CHICAGO, October 25, 2012 ― The sluggish U.S. economy hasn’t been kind to the radio industry since the last presidential election. The Pew Research Center reports that revenues from traditional spot advertising shrank by 1 percentage point in 2011, to $14.1 billion, following 6 percent growth in 2010.
The devastating financial impact crater has reverberated with industry-wide consolidations and niche stations forced into general – read predictable – audience formats. You can spot a dying station by its radio death rattle: a format change to adult contemporary hits.
But traditional radio’s rules do not apply to everyone.
In Antioch, Illinois, a brand new signal tower has entered its design and construction phase. Once the radio tower is built next year, it has the capacity to reach a potential audience of 500,000 people across Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.
The new station? WSFI-FM Catholic radio.
That’s right: Catholic radio.
While other stations are being forced to regroup, WSFI organizers say Catholic radio is “estimated to be growing at about a million listeners a month because of the powerful impact it is making on listeners’ lives.”
Economic downturns are not only hard on the pocketbook; they are hard on the soul. That’s where Catholic radio is making a difference, supporters say.
That spiritual potential has already enabled WSFI to assemble a powerhouse team determined to fill the void in Catholic radio programming in Midwestern markets.
Pat McCaskey, co-owner of the Chicago Bears and Chairman of Sports Faith International, recently hosted a fundraiser at the Key Lime Cove Resort to raise funds for the construction of the new signal tower.
His mother, Virginia McCaskey, a devout Catholic and daughter of Chicago Bears founder, George Halas, was the guest of honor.
Those in attendance at the event said they were “thrilled” by the possibilities: The Illinois tower could make WSFI-FM the largest Catholic radio station in the country.
With an FM signal, the station would broadcast uninterrupted 24 hours a day with a mix of local-driven inspirational sports stories and Catholic radio programming says WSFI Program Director Angela Tomlinson.
It’s an ambitious and expensive plan.
The new station will broadcast from St. Raphael the Archangel, which is under construction in Old Mill Creek, near the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
Rev. John A. Jamnicky, pastor at St. Raphael, says the church’s $12 million construction is a story in itself: The church’s neo-classical facade is reclaimed from St. John of God, a 92- year-old Roman Catholic Church that once uplifted spirits on Chicago’s south side.
St. Raphael’s interior? Reclaimed from another beloved shuttered church: Chicago’s St. Peter Canisius.
But it is more than the stone-by-stone reassembly of a historic church or the construction of a $500,000 new radio tower that has donors pulling out their checkbooks.
According to WSFI’s supporters, Catholic radio reaches new audiences in ways that other media doesn’t.
“In the late 1990s, there were very few Catholic radio stations but today there are over 200 and growing,” says Rev. Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, who is heard daily on the Relevant Radio Network. “When it comes to time spent listening on the radio [in Chicago], we are number 8 out of 144 [stations]. When they [audiences] discover us, they leave that radio on all the time.”
But Catholic radio’s impact may be even more fundamental to its audience and the practice of their faith.
An IHR Catholic radio survey found that:
- 94percent of Catholic radio listeners said they are more spiritually engaged and inspired.
- 83 percent say they’ve learned a great deal about their Catholic faith.
- 47 percent attend Mass more frequently.
- 31 percent have returned to the Church because of Catholic radio programming
David Vacheresse, General Manager of EWTN Global Catholic Radio Networks, says there is something unique about the growth of faith-based radio.
“While many TV and radio segments are in decline, Catholic radio markets are actually expanding,” says Vacheresse. “Many people have put second mortgages on their homes to buy small stations around the country. These people want to share their faith’s positive message and this is how Catholic radio is spreading.”
And spreading it is.
Bad economy or not, secular radio’s loss may be Catholic radio’s gain.
If you build it in Catholic radio, they really do come.
William J. Kelly is a conservative commentator and columnist who offers a uniquely Chicago perspective to the worlds of culture, politics, and entertainment. An Emmy award-winning TV producer and broadcast veteran, he also contributes to the American Spectator and Breitbart.com in addition to his columns at the Communities @Washington Times. He is a native of Chicago’s South Side.
Email questions to him at email@example.com. Find him on Facebook/Williamjpkelly
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