By MARK WOOLSEY, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 8, 2019
ATLANTA—Atlanta’s only full-power Catholic radio station is gaining traction as it moves into its second year.
The non-profit operation has debuted an app. The donor base and listenership are growing. More than 45 syndicated shows grace the schedule, ranging from the priest-hosted dealing with faith teachings and issues to life and relationship advice and a youth-oriented program. There’s even a program designed for non-Catholics who have questions about the faith. And station officials are in the initial phases of exploring longer-form local programming.
Those details aside, the overall focus remains laser-sharp.
“It’s all about bringing people closer to Christ,” said Carol Tiarsmith, the president of Atlanta Catholic Radio’s AM 1160 The Quest, which debuted on April 21 of last year. A former banker who felt a call to serve, Tiarsmith and two other principals got the ball rolling on the operation.
Unifying the diverse church is a goal
“We want to build a strong vibrant platform for connecting the Catholic community,” she added. Not only is faith-building a key piece she said, providing a unified voice and information source for the faithful also looms large. “Sometimes the word doesn’t get out on what’s going on in the Catholic community because it’s scattered and diverse,” she said. “That’s why we partner with other organizations like the Knights of Columbus.”
Not only is the operation at 1160 AM bringing people closer to their beliefs and to community happenings, it’s gaining new adherents to the faith. The Quest featured a conversion story on its first anniversary from a man who was Baptist and decided to convert to Catholicism after becoming a listener. It’s one of a number of such accounts they’ve heard.
Sharing faith with others
Interestingly, she says, about half of their listeners are non-Catholic. And although they’re not part of Arbitron’s listener surveys, they think the audience is growing based on anecdotal evidence and feedback. The operation is entirely listener-supported, with periodic “Spirit Drive” pledge efforts generating a majority of revenue. Consistent monthly donors are also crucial and growing. A $2.3 million capital campaign is underway to raise money equal to the cost of buying and building the operation and three years of operating expenses.
The volunteer corps is expanding as well. Laurie Marchuk is one such helper, having turned on 1160 to hear a talk show broadcast by the station’s former conservative talk radio owners. The change was instantly obvious.
“I started listening and I got addicted,” she said. Marchuk subsequently met Tiarsmith during a Bible study at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta. Tiarsmith invited her to volunteer and Marchuk helps in a grab-bag of ways, from mailing thank you notes to pledge donors to doing some spots on the station and handling some of the accounting chores.
The station debuted its app the week of June 20. It’s available through Google Play and the App Store and allows listeners to tune in online, handles prayer requests, donations and has a news feed.
With that accomplished, says Tiarsmith, they’re setting their sights on local programming. She said they already feature some brief short-form local inserts such as priests coming in to introduce themselves and talk about their parishes and local happenings.
The station’s president said the idea of longer-form shows is being bandied about. “We are meeting monthly and praying about ideas coming to the table. I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but we are actively working on it,” said Tiarsmith.
She said longer local programming would likely take the form of an interview show, with conversion stories and community events as part of the bill of fare. Atlanta-based youth-oriented programming could also make its way to the airwaves.
Whatever direction the station takes in the future, asserts Tiarsmith, “We are just instruments and God is directing our hands and feet.”