by Trent Beattie
In 1983, Lu Cortese never thought she would get into the radio business. Thirty-six years and thousands of programming hours later, Cortese is still using radio to spread the Gospel.
The initial motivating factor for the formerly shy Cortese’s unlikely success story was the misrepresentations of Catholicism she heard on Protestant radio in the early 1980s. Acknowledging doctrinal differences was one thing; inventing them was quite another.
“The Protestant talk radio I heard was rational about many things going on in society and the general need to turn to God, but when it came to Catholicism specifically, all rationality went out the window,” she said.
To counter the misinformation, Cortese, with the help of donors from the St. Ignatius Retreat Association, started buying air time on Protestant stations, since there were no Catholic ones around. The Catholic programming from St. Joseph Radio was eventually aired daily on EWTN — first via short-wave radio, then satellite.
Now St. Joseph Radio — which moved from Orange, California, to St. Louis in 2005 and then to St. Charles, Missouri, in 2009 — includes not only radio programming through the aptly-named show “St. Joseph Radio Presents,” but also through CDs and downloads, a speaker’s bureau, television production made possible through a generous donation of the necessary equipment, and a bookstore/coffee shop.
By the grace of God, things kept growing
Cortese is not alone in her success. Catholic radio is growing, according to the Catholic Radio Association. In 1988, there were only six Catholic radio stations operating, according to CRA. Ten years later, the total had grown to 22, and by March 2019 there were 595 stations, translators (or “broadcast relay stations” that retransmit the signal of a station on a new broadcast channel), and HD channels airing Catholic content, with dozens more expected to be operating soon.
“When I first started the retreat association in 1983,” Cortese said, “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did desire to grow in my faith and gain peace of mind — and help others do the same. I just tried and kept trying, and by the grace of God, things kept growing.”
The centerpiece of her efforts still remains radio broadcasts, which she has found to be an extremely useful tool of evangelization. She cites a young Catholic woman as one of many examples.
The woman was a practicing but uninformed Catholic who listened to one installment of “St. Joseph Radio Presents.” The information from that one show changed her life. She threw out her birth control pills and is now the mother of seven children — not to mention a volunteer at a Catholic radio station.
Matt Swaim can also multiply stories about the effectiveness of Catholic radio. He is the producer and co-host of “The Son Rise Morning Show,” which runs a full three hours a day, five days a week. (Most Catholic radio programs are an hour or 30 minutes.) The first hour of Swaim’s show is syndicated nationally through EWTN, while the second and third hours are aired locally through Cincinnati’s Sacred Heart Radio. Swaim, an enthusiastic convert, also points out that the show, like many others today, can be heard anywhere through a livestream app.
Swaim, who formally entered the Catholic Church in 2005, is impressed with the range of programming today — which includes apologetics, art, history, liturgy, conversion, psychology, politics, sports, and prolife issues — and also where those shows are produced.
Sampling of Catholic radio shows
◆“THE DREW MARIANI SHOW” on Relevant radio examines current issues from the Catholic perspective and is hosted by award-winning journalist, writer, and broadcaster Drew Mariani.
◆“FAMILY ROSARY ACROSS AMERICA” is a live program airing at 8 p.m. EST weekdays on Relevant Radio where Fr. Dave Heney, pastor of St. Bruno Catholic Church in Whittier, California, leads the nation in praying the Rosary.
◆“GO ASK YOUR FATHER” on Relevant Radio features Catholic Digest’s Ask Father columnist Msgr. Stuart Swetland, STD, who answers questions about faith, morals, social teaching, and doctrine.
◆“THE PATRICK MADRID SHOW,” airing on Relevant Radio, is hosted by Catholic author and speaker Patrick Madrid, who discusses contemporary issues.
◆“MORE 2 LIFE” airs on Ave Maria Radio with Greg and Lisa Popcak, who give counseling resources and support. Greg Popcak is the exec-utive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization that helps Catholics with marriage, personal, and family problems. Lisa Popcak serves as the institute’s vice president.
◆“MORNING GLORY” airs on EWTN radio, with Gloria Purvis, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, and Msgr. Charles Pope talking about current issues from a Catholic point of view.
◆“WORD ON FIRE SHOW,” a podcast about bringing the Catholic faith into today’s culture, is hosted by speaker and creator of the much-praised “Catholicism” television series, Bishop Robert Barron, and is carried on EWTN radio.
◆“THE WORLD OVER WITH RAYMOND ARROYO” gives Catholic views of politics and culture. The program is produced in Washington, D.C., and airs on EWTN television and radio.
“It’s amazing to me how many local stations have their own programs now — however small — compared to 15 years ago, when there was only a handful that had any of their own,” he said. “Almost everyone was taking all their programming straight from EWTN, but now there’s an abundance of homegrown content.”
There is something for everyone on Catholic radio, and “The Son Rise Morning Show”reflects this. It does not confine itself to one topic, but contains a mix of all the topics listed above. Swaim sees this as part of the show’s appeal, but he has also found that conversion stories are among the most popular topics. In addition to hosting and producing “The Son Rise Morning Show,” he pro-duces “The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi” broadcast through EWTN on both television and radio.
The show started at the request of Mother Angelica in 1998 and features men and women who have come into the Catholic Church as converts or back to the Church as reverts. Interestingly, many of the guests on “The Journey Home” have their own radio shows, among them Ave Maria Radio’s Ray Guarendi (“The Doctor Is In”) and Al Kresta (“Kresta in the Afternoon”), as well as EWTN’s Johnnette Benkovic (“Women of Grace”) and David Anders (“Called to Communion with Dr. David Anders”).
A NEW CREATION
Jerry Usher, a longtime revert, knows the ins and outs of Catholic radio as well as anyone. The former seminarian is best known as the creator and host of “Catholic Answers Live,” but more recently he has created and hosted “Vocation Boom Radio” and “Take 2 with Jerry & Debbie.” Usher has also lent his voice to the promotion of local Catholic radio stations during pledge drives and now runs a speaker’s bureau via Third Millennium Media.
Although “Catholic Answers Live” eventually became very popular, Usher initially had a tough time convincing Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating to launch the show. It was more than two years after urging Keating to record some apologetics shows that “Catholic Answers Live” debuted in January 1998. It went from being broadcast by four radio stations to around 360 as of May 2019.
Usher initially left “Catholic Answers Live” in 2009 to expand his work with radio station pledge drives. These fundraising efforts remind listeners of how fortunate they are to have Catholic radio at no cost and with no commercials for potato chips or toothpaste. In addition to the lay station owners, Usher has worked with clergy on these drives and has found that they are very appreciative of the effects Catholic radio has had on their flock.
“Clergy appreciate how Catholic radio has provided more information to the faithful,” Usher said. He likes to point out the vast range of radio, as it is able to reach people in ways that priests cannot.
He explained it this way: “Priests have a very limited amount of time to preach at Sunday and weekday Masses, and their congregations are probably smaller in most cases than the audience for a radio show — certainly smaller than the po-tential audience. Radio, then, can reach more people and for longer periods of time, which can only help priests do their work better.”
In 2013 Usher launched Vocation Boom, part of which included “Vocation Boom Radio.” Then in 2015 he started co-hosting “Take 2 with Jerry & Debbie” on EWTN Radio.
With all his varied experiences, what does Usher see as the present and future for Catholic radio, which has expanded to live-streaming online and podcasts?
“Only God knows what other platforms of distribution remain to be uncovered,” he said, “but the content of Catholic radio still has room to expand. There are many individuals and organizations that have yet to venture into this field, but who have a very important message. So there is a lot of room remaining for growth and expansion.”
Expansion of Catholic radio is exactly what the Catholic Radio Association is about. The CRA was founded in 1999 to assist in the acquisition of new Catholic radio stations and the technical, financial, and social support needed to keep them going.
“Catholic radio has proven to be invaluable for introducing listeners to the gifts of the Catholic faith,” said Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon. “Many RCIA candidates and catechumens have pointed to Catholic radio as being an integral component within their faith journey.”