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CATHOLICS Station fighting to survive



Published: Sat, June 19, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



The fund-raiser in May raised $5,000 of its $65,000 goal.

By JULIE A. WAGNER

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

A fledgling Catholic radio station in the Mahoning Valley is in financial trouble.

The organization that owns The Station of the Cross WLOA-AM 1470 is looking for a person or group to take over the station, which airs Catholic services, music and programs. It first went on the air about a year and a half ago.

"We are really hoping and praying this is going to be successful. We're really trying to survive," said Jim Wright, president and co-founder of Holy Family Communications, a not-for-profit organization in Buffalo, N.Y. He and his wife, JoAnne, formed the company that also established Catholic stations in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., and Scranton, Pa.

The organization's board wanted to shut down the station because of the expense, but Wright said he persuaded them to give it another 30 days. If funds are not raised, the station would go on the market and probably be sold to a non-Catholic buyer, he said.

WLOA has operating costs of $10,000 a month, but receives only about $4,000 a month in donations, Wright said. Part of the monthly cost is payment toward the $350,000 purchase price for the station.

The note for the full $350,000 has come due, but the Buffalo-area man who provided the money is willing to extend the deadline, Wright said. The station costs are extremely reasonable compared with the $1 million to $3 million annual operating budgets of most AM stations, he said.

Coverage area

WLOA operates from a transmitter in Brookfield and broadcasts to homes within 25 miles of the station.

The station holds two fund-raisers a year. The fund-raiser in May had a goal of $65,000 and raised only $5,000, Wright said. The station has a mailing list of about 1,450, he said.

Because of financial difficulties, Wright said the station recently released station manager Martha Coulter of Columbiana, who ran programming from a studio in Columbiana connected to the transmitter by telephone lines. She was hired in May 2003.

"We had to cut our expenses," Wright said.

"Jim really had no choice," Coulter said, adding that she still hopes the station will make it.

Wright's choice to cut expenses was to safeguard Holy Family's other stations, Coulter said. For the station's first year, one-third of its funds came from the Youngstown area, with the Buffalo organization paying the rest. Potential donors should know the money would stay here, she said.

"I'll always support Catholic radio. I believe in it very much," she said. Coulter doesn't know if she would be station manager again.

Wright said there are two ways someone could save the station. A person or group of people could help fund the station and help make decisions about the programming, or they could take over the license, station and equipment. Either way, Holy Family could operate the programming from Buffalo.

Other details

Similar methods have worked at the company's other stations. For example, in Rochester, three people raised $500,000 to keep their station going, and three people in Buffalo raised $750,000 for that station.

"Times are bad everywhere. You can't use that as an excuse," Wright said. "With the world as it is right now, we need this. We really need to be spiritual." He said that about 30 percent of the population in the Youngstown area is Catholic.

WLOA offers Catholic programing to Mahoning Valley and Sharon, Pa., areas, including local Mass on Sunday and a local program, "Wineskins." Wright said there are about 70 Catholic stations in the United States, compared with 1,500 Protestant stations.

Monsignor Robert Siffrin, vicar general of the Youngstown Diocese, said that Bishop Thomas Tobin and the diocese are supportive of the radio station, though they can't buy it.

"It has great promise in sharing the Catholic message," he said.

The diocese can't afford the financial outlay needed. The station's coverage area is a small part of the six-county diocese.




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