Local Catholic radio station coming to 690-AM
A Baton Rouge businessman who joined with partners to start an independent Catholic radio station in the Diocese of Baton Rouge has agreed to purchase WIST 690-AM in New Orleans and plans to launch Catholic Community Radio with local and national Catholic programming in the Archdiocese of New Orleans by the end of the year.
David Dawson, who has run WPYR 1380-AM in Baton Rouge since 2009, signed a purchase agreement with WIST 690-AM, a sports-talk station, and said he hopes the Federal Communications Commission will officially approve the sale “by the end of the year.”
While Archbishop Gregory Aymond has thrown his full support behind the effort and named Dr. Chris Baglow, a theology professor at Notre Dame Seminary, as his representative on the station’s board of directors, the radio station will be independently funded through individual donors.
A service to archdiocese
“We don’t have any financial support from the archdiocese, but we have the archbishop’s blessing, and we will serve the archdiocese,” Dawson said. “I think it should be that way with a lot of ministries. Our diocese needs one less thing to pay for and one less thing to manage. I imagine, in time, our programming will be all over the country.”
The $200,000 purchase price for WIST is low, but part of the agreement is Dawson’s commitment to build a new transmission tower in Chalmette. When the tower is rebuilt at a cost of about $250,000, the station’s signal will be a robust 9,100 watts. Even at reduced power now, the 690-AM signal travels to Baton Rouge.
“We’re going to build a bigger, stronger tower,” Dawson said. “It will be built to withstand winds of 200 miles per hour. If you’re on Highway 1 in Grand Isle, you can hear it clear as a bell. You can hear it all the way to the Mississippi-Alabama border.”
Dawson, a parishioner at St. Patrick Church in Baton Rouge, was running a paralegal business in Baton Rouge when he had a coffee-and-donuts conversation one day after Mass with fellow parishioner Johnny Hebert. Hebert had been listening to a nondenominational Baton Rouge station bash Catholics, and he was upset that Catholic doctrine was being misrepresented.
“We decided, we don’t need to fight back, we just need to say who we are,” Dawson said.
A mutual friend who had radio experience suggested they buy time on a small station in Donaldsonville, whose signal extended into Baton Rouge. They started with two hours a day, offering local programming that Dawson did by interviewing priests and producing taped broadcasts on his laptop computer.
“Then we started interviewing national guests, simply because it was fun,” Dawson said.
Eventually, the station owner asked Dawson if he wanted to run the entire operation.
“I said, ‘Yes,’ but I don’t know where that came from,” Dawson said. “I didn’t know how to do any of this.”
All the while, Dawson was looking to buy a station with a more powerful signal.
The power of tower prayer
A group of Catholic women who were praying for his radio apostolate suggested that he do what Mother Teresa once did – place a miraculous medal at the foot of something she wanted for her ministry. Dawson was negotiating to buy a station that had a transmission tower in Port Allen, but the station wouldn’t budge on its asking price. Dawson drove out to find the Port Allen tower, offered his prayers and placed the medal in the ground.
A few months later, another station, 1380-AM in Baton Rouge, became available for sale at a more reasonable price. When Dawson asked for the coordinates of that station’s transmission tower, it turned out he had mistakenly prayed in front of the 1380 tower months earlier.
“I had been praying at the wrong tower,” Dawson said.
Which turned out to be the right tower.
Dawson said the bulk of programming on 690-AM initially will be national in scope, such as EWTN, Ave Maria Radio and St. Joseph Radio. But he would like to have a local morning show and broadcast a noon Mass from a local church. He hopes to establish satellite studios across the archdiocese, including one at Notre Dame Seminary, where professors and seminarians would be readily available for interviews. Those programs would draw national interest, he said.
“If you’re going to do it, you better have a high production quality,” Dawson said. “We’re trying to evangelize folks. It better sound as good as or better than everybody else.”
Dawson said the archbishop wanted to make sure the station covers the entire archdiocese and remains faithful to the magisterium of the church.
“He knows that we have to be very careful because we do not want to mislead anyone,” Dawson said.
Dawson has begun visiting parishes throughout the archdiocese to talk about his radio plans and seek financial support from individuals.
He said WCKW 1010-AM, which currently broadcasts EWTN programming, will switch to EWTN Spanish programming when 690-AM Catholic Community Radio starts.