By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 7, 2014
GAINESVILLE—Local Catholics hope to share their faith over the airwaves of a low-power FM station, a new type of non-commercial station.
The weekly Catholic Hour radio show, a regular Sunday program for six years, earlier suspended its program. Instead Totus Tuus Catholic Radio Inc. is focused on starting a new community station, said one of its founders.
“It reaches people in such varied circumstances. When I thought of Catholic radio, I thought of it because I wanted to listen when driving to work. But I’ve found out all kinds of people tune in,” said Totus Tuus co-founder Carol Bush.
There is the female inmate who donated $8. Local Protestants have told her they listened. And Catholics in other parts of the state have tuned in for the mix of interviews with Catholic leaders and faith education.
Totus Tuus is the brainchild of Bush, 72, who approached Mark Peffer, 47. He agreed to work to start a radio station dedicated to Catholic issues.
“I hate listening to the radio in the area because you don’t have a lot of choice. I wish we’d have EWTN,” said Bush. Totus Tuus was Blessed John Paul II’s papal motto. In Latin, it means “totally yours,” reflecting the pope’s devotion to Mary.
The nonprofit was formed in 2010. They joined the Catholic Radio Association, a 10-year-old trade association that is seeking to help Catholic radio stations, now numbering around 220, launch and thrive around the country. Then they were offered the chance to take over a Catholic program already started by Deacon Ken Lambert.
Knowing nothing about the radio industry, Deacon Lambert was spurred to start the one-hour show after hearing Baptist churches sponsor shows. He figured a Catholic program could strengthen people’s faith and educate non-Catholics. It aired for the first time on Feb. 11, 2007. Deacon Lambert and his son produced 150 shows during the three years he led it. He heard from unexpected people how they listened, so he knows the program was successful in reaching people. A Pentecostal funeral director told Deacon Lambert he enjoyed the show. Another time he heard from Marines who listened because their Catholic chaplain had been reassigned. He stepped back from the microphone when his studies for the diaconate demanded more of his time and he offered it to Totus Tuus.
With Peffer in front of the microphone, the show on radio station WDUN AM and FM was organized with the first 30 minutes dedicated to Scripture, Catholic trivia and current events. The second part was an interview, with guests ranging from Bishop David P. Talley and archdiocesan ministry leaders to Catholic authors and clergy, both local and national.
“We’ve interviewed people from all across the country. We’ve interviewed an author from England,” said Bush.
The organizers decided in June to suspend the show when they faced three months of unpaid bills. There is more than $1,400 to pay.
“Money has always been a problem. But it always seems to come through,” said Bush.
The Catholic Hour didn’t have sponsors or advertising. The show lasted about 55 minutes, but Bush said they chose not to run advertising because they didn’t want to lose minutes to promote the sponsors. It cost about $180 an hour to broadcast. They raise money through appeal letters, their website and word of mouth, Bush said. And life on someone else’s radio station means others’ priorities can take precedence.
“We do get preempted from time to time for baseball and football games,” she said.
That’s where this new type of FM station comes in. These stations are available to nonprofits, churches, schools and non-commercial educational organizations. They can broadcast up to a range of five miles. The application can be filed in October. The Catholic Foundation of North Georgia had awarded $10,000 to help the station get off the ground.
Talks are underway to see if a string of these FM stations could cover much of North Georgia with Catholic programming.
Peffer said Totus Tuus envisions a radio station that offers around-the-clock Catholic programing, drawing in national shows from EWTN and local programming. The community station’s financial needs would range from about $15,000 to $25,000, which is not a lot of money for a radio station, he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy,” he said, adding that more programming should attract more listeners to support the endeavor with their contributions.