Local Catholic radio is on the air

HILTON HEAD ISLAND – Two Lowcountry men have started a new ministry by purchasing local radio stations and turning them into Cath-olic stations. Scott W. Griswold and Michael H. Brannen bought WQIZ AM 810 in St. George/Charleston, and it is now operational.

“That will be the first of many,” Griswold said. “The only thing holding us back is that there are not a whole lot of stations (for sale). We’d like to have Catholic radio available to the entire state.”

Griswold is an accountant and financial consultant; he and his partner, Brannen, a former public television executive, formed a nonprofit corporation called Mediatrix SC to fulfill their dream of evangelization through the radio medium. WQIZ receives programs from EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) via satellite and broadcasts that national feed, in addition to some recordings Brannen is making of Bishop Robert J. Baker and of parish missions in the state.

On Dec. 18, for instance, he recorded the bishop making his Christ candle appeal. The station will also broadcast announcements of significant parish events if given three weeks’ notice. (Contact Mediatrix SC, P.O. Box 73, Beaufort, SC 29901).

The principals of Mediatrix would eventually like to start using local programming, such as Carolina Catholic from Charleston. Carolina Catholic produces radio programs with interviews of prominent Catholics and call-in questions and answers, which it puts out on the Internet (www.carolina catholic.org); it also buys time on commercial stations or offers its programs free. Griswold said that his team thought of going that route also.

“It’s expensive and many stations are not willing to broadcast Catholic programming,” he said.

That highlights the reasoning behind the formation of Mediatrix SC.

“It started five or six years ago when my wife picked up Queen of Peace Radio out of Jacksonville one day. I called them, and they came up from Florida to help us out. We became interested in Catholic radio as an education tool. There are so many misconceptions out there about Catholicism, so much ignorance,” Griswold said.

Brannen, meanwhile, had been approached by his pastor, Father Ron Cellini of St. Peter in Beaufort, who asked him to look into the possibilities of Catholic radio. He combined forces with Griswold, he said, and the ball began to roll.

“This is my passion,” Brannen said. “A half-dozen stations in the next few years is not unrealistic.”

He said that the radio stations are highly automated and run with very little overhead, so that listener donations go directly into operations. There are no paid employees.

But if buying commercial radio time is expensive, buying radio stations is not cheap either. Even though WQIZ was a bargain, according to Brannen, the station still cost in the range of $170,000 to $180,000. The station was paid for by donations, especially from one benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous. Its operations are completely listener-supported, in similar fashion to PBS – without any governmental subsidies. There is no advertising on the active Mediatrix station in St. George, although corporate sponsorships are a future possibility. Mediatrix is a 501(c)(3) corporation, which means, Griswold says, that donations to it are tax deductible and that no one actually owns it.

The corporation is a member of Catholic Radio Association, a trade group with a difference. The difference is one of perspective, made clear in the mission statement of CRA: “The most important philosophy that guides the Association is not a business philosophy. It is the recognition by its members and leaders that the apostolate of Catholic radio is a work of the Holy Spirit….”

CRA executive director Stephen Gajdosik counts the prelate of South Carolina as among the adherents to that philosophy. He said Bishop Baker is a member of the Episcopal Advisory Board of Catholic Radio Association and has formed an “excellent working relationship” with the seminal Catholic radio effort in the state.

“Bishop Baker recognizes the importance and efficacy of utilizing Catholic radio to reach both Catholics and non-Catholics in his diocese,” Gajdosik said from his Green Bay offices.

Griswold and Brannen decided to begin their Catholic radio effort in the Beaufort area because of the growth in the Catholic population there. Griswold said that Catholics now represent 20 percent of Beaufort County and that the numbers “will continue to grow for a while.” He said that one local parish, St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, is the fastest-growing in the nation. Charleston also has a high percentage of Catholics among its citizens, but radio stations are expensive there, he said. The next likely areas for Catholic radio stations are in Aiken, Greenville and Savannah. But everything depends on station availability.

Catholics in the Diocese of Charles-ton and their spiritual leaders like Bishop Baker are interested in Catholic radio, Griswold said, so programs about the faith will probably be coming in loud and clear in the future. As it is, Brannen said that WQIZ can be heard through much of the Lowcountry and along I-26 almost to Columbia.