BANGOR, Maine — There’s a new presence on the radio dial designed to touch minds and change hearts, the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland said Monday in a visit to St. John Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle Parish.
The Presence Radio Network, the state’s only Catholic radio station, began broadcasting Friday in Greater Bangor at 90.3 FM, Bishop Richard J. Malone said Monday after Mass on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The station has been broadcasting 24 hours a day on the Web and in southern Maine at 106.6 FM since July 2010. Plans include expanding to cover the entire state over the next two years.
Malone was in Bangor to visit students at All Saints Catholic School and to promote the radio network.
“After the Lord Jesus himself, the primary evangelizer in the 1st century was St. Paul, for whom this parish was named,” Malone said. “If he were evangelizing today, I am convinced he would be involved in using radio, TV, Facebook, tweeting, all the social media. There is no question in my mind that St. Paul would be using all of these things to get the good news of Christ out into the world. That is our job, too.”
Malone was on the board of the Catholic television station affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston when he was an auxiliary bishop there. He said Monday that he had been thinking about setting up a Catholic radio network in Maine since he was named bishop in February 2004. The cost of creating a television station would be prohibitive, he said.
The start-up funds for the network came from the diocese’s capital campaign, which ended about the time the Presence Radio Network began broadcasting in Androscoggin and Cumberland counties. The budget is about $400,000 per year, Cynthia Nickless, executive director of the ministry, said Monday. It costs about $5,000 per month to operate a station.
Nickless is a native of Madawaska and grew up attending St. David Catholic Church. She worked in Connecticut in computer systems management before going to work for the Presence Radio Network, which operates independently of the diocese as a ministry of the church.
The network has a studio in Auburn and rents space on existing broadcast towers. The one that services the Bangor region is located in Corinth. Plans call for additional tower leases in Bath, Greene, Augusta, Lincoln, York and Madawaska.
Nickless compared the way the Presence Radio Network in Maine is being set up to the secular Maine Public Radio, which broadcasts from several towers in the state. The Presence Radio Network also raises money from listeners, accepts underwriting for programs and plans to combine programs produced outside the state with locally produced shows.
The majority of the programs for the Catholic radio network come from the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, according to Nickless. Some are live call-in shows, such as “Catholic Answers,” “Open Line,” “Catholic Connection” and “The Doctor is In.” Youth-centered shows including “Theology of the Body for Teens” also are being aired.
So far, local programming has been limited to recorded broadcasts of the bishop praying the rosary and a show about the lives of the saints. That will increase over the next year, Malone said.
“Our intent is to use Catholic radio as the [same-sex] marriage referendum approaches to present our own teachings on the issue in a gracious, positive, nonjudgmental way,” the bishop said. “I plan to begin teaching the series myself next year.”
Nickless said Monday that listeners can tune in not just on their car radios and computers but also on their smartphones.
“The bishop was listening recently while he was in Rome,” she said.
Malone said that one reason he supported getting the radio network going was the need to get the church’s message directly to practicing Catholics, lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics who have questions about the faith.
“People are being bombarded with so many messages from our culture every day,” he said. “This allows us to get the message of the Gospel out there in a way that we can kind of shape it … and hopefully touch hearts and minds with the message of Jesus.”