After a struggle, Catholic station comes to Ohio
The station has no direct connection with the Catholic Church.
WEST MILTON, Ohio (AP) -- Bringing a Catholic radio station to Ohio is no easy task. Just ask the small group of volunteers who tried to do it for four years before the heavens parted.
In the span of a few weeks, the group found a radio frequency when few were available, got the station running two days before its license would have expired and patched the transmission tower back together after a spectacular lightning strike put it out of business.
It's been a struggle, but the station is accomplishing things, said volunteer James Meyer.
Today, Radio Maria is broadcasting to listeners who live within 40 miles of its tower just outside the western Ohio village of Botkins. WHJM-FM -- 88.7 on the dial -- is the first Radio Maria station in Ohio and only the sixth English-language version in the United States.
"There's Christian radio everywhere, but not the Catholic perspective," said coordinator Mary Pyper. "What we wanted to do was to bring a different flavor."
There are actually about 130 Catholic radio stations in the United States, up from only five 10 years ago, according to the Catholic Radio Association.
Eternal Word Television Network based in Birmingham, Ala., has about 90 radio stations. There are also stations operated by the Ave Maria Network in Detroit and Relevant Radio in Green Bay, Wis.
Every day, Radio Maria broadcasts Masses from its studios or from parishes in the listening areas. Rosaries and novenas are mixed in with Vatican news reports and interviews with callers. There are programs about fasting, pregnancy, family and social issues. Old-time hymns as well as classical and liturgical music are played.
Radio Maria was born in 1983 as a parish radio station in Milan, Italy, to keep parishioners informed. The network now operates in more than 30 countries, broadcasting to millions of listeners in more than a dozen languages.
The first Radio Maria station in the United States was an Italian-language station in New York City. The first English-language station was established in 2000 in Alexandria, La., where a studio and a radio frequency were available. Since then, stations have popped up in Natchitoches, New Iberia and Lake Charles, La.; Port Arthur, Texas; and now Botkins, Ohio.
Radio Maria is not directly connected to the Catholic Church but is a companion to the church in the teaching of faith, according to Kelly Hatcher, assistant program director at Radio Maria in Alexandria.
"It's very important that nothing goes over the air that is contrary to the Catholic faith," Hatcher said. "It's primarily evangelization and teaching the Catholic faith."
The stations are on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are staffed mostly by volunteers. There is live programming from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. After that, programs are rebroadcast.
Radio Maria is nonprofit, relies on private donations and doesn't broadcast commercials. It costs about $480,000 a year to operate the six U.S. English-language stations.
The Ohio station, which began broadcasting June 15, doesn't yet have a studio. And until it can develop its own programming, it is broadcasting programs from the other Radio Maria stations fed through Alexandria. However, last month a Mass from near this western Ohio village just north of Dayton was broadcast over the network.
The Ohio volunteers are developing their own programming, which will be shared with the network. The plans are to include programming for young adults and to lean heavily on call-in programs.
Francesca Franchina, who is in charge of programming for the Ohio operation, expects to help address personal issues from callers -- from family problems to grief.
"I think there are a lot of people really reaching out for a sense of family," she said. "We live in such transient times that they don't live near their nuclear family any more."
Sherry Cisco, 39, of Botkins, has begun listening to Radio Maria. The mother of four says it provides her with material when she teaches her Catholic education class. "I like that they do talk about the Bible," she said. "But they also talk about different things in life and how to cope with the problems in life."
The volunteers also see Radio Maria as a way to reach out to Catholics who have gotten away from attending church, by offering a nonthreatening way to learn more about the faith and get their questions answered.
And how does Radio Maria hope to compete against the big boys of radio?
"We've got the biggest boy up there," Franchina said with a smile as she looked skyward.