By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
The Duluth area’s Catholic media presence just got a major upgrade: Real Presence Radio is now broadcasting at 88.1 FM, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station went live at about 10:30 a.m. on March 4, broadcasting from Superior, Wis.
The Real Presence Radio network originated in North Dakota and has slowly spread across the region. Before coming to the Duluth and Superior dioceses, the last new Real Presence station had been in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Steve Splonskowski, the network’s executive director, said that the idea of a station in Duluth came up two years ago when the network received a pledge from someone in Duluth, who asked that they consider a station here.
That request was brought before the board. “Sometimes we see those as the Lord planting a see, Splonskowski said.
When the opportunity to take over the 88.1 signal came up, the network met with Bishop Paul Sirba in Duluth and then-Father James Powers, who was then diocesan administrator in Superior and is now bishop of that diocese. Both approved the plan.
In a letter welcoming the network, Bishop Sirba wrote, “The work of the New Evangelization has now been strengthened by the gift of a Catholic radio station. It is my hope that Real Presence Radio will make the Gospel of Jesus Christ come alive for the people in Duluth and Superior through their excellent programming.”
Much of the station’s programming comes from outlets like EWTN and Ave Maria Radio, which includes popular figures like Dr. Ray Guarendi, Johnnette Benkovic, Teresa Tomeo and Al Kresta, in addition to devotions such as Mass, the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet and popular EWTN shows like “The Journey Home” and “Life on the Rock.” Some programming has an apologetics focus, like Catholic Answers Live.
But there is also some local programming. The station has two regular local shows, Real Presence Live and Catholic Coach, which bring in guests from the dioceses they serve. Two priests from the Diocese of Duluth, Father Richard Kunst and Father Joel Hastings, have already made appearances. Bishops from the region are frequent guests, too, Splonskowski said.
Those shows strive to maintain that local focus, he said.
Splonskowski said that while many people are brought to the Catholic faith in part through encountering their program, that’s not the main goal. It’s Catholics and Catholics “on the fringe.”
“Our specific target is to reignite the Catholic faith in the Catholic faithful,” he said.
Splonskowski said the network gets a lot of testimonials from a variety of people, including stay-at-home moms who learn from Guarendi to people estranged from the church who get help from programs like “Called to Communion” and Catholic Answers.
He said in particular the tone of those apologetics shows is important.
“The apologists who are on our station are so kind, so loving,” he said, even when dealing with people who are angry at the church.
He said once he got a call from a listener who was “literally in the closet right now” working at a non-Catholic Christian bookstore, hoping someday to be in full communion with the church and “come out of the closet.”
“That’s what really drives us,” Splonskowski said.
Splonskowski said some people think radio is dying, but he begs to differ, saying it has an important place. Radio is an extremely personal medium for people, and it’s so non-intrusive,” he said.
People can learn in the privacy of their car without anyone looking at them funny. It doesn’t put up walls.
Because the Real Presence Radio network is listener supported and not commercial, apart from a few underwriting statements most of its “commercials” are actually announcements for things going on in the dioceses they serve.
Each station has its own computer, geared to the local area, so only local announcements will be played. Catholic groups can get free 30-second announcements just by asking for them. “They have to be somehow connected to a Catholic parish or the Catholic diocese,” Splonskowski said.
Those wishing to donate directly can do so through the network’s website, yourcatholicradiostation.com, or by calling the network’s full-time staff at (877) 795-0122.
There are also three fundraising events a year.
Splonskowski said the network took out a $200,000 loan to open the station and envisions operating expenses of about $6,000 a year. The organization hopes to have things paid off in five years or sooner.
“Every station we have so far has paid for itself and beyond,” he said.