Catholic Radio Launches in Los Angeles

After a long absence, Catholic programming enters the country’s largest radio market.

Los Angeles welcomed the return of English-speaking Catholic radio on November 17, when Archbishop Jose Gomez “flipped the switch” to turn on KHJ AM 930, broadcasting Catholic programming to a market of 15 million for the first time in more than a decade. The station is owned and operated by Immaculate Heart Radio (IHR), and features such programs as Right Here Right Now with Patrick MadridCatholic Answers Live, and The Terry and Jesse Show. IHR has a station in San Diego, KCEO AM 1000, which, combined with the Los Angeles station, gives the network coverage from Oxnard to the Mexican border.

At the November 17 launch, Archbishop Gomez called KHJ “a beautiful blessing for our mission,” and said, “Catholic radio is truly a gift from God. It is another way that God uses to speak to us.”

“Our launch has gone great. We’re off to a good start,” said Doug Sherman, founder and CEO of IHR. “Right now, our focus is to build audience, which we’re doing through billboard advertisements, articles in local papers, and, at the parish level, through the Knights of Columbus. We’re also hoping that people active on the radio dial will find us.”

IHR purchased KHJ for $10 million, funded by cash donations, pledges, and low-interest loans from friends of IHR. IHR had intended to purchase a smaller station, but opted for KHJ instead when it became available. Sherman was excited to enter the LA market, he noted, as it is the biggest in the United States.

“It’s an important way to spread the Catholic faith,” he said.

In attendance at the station’s launch party were several Catholic celebrities, including former professional baseball player Mike Sweeney. Sweeney played in the major leagues for 16 years, including 13 years with the Kansas City Royals. He retired from professional baseball in 2011, and now works in the Royals’ front office. He lives in the San Diego suburbs, and was involved in the launch of KCEO several years ago.  

“I was never a talk radio guy. Some friends suggested I tune in to IHR, however, and from day one I was hooked,” Sweeney said. “I love its Catholicity. It is 100 percent, unabashed Catholic.”

He added, “It’s given me a greater love and appreciation for my Catholic faith, and helped me answer our Protestant brothers and sisters when they ask me questions.”

He had never enjoyed California traffic, he said, but once AM 1000 began broadcasting, “I look forward to it. I can listen to so many outstanding Catholic shows. All my vehicles are set to AM 1000.”

Today Sweeney is active in promoting the Faith at a variety of conferences and men’s groups, and four years ago established the Mike Sweeney Catholic Baseball Camp. He said, “The media has a huge influence in our culture. I wanted to use the gifts God gave me to bring the Gospel all over the country.”

Like he’s used baseball to spread the Gospel, Doug Sherman has used radio, Sweeney said. Sweeney is a IHR donor, and has allowed his name to be used in promoting the new station. He said, “I’m a big fan of Catholic radio, and daily I’m fed by it. I think of myself as a fan of Doug Sherman, cheering him on from the dugout. He’s really hitting a home run.”

The archdiocese gets involved

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez plans to contribute a show to the new station, according to David Scott, the archdiocesan Vice Chancellor for Communications. The network has offered the archdiocese an hour a day for programming for a show that will be “a little different” than standard programming. The show is still in the development stage, and should be on the air by March.

“People should know their shepherd’s voice,” said Scott. “The archbishop will offer his thoughts on such topics as forgiveness and the meaning of life. He has a deep commitment to Catholic radio.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the largest in the country, he said, and the fifth largest in the world. With nearly 9,000 square miles and 300 parishes, “even if [Archbishop Gomez] were to visit one parish a week, traveling throughout the archdiocese would take six years. Catholic radio is an important vehicle he can use to reach his people.”

The archdiocese is also planning a Spanish-language program featuring Archbishop Gomez for EWTN.

Father Ed Benioff, the archdiocesan Director of New Evangelization, believes it is important to use Catholic radio and other forms of media to spread the Gospel. “One of my favorite saints, John Bosco, had an oratory game room so that his priests and brothers could play games with the kids they served,” Father Benioff said. “He reasoned, ‘If we enter their world, they’ll enter our world.’ We need to enter the wider culture so that we can present to them the gift of salvation.”

While secularism is prevalent everywhere, he said, it is particularly so in cities like Los Angeles. “People are tempted to pursue money, power, pleasure, and honor and to throw away spiritual values,” Father Benioff said. “It presents a greater challenge for us to evangelize, and the radio is an important tool to help us do so.”

Ordained a priest in 2007, Father Benioff was appointed to his position in 2013. His role is “to inspire the baptized to have a new relationship with Jesus, and to get to know him well,” through talks, his website, and other media. He’s currently developing an English-language show for a Spanish radio station, and hopes one day to have a show on KHJ as well. While 75 percent of the Church in Los Angeles is Latino, he estimates, many speak English as a primary language and will benefit from English-speaking Catholic radio.

He said, “We have to get out there. We can’t wait for them to come to us.”

Support grows among local businessmen

Chuck Haas is a Catholic businessman from the San Francisco Bay Area, and serves on the board of Immaculate Heart Radio. He was a nominal Catholic when IHR went live in the Bay Area in 2008, and for the first time began to know and appreciate his Catholic faith. His wife, who had been listening to Protestant radio, had a similar conversion.

“IHR programs gave us a biblical basis for our faith of which we had previously been unaware,” Haas said.  

He added, “I also hadn’t been to confession in 20 years, and it made me realized I had to start going again.”

Haas became a donor, and then joined the IHR board in 2011. He said, “I’m a businessman, but I have a strong heart and passion for evangelism. Serving on the board gives me the opportunity to contribute my skills to the work of evangelization.”

Going to IHR events gave Haas the opportunity to meet other faithful Catholics, and to see that there were many other committed Catholics outside his parish. He continued, “I was amazed to see IHR supporters who had such a strong faith, a deep prayer life, and were doing great things for evangelism.”

Catholic radio has had a major impact on the health of the Church in the Bay Area, Haas said, and he’s confident it will do the same in Los Angeles. “If you look at it in business terms, it offers a great return on investment,” he explained.

Scott Turicchi of Pasadena is president and CFO of j2 Global, a Los Angeles-based technology company, and is also a supporter of KHJ. Turicchi has a family foundation and supports a number of Catholic apostolates, including serving as Chairman of the Board for Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. Doug Sherman came to him seeking his support for the establishment of Catholic radio in Los Angeles. “I was skeptical,” Turicchi recalled. “I knew there had been big challenges establishing Catholic radio here in LA in the past because it’s a bigger market with bigger dollars required.”

He had some “hard questions” for Sherman about his plan for building listener and donor bases in Los Angeles. IHR had “done it 28 other times in different media markets, and it was clear that they had developed a model that was working.”

Turicchi believes that LA is a natural choice for talk radio, despite the many other ways technology allows the public to consume news and entertainment. “People spend a lot of time in their cars in LA,” he explained. “And, while we’re sitting in traffic, many people, including myself, listen to radio to pass the time.”

Turicchi was present for the kick-off event with Archbishop Gomez on November 17, and listened to KHJ for the first time that afternoon on the way to the airport. “I didn’t know if I was going to be engaged for just a few minutes, or the whole drive,” he said. “I gave it 10 minutes, and then continued to listen. I was impressed, and found out good information. It’s already changed my radio listening habits.”

The next step is branding, he believes. IHR has to get the word out in Los Angeles’ parishes, working with local pastors. “Now that the station has been purchased and launched, the next several months are key,” he said. “We need to attract listeners, and build our donor base.”

His own parish, historic St. Andrew’s in Los Angeles, is planning an event to educate the community on Catholic radio in January. He said, “I hope people will tune in and give it a chance.” 

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About Jim Graves 228 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.