After delivering my first radio news report for CNS last month, I got to thinking about my exposure to Catholic radio. When I was working in Detroit for The Michigan Catholic, the Detroit Archdiocese’s newspaper, in the late 1980s, I remember approaching Jay Berman, then the archdiocese’s director of communications, about the possibility of the archdiocese buying a radio station.
The archdiocese was heading strongly into cable TV at the time with its Catholic Telecommunications Network of Detroit. But across the street from Sacred Heart Seminary stood the tower and studios of WDTR-FM, owned by the Detroit Public Schools. WDTR aired some of the most boring canned programming available in English. The Detroit Public Schools almost always seemed to be in financial trouble. The station’s proximity to the seminary had the potential to attract seminarians and other archdiocesan employees to assist in its operation. There were liturgical musicians whose music could be played — and heard — just the same as with any other music format on radio. Sunday Masses could be aired live in a host of languages. At worst, it could simulcast the archdiocese’s cable programming for a vast audience that hadn’t yet been wired for cable.
Nix, said Berman. “I’ve never heard a Catholic radio station that’s been done well,” he told me.
If Berman were alive today, he might have had to change his mind, especially given the profusion of Catholic radio. There’s the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM satellite radio, EWTN’s radio service, Relevant Radio on a fistful of stations around the country, independent Catholic broadcasters, and a growing band of Catholics on low-power radio throughout the county — and their number will only increase once the Federal Communications Commission gives its OK for more low-power stations to claim untaken space on the dial to serve their communities.
As for WDTR? It changed its call letters to WRCJ a few years ago and got a financial lifeline from Detroit’s PBS TV affiliate; WRCJ now promises “Classical Days, Jazzy Nights.” And the Detroit Archdiocese just announced it was outsourcing studio production for its TV operation.