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 CNS Story:

CATHOLIC RADIO Jul-27-2006 (1,360 words) With photos. xxxn

Catholic radio growing in size, scope and audience

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Twenty-five years ago, a pop group called the Buggles had a hit on a new cable channel, MTV, called "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Since then, numerous obituaries have been written for radio.

It seems, though, that Catholic broadcasters have ignored those obituaries.

Catholic radio comes in virtually every size and shape, as does any other radio format. And the number of these stations is on the upswing. While dwarfed by the thousands of U.S. stations that identify themselves as Christian, the number is estimated at anywhere between 83 and 120.

There is one expanding network of Catholic stations. There is a global shortwave service that later decided to turn its gaze toward the States, offering its programming to anyone free, no strings attached. There are producers of syndicated programming. There are a growing number of low-power radio stations striving to fill the spiritual needs of Catholics in remote areas. Podcasts are in vogue.

Early this fall, there will be a new channel on a satellite radio service devoted to the Catholic Church. The next step is high-definition radio, giving stations the technology to broadcast multiple channels simultaneously to listeners with the latest generation of radio receivers.

Not everything is all rainbows and roses. "The Sacred Heart Program," which had been sponsored for years by the Jesuits' St. Louis province, aired its final show last year. Even so, Jesuits from the Maryland province have been to St. Louis to sift through the show's tape library for segments they can use for a new program hosted by Jesuit Father Bill Waters.

And, thanks to the 1996 telecommunications law, radio chains have gotten bigger, driving up the purchase price of radio stations, even those with weak AM signals.

Told how one prospective buyer in the 1990s ultimately rejected paying $500,000 for what had once been a top-40-hits station in one of the biggest markets in the country, Relevant Radio CEO and weekend program host Dick Lyles said, "They should have bought it. That station would probably cost you $10 million to $15 million today."

Relevant owns 16 stations -- nine in its home state of Wisconsin -- and has affiliation agreements with 19 others, billing itself as the "largest Catholic talk radio network in the United States."

Even though Relevant is noncommercial, it still has to pay today's prices for precious radio-dial real estate. Thanks to generous contributors, it can. Pledge drives, sponsorships and "benefactors in each community" also help pay the bills, Lyles said.

"The new evangelization is definitely the focus," Lyles told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from Relevant headquarters in Green Bay, Wis. "Catholics are the principal focus, but we appeal to other denominations as well -- but we don't hide the fact that we're Catholic."

While the Eternal Word Television Network is known as a cable television channel, one less-noticed aspect is its growing radio service.

According to EWTN radio marketing director John Pepe, it started as a shortwave service in 1992 to reach the far corners of the globe. Four years later, in 1996, the network decided to offer the service's programming free of charge to any and all takers. The first one to accept was KBVM, a Catholic FM station in Portland, Ore.

"Folks kind of scratch their head. They can't believe it," Pepe told CNS. "There's no bartering, there's no spots," he added, citing two common terms in the radio industry that allow program suppliers to sell commercials on their own shows rather than receive cash from a radio station for the right to air those shows. "How do you give it away for free? It's a great opportunity to talk about divine providence," he added.

Rather than merely simulcast EWTN's cable offerings, the radio service, following a programming overhaul this winter, is heavy on call-in shows, although the daily Mass is still simulcast -- and repeated. "I probably get 100 e-mails a day" from listeners, said Tom Price, EWTN radio's programming director.

Pepe estimates there are "in excess of 80" stations carrying EWTN's radio feed 18 or more hours a day.

One that carries EWTN radio across the clock is Sirius Satellite Radio, the subscription radio service.

Early this fall, once the technical adjustments are all in place, Sirius will also carry the Catholic Channel, programmed by the Archdiocese of New York.

"We'll be emphasizing on our channel a lot of live two-way talk ... to make it sound, in terms of format, like the best of popular radio," Joseph Zwilling, New York archdiocesan communications director, told CNS. "We will be completely Catholic in terms of content in what our hosts say on the air," with an eye on "the issues that are in the news," he said.

"We do hope to market the channel through the Catholic press, through the (Sirius) Web site. We hope that when people learn about the Catholic Channel on Sirius, they'll buy the radios and give us a listen. We think they'll be interested," Zwilling said. Listeners need a satellite radio receiver to get Sirius.

"Where appropriate," he added, "Sirius will promote the Catholic Church on some of the interstitials (program breaks)."

Catholic radio, by and large, doesn't sell commercial time. If you don't sell commercials, you don't need to subscribe to ratings services that demonstrate who's listening to your programming as a method to convince advertisers to buy time.

KLUX-FM in Corpus Christi, Texas, doesn't sell ads, but it subscribes to a ratings service. And the ratings say KLUX is second in the Corpus Christi market for adults ages 35 and up, and sixth for listeners ages 12 and up.

"We follow the model of Our Lord, who walked among the sinners and the tax collectors," said KLUX general manager Marty Wind. "We air an easy-listening music format, and instead of commercials -- 'cause we're not commercial -- we plug in messages on a 24-hour basis. ... Four times an hour, we have someone teaching about the Catholic Church, or the bishop teaching, or the Angelus, or a prayer from a priest."

Wind wants to take KLUX high-definition soon, and offer Relevant Radio on a subchannel.

On Sundays, when secular stations air syndicated programming like top-40 countdowns, KLUX airs other suppliers' Catholic shows, including Spanish programming, teaching programs and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign's "Catholic Radio Weekly."

"Catholic Radio Weekly" airs on about 70 stations, both Catholic and secular, said CCC distribution manager Pat Ryan Garcia. It's reached that figure because "somebody has taken the initiative to get the program placed. Sometimes it's a diocese, sometimes it's a parish -- 'we want to get a Catholic presence on our local radio station,'" she said. "Catholic Radio Weekly" begins its sixth season this fall.

The show carries regular features on the Vatican, film and popular culture, reports from Catholic Relief Services field representatives, a forum on life issues, chats with Catholic authors, faith facts from a Paulist university chaplain, and a Catholic Church Extension Society "Hidden Hero of the Month" on the home missions. CNS produces the Vatican spots.

Garcia used to work with "Catholic Radio Weekly" host Johnny Holliday, a Washington radio institution, at ABC Radio. "I always remembered all the folks who are Catholic," Garcia told CNS. She recalled that Holliday once said, "If there's anything I can do to help the church, let me know."

"Then I said, 'Johnny, have I got an opportunity for you!'" Garcia said.

The CCC funds four other weekly radio programs, each reaching 30-70 stations: "American Catholic Radio," an adult catechetical weekly half-hour from Franciscan Communications; "Catholic Bookmarks," an author interview show; the radio version of "Personally Speaking," hosted by Msgr. Jim Lisante; and "Lino at Large" with Lino Rulli, a Minneapolis man whose cable-access TV series "Generation Cross" has proved popular with young adult audiences.

And because the shows reach only 70 metropolitan areas at most, the CCC makes the broadcasts available through its Web site, www.usccb.org/ccc, as well as on compact disc. Garcia said plans are also under way for the shows to be downloadable via podcasts and MP3 players.

END


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