Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City calls it “a bishop’s best friend.” Bishop of Birmingham Robert Baker says it is an “indispensable tool.” Archbishop of Denver Samuel Aquila refers to it as “a blessing which helps us to learn our faith and transform our hearts.”
Catholic radio is currently available on AM-FM radio to about 170 million Americans, or a little over half the nation, through about 250 Catholic radio stations. This may sound impressive, but it is dwarfed by the presence of non-Catholic Christian radio programming, which is delivered by 1,700 non-Catholic Christian stations. Additionally, there are still many major media markets—Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, and Memphis, to name a few—that do not have Catholic radio.
As compared to Protestants, Catholics have been slow to discover the importance of radio in evangelization. Nonetheless, Catholic presence on the airwaves has been steadily increasing in recent years, and, according to Steve Gajdosik, president of the Catholic Radio Association, a unique opportunity to grow that presence has arisen. The CRA is a support organization of Catholic radio network owner-operators, and has the end-goal of helping to “push the growth of Catholic radio” in the United States.
Gajdosik recently spoke with CWR about Catholic radio, its success as an evangelization tool and opportunities to expand its reach in the future.
CWR: Although 170 million Americans have access to Catholic programming via AM-FM radio stations, is there any way to know exactly how many are listening?
Gajdosik: No, we don’t have a direct way to measure the size of our audiences. Most Catholic stations don’t subscribe to Arbitron [a consumer research company that collects listener data on radio audiences], so we don’t have a lot of data available to us. One exception, however, is Relevant Radio, a Catholic network that operates in the Midwest. They subscribe to Arbitron. The most recent numbers they had for the Chicago market were out of this world. People were tuning in to the station and staying with it.
CWR: How is Catholic radio programming produced?
Gajdosik: The majority of Catholic radio stations are EWTN affiliates, which means they take the programs that EWTN produces, add in a few of their own, and re-broadcast them.
CWR: Media stories sometimes appear about successful political talk show hosts earning millions of dollars per year. I imagine that salaries of Catholic radio show hosts and budgets of Catholic radio stations are much more modest.
Gajdosik: [Laughing.] Yes. A few Catholic radio stations have ad formats, but 85 percent or more survive on the generosity of their listeners. However, there’s a beauty to that. Listeners are directly participating in the evangelization work of that station. They’re fulfilling our baptismal call to be missionaries. In fact, I think it could be detrimental to a station to have too much money. When we find ourselves in this situation, we can become detached and do not rely on God.
CWR: A common characteristic among Catholic networks is that they feature hosts who are orthodox or conservative Catholics.
Gajdosik: [Laughing.] I’m going to stay away from the term “conservative,” which has political connotations. But yes, Catholic radio programming is definitely faithful to the Magisterium. Only the truth has the power to transform people’s lives. It is the power of Christ that can help a person to give up an ingrained sin, such as the abuse of alcohol or a relationship with a mistress. The personality of a host can’t do it. Our content is Christ. He changes people.
CWR: Do the Catholic bishops oversee the content of radio programming to ensure it is faithful to the teaching of the Church?
Gajdosik: There’s not a lot formally in canon law about this, although the bishops do have the right to govern the use of the name “Catholic” for organizations. Catholic bishops often do serve on the boards of programming outlets, such as EWTN. As you can see on our Make Your Voice Heard website, many bishops are very excited about Catholic radio and very supportive of the apostolate.
CWR: How successful has Catholic radio been in bringing people back to the Church, or in helping them to become more fervent Catholics?
Gajdosik: Contact any Catholic station, and they’ll have a pile of testimonials from listeners saying how Catholic programming has changed their lives. There are letters saying things like, “I heard your program, and I went back to Confession for the first time in years.”
CWR: And, although someone can get radio programming through the Internet or other sources, being on AM-FM radio is most important.
Gajdosik: Yes, AM-FM radio is very heavily consumed. People listen in bits and pieces during their drive time or in the office or at home. There is some consumption of satellite radio; shortwave radio is more of an international service. Overall, the AM-FM stations are an important place to be.
A person sitting in his car in traffic, for example, can be part of a receptive audience. By the physical act of turning on the radio and tuning in to his station, he wants to receive what the radio gives him. He is oriented to becoming a listener. That’s why we need to be there with quality Catholic programming.
CWR: What are some of the most popular radio programs?
CWR: You’ve said that this is an important time for Catholic radio. Why is that?
Gajdosik: In 2007, the Catholic Radio Association was involved in an expansion effort. We were able to obtain $60 million in FCC licenses for our members, at a remarkably low cost of $300,000. About 50 of these stations are on the air right now.
Today, the FCC is making available free FM licenses for a limited time. It is our last opportunity to gain free licenses to build Catholic radio stations. We need to find non-profits who want to establish their own radio stations in their communities.
Pope Benedict proclaimed this as the “Year of Faith.” Catholic radio is a great way for us to live out our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. We’re called to be credible witnesses of the Gospel; radio programming can help us reach out to people day after day, sharing the truth of Christ with them and transforming their lives.