The two largest Catholic radio networks in the United States, Immaculate Heart Radio and Relevant Radio, announced plans to merge on Oct. 13.
Bringing the two together means doubling the programming available in each of the markets the new radio network serves, doubling the number of listeners it can reach and expanding the Catholic network’s fundraising base while increasing its appeal to advertisers.
It’s a win all around, said Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, executive director of Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Relevant Radio, which now provides 12 hours of original programming a day to stations concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast. Father Hoffman will continue to serve as executive director of the new company, with Immaculate Heart Media doing business as Relevant Radio.
That means that people in California will be able to tune into “The Drew Mariani Show” and “Word on Fire” and people in Chicago and New York can listen to “The Patrick Madrid Show” and “St. Joseph’s Workshop.”
However, given local preferences and schedules, every station will not broadcast every show. Rather, the network will try to meet local needs while making all programming available online.
“If (Relevant Radio) provides 12 hours of programming a day to 60 million people, and Immaculate Heart Radio provides 12 hours a day of original programming to 60 million people, together we can provide 24 hours of programming to 120 million people,” Father Hoffman said.
The new network is actually estimated to reach 136 million people in 36 states.
“It unites two very good organizations and creates a national entity with coast-to-coast reach,” said Doug Sherman, president of Immaculate Heart Radio. Sherman will continue as president of the new network. “It will enable us to create the best programming. It really solidifies our apostolate well into the future.”
That is the main thing, said Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken.
“As a member of the Board of Relevant Radio and as the bishop of Green Bay, I am deeply grateful for the merger between the wonderful Immaculate Heart Radio and Relevant Radio, that will increase the capacity to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel from a very dynamic Catholic platform that intersects with so many more people’s lives,” Bishop Ricken said in a statement. “The treasury of the Catholic way of living our relationship with Jesus Christ and serving the mission of the Gospel will be enriched by this joining and reach so many more people.”
The merger allows the new network to tap into supporters across the country. The new network has raised $22 million in donations to underwrite its work already; it plans to apply for permission to merge from the Federal Communications Commission once it reaches its $30 million fundraising goal.
Listeners will not see any immediate changes in the stations, Father Hoffman said, because receiving that permission can take months. Once that happens, it will take another several months at least to bring the two networks’ operations together, which means doing everything from merging databases to synchronizing the station clocks.
Immaculate Heart Radio, based in Loomis, California, has stations concentrated in the Southwest. There is no overlap in the markets between the stations owned and operated by the two networks, and there are no plans to close any of their stations.
The programming from both networks will continue to be available in the form of podcasts or by live-streaming broadcasts over the Internet. The programming from the new network will continue to be available in those formats, although websites and mobile apps could be consolidated in the future.
If anything, the merger could make it easier for the network to expand by giving it access to a more secure funding stream if radio licenses become available in markets it would like to serve.
“We’ve both been somewhat regional networks,” Sherman said. “This gives us a national presence.”
“This opens us up to national advertisers,” Father Hoffman said. “And there are economies of scale that make it much more efficient.”
Because of the nature of the networks, their unification is more the marriage of peers than the combining of competitors.
Indeed, the two networks never have seen one another as rivals, Sherman said. “It’s an effort of collaboration in the work of bringing souls to Christ.”
“As in any marriage, we will gain so much, and in the end it is our fervent hope that many more souls are helped to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ,” Father Hoffman said. “We are very enthused with this union and so much of the credit goes to our associates, volunteers and benefactors. They are unbelievably hard-working, talented and committed to the mission.”
Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.