CHARLESTON — A six-year campaign that began with a few persistent people ended in success in December when EWTN hit the airwaves in Charleston and Columbia. EWTN Global Catholic Network is now on Comcast Channel 291 in the Holy City and on Time Warner Channel 168 in Columbia.
“We have a loyal fan base of supporters, a very active, very large grass-roots organization in almost every parish and certainly in every diocese,” said Scott Hults, vice president of communication for the Irondale, Ala.-based organization.
These people make the difference, not only in supporting the network, but also in getting the network on local cable outlets.
EWTN, founded by Mother Angelica, has entered people’s homes for 25 years. The 24-hour, seven-day-a-week religious programming is provided free of charge and without advertising. It is viewer support that keeps it going, and viewers like Kay Phillip, a parishioner of Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island, who put the EWTN name out there.
It started with “a little army of 12 women,” said Phillip. They garnered support by distributing flyers at every diocesan function and putting notices in church bulletins. For years, they earnestly recruited Catholics to write and call Comcast in North Charleston.
People must demonstrate to the cable companies the desire for such programming in their area.
Phillip even enlisted the help of her neighbor, Shawn Wood, youth minister at Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant. Wood, too, spread the word.
EWTN became one of the top five requested channels at the cable provider, according to Tim Horn, vice president and general manager, who said the company keeps a database of channel requests.
After establishing a demand for the station, Comcast went to work on including EWTN in its lineup. The cable company worked with the religious network and began gathering the necessary technical equipment.
“We negotiated a contract to ensure that we could offer a channel with the flexibility to offer a digital channel,” said Horn.
While negotiating with EWTN, they also worked on contracts with five other programmers. When new programs are added, digital cable operators employ a new bandwidth — digital real estate — that can carry from six to 10 channels. To make the best use of the bandwidth, cable providers will fill these six to 10 spots as best they can before airing the programs.
Fred Simonelli, a parishioner from St. John Neumann in Columbia, heard about Phillip’s efforts and gathered forces to get EWTN in the Capital City. He started a petition and collected nearly 4,000 signatures, 40 percent of which were non-Catholic.
People like Phillip and Simonelli and their small army of crusaders make it possible for EWTN to be in 118 million homes in 127 countries.
“Most of our success comes from grass-roots efforts,” said Hults. “Our goal is to be in every cable home with the highest technology and to bring the word of the Lord around the world to those who need it.”
Hults said the Catholic network has undergone its largest growth spurt, opening doors in major markets, with digital cable.
He said EWTN has tried to stay on top of technology. It offers free Internet streaming on its Web site (www.ewtn.com) and podcasts. Hults said it has contracts with all major cable companies, Dish network and Sirius radio.
To thank supporters, the network is going on the road to celebrate its 25th anniversary. EWTN went to Denver in October, and to San Francisco Jan. 28-29. It will be in San Antonio, Texas, March 25-26; St. Louis, Mo., May 13-14; and in Philadelphia, Pa., June 24-25. Plans are also in the works for celebratory events in Birmingham, Ala., around its anniversary date, Aug. 15.