After a 14-year hiatus, English-speaking Catholic radio will be returning to the Los Angeles area. Immaculate Heart Radio recently announced the purchase of KTYM AM 1460, a religious station in the Inglewood neighborhood of southwest Los Angeles, for $6 million. About 40 percent of the funding for the purchase of the station comes from the support of donors. The signal will reach much of Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
“We’re really excited about entering the Los Angeles market, which is the number-two radio market in the country,” remarked Dick Jenkins, IHR’s network general manager. “It’s like going from Double-A ball into the national league. We’re modifying our programs and hiring the new staff we need.”
The purchase of the station marks the start of the federal government’s approval process, with the transaction going to the Federal Communications Commission for review. Current KTYM programming will go off the air during the summer. IHR will make necessary modifications to the station’s equipment, and anticipates going on the air with its programming in August 2014.
Inspired by John Paul II
IHR began when founder Doug Sherman attended World Youth Day 1993 in Denver, Colorado. Sherman listened intently to Pope John Paul II’s appeal to youth to join in the Church’s evangelization efforts. “The pope said everyone needs to do something to bring Christ to the world,” he recalled.
A short time later, Sherman drove across the country listening to tapes by Catholic evangelists, including Scott Hahn and Father Michael Scanlan. “I was impressed,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is the type of material that needs to be on the radio.’”
In 1997, Sherman, a former homebuilder, raised funds to purchase a station in Reno, Nevada, which had a signal that would reach his hometown of Lake Tahoe. At the time, evangelical Protestantism dominated the radio airwaves; his was just the seventh Catholic radio station in the country, as compared to 1,500 owned and operated by evangelical Protestants. Much of the station’s early programming came from EWTN, which was offered through an agreement with Mother Angelica.
In the next two months, Catholics bought stations in two other radio markets, and Sherman began having regular conversations with their new owners about the basics of operating a radio station. “Our combined knowledge of radio wouldn’t fill a thimble,” he recalls.
Those conversations later grew into the Catholic Radio Association, which today helps Catholics interested in purchasing and operating radio stations. Catholic radio has grown steadily since 1997, and today there are some 300 Catholic radio stations in the United States. IHR has grown steadily as well. It has spread to other markets on the West Coast, and today has 32 signals in five western states and Hawaii. Its headquarters is in Loomis, near Sacramento.
Unlike political or sports talk radio, IHR programming does not sell advertisements and is supported by donations from listeners. Its programming comes from a variety of sources, including EWTN Radio and Ave Maria Radio. It also produces some of its own programming. Sherman noted that the quality of Catholic programming has dramatically improved since he began 17 years ago.
Top shows for the IHR network include Catholic Answers Live and Right Here Right Now with Patrick Madrid. The network airs an early-morning Mass and Rosary, which have also proved popular.
English-speaking Catholic radio made a foray into the Los Angeles market in 1998 with programming offered by the for-profit Catholic Family Radio Network. Its programming attempted to “stealth evangelize,” according to John Lynch, its president and chief executive, and featured hosts such as former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn and US Congressman Dan Lungren. The network could not sell the advertising needed to support itself, and went off the air and out of Los Angeles two years later.
IHR’s Jenkins remarked, “There is a bias in the ad community against Christian causes. Also, in the marketplace of ideas, we’ve found that Catholic radio and commercials don’t make for good partners. When you go from an inspirational message to an ad about buying tires at 40 percent off, it just doesn’t work.”
Sherman added, “The founders of that network had a different formula than ours, and have since admitted it didn’t work. They now endorse what we’re doing. We’ve learned a lot from their experiment.”
Sherman noted that today IHR reaches nearly all of the West Coast and Hawaii, with “a big open spot in Los Angeles.” The network had long wanted to be in Los Angeles, but the cost of a radio station had been prohibitive. But when a radio broker called to say KTYM was available at an affordable price, negotiations with IHR began. “They are good people,” Sherman said of the previous KTYM team, “and negotiations went well. Their manager and owner is a Catholic, and he’s excited to be selling to us.”
Powerful evangelization tool
Surveys have found that Catholic radio can be a powerful evangelization tool. John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, California, which offers courses in media, recently conducted a survey for IHR. It found that of its listeners,
• 94 percent described themselves as more spiritually engaged and inspired;
• 69 percent were better able to teach their children the truths of the Catholic faith;
• 31 percent had returned to the active practice of their Faith;
• 47 percent attended Mass more frequently;
• 51 percent were more involved and generous with their parishes;
• 12 percent had their marriages saved;
• 83 percent had learned a great deal about their Catholic faith;
• Half said they’d learned more about their Catholic faith from Catholic radio than from any other resource in their lives.
Sherman remarked, “Nothing I’ve ever done has produced such dramatic results.” He related that as many as 30 people had contacted the network to say that they had been contemplating suicide, but that the Catholic message they received through IHR helped them change their minds. He’s also met mothers who have introduced him to their babies, and related that without IHR’s message opposing contraception and abortion, those babies would never have been born.
The challenge of funding
The chief challenge of IHR is funding the programming. Jenkins said, “Radio stations cost a lot, and when you’re listener-supported, it takes a lot of people giving.”
IHR is currently trying to raise needed funds to purchase the Los Angeles station, as well as additional funds to keep it in operation. Unlike those of highly visible commercial radio hosts with lucrative annual salaries, some of them in the millions, the salaries of on-air talent and staff at Catholic radio networks are much more modest. “We don’t do it for the money, but to bring the message of Christ to the people,” Jenkins noted.
Sherman added that a second key challenge has been revamping programming to reach as broad an audience as possible. He noted, “Part of the New Evangelization is reaching out to Catholics not going to Mass. We have to develop shows that can appeal to them.”
Dr. Craig Lowe, a retired Riverside surgeon who now heads a medical device company, is among the financial backers of the new station. “Catholic radio in Los Angeles is drastically needed,” he said. “From the Camp Pendleton Marine Base [north of San Diego] to Santa Barbara, we basically have a huge hole in our listenership and we’re missing millions of potential listeners.”
Lowe has met with Sherman multiple times to discuss purchasing the Los Angeles station. “Doug is a man of great integrity and fear of the Lord,” he said of Sherman. “Any donors to the station can be confident that their dollars will be well spent.”
Lowe is a former evangelical Protestant who converted to the Catholic faith in 2008, after a three-year period of studying Catholic teaching. “There is a tremendous potential to reach out to Protestants with the Catholic faith,” he noted, “particularly those who are more intellectual. They have been misled to believe the Catholic Church is a cult…and really have no idea what authentic Catholic teaching is.”
Lowe attended Protestant “mega churches,” including Mariners Church and Saddleback Church, before his wife persuaded him to study Catholicism. He began “breaking down the Protestant reformation” and realized that “while the Church made mistakes, there was no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. That’s what Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers had done.”
He continued, “I also had no idea Catholics started an educational system, universities, hospitals, had a missionary program, and so much more. They have brought so many good things to society.”
“I had no idea what the Eucharist was”, he explained, “All we had was grape juice and wafers.” As a physician, he marveled at the scientific studies of eucharistic miracles.
His hope is that with regular Catholic radio programming on the air, other Protestants can learn the Catholic faith as he has. He said, “It’s my desire to help move the Kingdom further along.”
Lowe’s wife, Vanessa Browne, is a convert from evangelical Protestantism who shares her husband’s passion for IHR. Browne began her career as an actress in Hollywood. She spent long hours in the car driving to auditions, and listened to Protestant radio. She noted, “Radio’s effect is immediate. It can touch you in a way that a book sometimes can’t.”
A Catholic convert friend prompted her study of the Catholic faith, and she began listening to Catholic radio in Riverside (a station which has since gone off the air). She became a Catholic in 2001. “I am blessed to be home in the Catholic Church”, she said, “As a Protestant, I had one instrument, the Bible. Now as a Catholic, I have a whole symphony of instruments, with the pope as my conductor.”
Some of her family and friends objected to her conversion. Her twin sister, for example, said, “You’ve joined a cult.” She continued, “But I try to persuade them to put aside their prejudices, and take an honest look at the Catholic Church.”
Browne describes evangelism as one of her passions, hence her enthusiastic support for Catholic radio. She works today in commodities and real estate, and hopes to make a significant donation to the work of IHR. She noted, “The reason Immaculate Heart Radio exists is to evangelize.” Both she and her husband head private foundations which support Catholic evangelism.
“I’m so excited that Catholic radio is coming to Los Angeles,” Browne said. “I can’t wait to tell people to tune into it.”