            Earlier this month I journeyed to Birmingham, Alabama for the 2003 Catholic Radio Conference organized by EWTN, the global Catholic network.

There were about 200 people at the conference in a hotel ballroom. Five years ago, at the first Catholic Radio Conference there were only a dozen people who met in a small conference room according to Michael Warsaw the President of EWTN.

            The Catholic radio movement is led almost entirely by lay people. I was one of only a handful or priests. I traveled with two laymen from my parish who have an interest in starting a station. There were no bishops in attendance.

            Evangelical Christians have known the power of the airwaves to get the good news out for a long time. Today there are over 1,500 “Christian” radio stations in the U.S., mostly run by Evangelical Protestants. Much of their programming is very good. I like a lot of the Christian music. I like some of the programs, such as Dr. James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family.”

            But some of the programming is blatantly anti-Catholic, especially in the Bible-Belt, where they spend a lot of air time attacking the Pope as the “anti-Christ” and the Church as the “whore of Babylon.” Moreover a lot of so-called “Christian” radio promotes an extreme right wing political agenda very contrary to Catholic social thought.

            Until recently a Catholic could ride all the way across and not hear a single Catholic station. Even today, most Catholic stations are in smaller towns and rural areas and have very limited range. There is very little Catholic radio in the major (top 25) markets.

            For years there was a chicken and egg problem. You couldn’t have Catholic radio stations without programs to put out over the airwaves. But you couldn’t create programs without some stations to play them on.

The programming logjam was broken by several groups, including EWTN radio, a spin off from the television service started by Mother Angelica.

Whatever you might think of Mother Angelica, you have to give her credit. She steps out in faith.

Less than a decade ago she launched a short-wave radio station with the call letters WEWN from a mountaintop in Alabama. Today it is the largest non-defense short wave operation in the world. It has four 500,000-watt transmitters, which send out short-wave signals around the globe, 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish. They play Catholic music, prayers, discussions and news. They have millions of listeners, especially in Latin America. EWTN radio also provides 24 hour per day programming for free to any Catholic radio station that wants to re-broadcast it.

Some other groups are now also providing programming. The Starboard Network, in the upper Midwest, operates several Catholic radio stations and provides syndicated programs. Some independent radio stations, like Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, and Immaculate Heart Radio in Reno, Nevada, produce their own programs.

With more programs available, more stations are coming on the air. When the FCC opened up low power FM station licenses recently, even small colleges and rural parishes could suddenly operate a Catholic radio station to serve their campus or town.

            The Holy Spirit is definitely in the air and on the air. In a few years, it will be possible to drive coast to coast and never be out of range of Catholic radio. It’s about time.