SALISBURY — Starting Holy Thursday, people along the I-85 corridor from Concord to Lexington will be able to tune in to hear Catholic talk radio programming on 1490 AM WSTP.
The radio station should reach all of Rowan County, including the areas covered by Sacred Heart Parish in Salisbury, St. Joseph Parish in Kannapolis, St. James the Greater Parish in Concord and Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Lexington.
Programming starts April 13.
The station is the first step in plans for a new "Carolina Catholic Radio Network" being formed by stringing together existing or dormant AM radio stations in the Charlotte and Greensboro regions, said David Papandrea, who serves as a "media missionary" for EWTN in the area. CCRN would be North Carolina's first full-power commercial Catholic radio network.
EWTN radio programming will be offered on 1490 AM, along with live broadcasts of local Masses, said Len Kobylus, a member of Sacred Heart Church's Knights of Columbus who is also involved with the initiative.
WSTP’s owners, Bill Graham and Buddy Poole, are donating the first two weeks of EWTN programming, with the hope that donations will come in to keep the station on the air after that.
The goal is to reach, educate and encourage both active and fallen-away Catholics, Papandrea said, as well as inform non-Catholics about the Catholic faith.
At present, there are no full-power AM or FM commercial Catholic radio stations in North Carolina, Papandrea said. There are several low-power FM stations that reach about a 15-mile radius in Wilmington, Wake Forest, Raleigh and, most recently, at Belmont Abbey College.
Papandrea first learned of this need after he started as a "media missionary" for EWTN in 2015.
“When I looked at statistics and found out that Charlotte was the biggest market without Catholic radio in pretty much the country, it was a red flag that we have to fix,” he said.
From there, he spent time reviewing other stations' models and networking to determine the best way to bring Catholic radio to Charlotte.
The most cost-effective way to cover areas as large as Charlotte and Greensboro, he noted, is to use AM radio.
“There are a lot of them and they’re having financial hardships," he said, "so maybe we can align ourselves with owners of AM radio who would be willing to be part of the ministry and allow us to access the stations full-time 24/7 for basically the cost of operation. Instead of buying the station, we could be paying 10 cents on the dollar to get Catholic radio on the air."
Last month, the owners of 1490 AM offered Papandrea the opportunity to transmit for two weeks for free. The station last carried “classic country” and stopped broadcasting in August 2016.
“They’re giving us this gift, and in order to continue it, people can’t be passive,” Papandrea said. “They have to get involved. Once the goal is met, we’re working on the next one. There’s nothing greater than if this continues to build momentum.”
Utilities are the main expenses associated with broadcasting a station, and with the model they are using at 1490 AM, broadcasting will cost about $3,500 a month. That includes equipment, infrastructure and personnel to help in recording where necessary. CCRN is in essence “renting a furnished house with utilities paid” so it is a constant cost for the stations, Papandrea said.
“It’s a little over a $100 a day, so what we need to do is find sponsors and underwriters to help support the radio station. We’re hoping the broadcast will get people enthused enough that they’ll start making donations,” Kobylus added.
“When we’re successful here, and we feel we will be, we’ll start expanding to the other markets.”
The immediate goal is to pay for a year of broadcasting on 1490 AM, Kobylus said.
Kobylus got involved with Papandrea on the non-profit initiative when he was looking for ways to promote the Knights' pro-life activities in the Salisbury area. They hope CCRN will provide a voice for all in-state Catholic organizations to promote their causes and ministries.
Some Sacred Heart parishioners have already expressed excitement about the new station, Kobylus said, as they currently listen to EWTN through paid subscription satellite radio and apps.
The next steps, Papandrea said, are analyzing the broadcast to schedule time for promoting local ministries at the parishes that the station reaches, and conducting fundraising to keep it on the air. There could be airtime devoted to local commercials.
1490 AM will be the prototype for future stations in the radio network, Papandrea said. He is eyeing stations in west Charlotte, covering Kings Mountain, Gastonia and Belmont; south Charlotte and Rock Hill, S.C.; Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point in the Triad; and north Charlotte, covering Hickory, Huntersville, Mooresville and Statesville.
As the network grows, Belmont Abbey College has agreed in principle to be the headquarters for CCRN to provide a location, faculty, staff and student resources, Papandrea said.
“From a public relations standpoint, you can see how effective it would be to have the two combined, for the kids coming in for recruiting and communications major. It’s a natural synergy,” he said.
— Kimberly Bender, online reporter
How you can help fund a new Catholic radio network
Donations can be made online: gofundme.com/fund-nc-catholic-radio-charlotte
Or by mail: Carolina Catholic Radio Network, P.O. Box 1148, Clemmons, NC 27012-1148