Two Texas millionaires are funding the Washington area's first Catholic radio station, which is scheduled to go on the air Wednesday.
WMET 1160 AM, a former multicultural station with transmitter in Gaithersburg, Md., was purchased in February for $4 million by the Dallas-based Huffines Media, owned by land developers Donald and Phillip Huffines.
WMET, previously owned by Delaware-based CTM Media Holdings, has gone through a variety of formats over the years, from progressive rock to all-comedy to a conservative talk-show format.
The station will be operated by the Guadalupe Radio Network of Midland, Texas, and will provide 24-hour programming in English.
"There are thousands of Protestant stations across the country but Catholics have been behind a little bit as to getting their message on the radio," Donald Huffines said. "I told them [at Guadalupe] I'd help them in that endeavor."
Although WMET has a daytime transmitter power of 50,000 watts reaching an estimated 4 million listeners, it suffers from a low 1,500-watt directional signal at night. Donald Huffines promised to "evaluate" the low night wattage, adding that it still reaches 450,000 people.
Although Phillip Huffines is a Protestant, Donald Huffines converted to Catholicism a year ago from non-denominational Protestantism. His wife of 22 years, Mary Catherine, is a Catholic from birth and a fan of Catholic radio. Two years ago, they were approached by Guadalupe.
"Spiritually, we were led to put a station in Washington," said Len Oswald, president of Guadalupe. "We felt there was a strong need in our nation's capital to have Catholic radio."
The number of Catholic radio stations have grown from seven in 2000 to 165 today, according to the Catholic Radio Association (CRA). The growth lies in groups of lay people who are snapping up radio stations and using free content generated by the Eternal Word TV Network, a Catholic television station based in Birmingham, Ala.
"They've heard about the positive effect of Catholic radio on individuals, marriages and families," Mr. Oswald said, "and they want to replicate that."
As for Washington, "Maybe our radio will have an impact on decisions that are made," he said.
Compared with the start of Protestant radio stations at least 40 years ago, Catholics have been latecomers to the medium, said Stephen Gajdosik, CRA president.
"I don't think Catholics have had the evangelical spirit that evangelicals have had," he said, adding one new Catholic station per month has come on the air in the past decade. Currently, about 150 million people have access to Catholic radio but CRA hopes to reach the rest of the populace in the next six years.
"You could run a radio station in a major market and cover millions of people for less money than it takes to operate a small parish," he said. "We've got more than 100 stations on deck that are in various stages of development."
Programming for WMET will consist of only nationally syndicated shows at the start. The owners said they will give away free broadcast time for local Catholic programs and public service announcements with the hope of increasing local participation. The listener-supported station is also offering free program time to the bishops of both the Washington and Arlington dioceses.
The Washington station will be the 14th station operated by Guadalupe nationwide, but it will potentially reach the largest amount of listeners.