Catholic radio station to reduce Protestant programming in “identity change”

.- Citing the need to make an “identity change” and an overly competitive spirit among some of its non-Catholic radio shows, a Catholic-sponsored radio channel in Connecticut is reshuffling its schedule and cutting many of its Protestant slots, the Hartford Courant reports.

WJMJ, which broadcasts on 88.9 FM in the Hartford area, was created more than 30 years ago by Archbishop John F. Whealon, with the goal of broadcasting ecumenical programming.  The station is owned by the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Father John Gatzak, executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Radio and Television, said that the archdiocese believed it was time to give the station an “identity change.”  This change, the archdiocese decided, required using the station more effectively to reach out to Catholics, creating more listener-friendly programming and revamping the ecumenical aspect of the station.

"The identity of the station will be Catholic, yes, but that does not mean we will not reach out to other Christian denominations to invite them to participate," Gatzak said Friday, according to the Hartford Courant.

Father Gatzak said the problem with the Protestant programming broadcast on the station was not its opposition to Catholic teaching but rather that many of the programs are not suited to a radio audience.

"There is one Protestant church after another, and most of them put on their worship service that's from a week ago and then they invite people to their churches," Gatzak said. "Instead of collaboration, it becomes a competition of one religious programmer after another — who can deliver the best sermon, who has the best music ministry. That's what I'd like to see removed from WJMJ."

Rev. Chris Rose, who broadcasts on WJMJ the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut’s program “Sunday at Six,” was upset that his show was being canceled under the proposed plan.

"The purpose of the station was not to criticize other Christians, but to lift up what was good about what other churches were doing. I think that's important because we have too much cynicism and criticism already," Rose said, according to the Hartford Courant. "If this does go through, it will add to the cynicism, instead of promoting common ground. That is the most dangerous fallout from this. I think that would be sad."

While there was some confusion over whether all Protestant programming would be cut, Father Gatzak denied that the archdiocese had ordered the cancellation of all Protestant shows.

Two ministers say they were ordered not to broadcast “trailers” on WJMJ inviting people to their religious services.

Some legal problems could arise from the planned changes.  A 1987 ruling brought by the St. Thomas Seminary, which houses the radio station, against the Burlington Zoning Board sought to overturn the board’s denial of an application for a zoning variance to build a higher tower. 

The court ruled in the seminary’s favor, but said the variance could be granted only on the condition that the Church maintain the tower, and use it solely for a nonprofit radio station that broadcasts classical music programs and “other programs which shall not be restricted to religious programs for only one religious denomination.”

Father Gatzak said he was unaware of the court ruling’s ecumenical stipulation and questioned its compatibility with FCC regulations.

"It would seem to me that this is an infringement of the FCC to authorize the licensee to determine how it can best serve the needs of the community," Father Gatzak said.

Rev. Shelley D.B. Copeland, president and chief executive officer of the Capitol Region Conference of Churches, said that after talking with Father Gatzak she understands the motive for the archdiocese’s planned changes.

"I understand why, because there is no other Catholic radio station," Copeland said. "It would be poor stewardship of ministry on the part of the Catholic Church not to care about their priority audience. That's their bottom-line job."

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