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 marketsLos Angeles, New York
City, Atlanta, and Memphis, to name a fewthat 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
CWR: How is Catholic radio programming
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
There are networks like Relevant
Radio, Radio Maria and Ave Maria Radio that are
owner-operators, meaning they own their own radio stations and produce their
And then there are individual
radio stations which produce all of their own programs, like KBVM/Portland, WBVM Spirit FM 90.5 in Tampa, Florida,
and the Archdiocese of Miami’s Radio Peace.
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
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
CWR: Do the Catholic bishops oversee
the content of radio programming to ensure it is faithful to the teaching of
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
CWR: How successful has Catholic radio
been in bringing people back to the Church, or in helping them to become more
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
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
Gajdosik: The call-in shows are favorites.
Catholic Answers Live, for example, is popular, as is
Dr. Ray Guarendi’s The Doctor Is In.
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
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.