Catholic Radio: A Plea

Congratulations to the EWTN Radio Network on its 20th anniversary!

Like many, I enjoy syndicated programs from EWTN and other Catholic radio stations such as Ave Maria Radio–especially when I’m out running errands. These stations do an excellent job of providing quality programming related to catechetics, apologetics, family life, spirituality, and politics. Congratulations to all in this industry on a work well done.

Yet I would like to register a plea.

A plea addressed not only to EWTN, but to all involved in the Catholic radio industry.

It is essential, of course, for those responsible for Catholic radio programming to focus on the kinds of programs I mentioned above. But I also find myself wishing for some greater variety. Why can’t there be some entertainment programming on Catholic radio?

Take a look at the website for BBC Radio 4. Go to the menu of program categories and click on “Arts,” “Comedy,” “Drama,” “Music.” You’ll find shows featuring, among many other things, long and short-form radio drama, serialized book readings, short stories, sketch comedy, arts programs, music reviews, panel games, poetry readings. It’s a rich feast. Why can’t Catholic radio offer entertainment and cultural programming of this sort?

Because our mission is to evangelize culture–I suppose the main objection will be. And that’s absolutely appropriate. But isn’t there more than one way to a person’s mind and heart? God bless Al Kresta, for example, for so very clearly and ably walking his audience through the tyrannical escapades of the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. But wouldn’t it be great if Catholic radio also offered a program like the BBC’s Afternoon Play or 15 Minute Drama or Classic Serial? Is it not imaginable that many who won’t listen to a program on Church politics or spirituality might listen to a program of sketch comedy or a show like Book at Bedtime? Perhaps that experience would introduce them to a world they had never thought much about before.

Not that the point of such programming would be merely to attract those outside the Catholic fold. It would also be good for the sake of Catholic culture itself. A culture is most essentially its religious practices (or lack of them). But a culture is also the stories it tells, the music it sings, and the jokes it laughs at.

And I’m not just thinking about programs featuring stories of saints, or of religious music, or of other material that is explicitly catechetical or apologetic. Catholic entertainment programming would not have the values of the BBC, but that doesn’t mean that it would have to be exclusively hagiographic. Catholics in our culture have been great entertainers in the past. Why can’t they be again?

But the BBC is state-funded radio. Yes, it is. And programming budgets for Catholic radio stations I’m sure are already stretched. But if every good idea was neglected because the funds weren’t immediately available, where would innovation be?

And it is a good idea. And what’s more, no one else is doing it. No one. NPR has a minimal slate of cultural programming, but nothing much if anything in the area of original contributions to the arts. It would be pathbreaking for a U.S. radio station, Catholic or otherwise, to start offering dramatizations of serials, plays, short stories, and the like.

There isn’t an audience for it.

Pursue it with supreme artistry, and see if they don’t come.

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  • ctc

    You have an excellent point, Daniel.

    Catholic media’s reach will always be limited to those faithful Catholics who focus on prayer, spirituality and evangelization. The vast majority, even of Catholics, who see our media as too restricted and one dimensional will pass on the entire programming schedule because they see it as relentlessly holy to stay with it on a regular basis.

    Witness the constant appeals from every facet of Catholic media for donations to keep them alive.
    We’ve come a long way but haven’t made our case in obtaining an ever increasing audience. The proliferation of radio, internet,and blogs is great but they fight for a still limited audience that doesn’t seem to have the fire in the belly interest to support them without persistent haranguing to do so.

    The Protestant radio network, Salem Broadcasting, made an all out effort to program twelve or more hours of major league consevative talk shows some years back on a local  radio station they owned and it cost them big time. They had a great lineup but their ratings were in the tank and they had to forego that phase of their programming after a coulple of years of heavy losses. Matter of fact the network is on shaky financial ground as it is now and they have a few hundred stations of Christian radio lineups that they intersperse with infomercial material to survive. No appeals from them.

    So, the bottom line is we are between a rock and a hard place. I would love to see Catholic media self sustaining on attracting secular commercials based on an increasing circulation base and a willingness on advertising agencies to advertise on Catholic media. How we get there is a conundrum.

    Thanks for throwing the thought out there. Little fire leads to little money. To rouse the moribund Catholic base and vastly increase our numbers is a desire devoutly to be wished.

  • Daniel McInerny

    Some sobering, if true, thoughts. One of the reasons I focused on radio in my post rather than upon television is because the production values in radio are far cheaper than those of television. It would be interesting to see what some very high quality entertainment radio programming would do. It might rouse at least some of that moribund Catholic base you mention–and bring in some unexpected monies from advertising. 

  • John Materazzo

    Thanks for replying to my post.
    Your focus on radio rather than TV is understandable and that is why there are many fledgling Catholic radio enterprises springing up, all vying for audience and sustainability and all holding out the cup for financial giving.

    Those that are doing well have made it pretty lucrative for its founders and righly so. They had a passion for the faith and took a bold step to get Catholic Radio off the ground.
    I would hope that a few and maybe more of Catholic Radio Networks get together and form a significant national network. It may bring about the kind of high quality radio programming still geared to our faith but with stronger appeal that would lead to interest from the national ad agencies.
    Not a sure thing, witness The Salem Broadcasting troubles.
    As for TV, we now have two national networks which will make both of them better as they compete with each other.

    Food for thought.