By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Roger Venable is the first to admit he knows nothing about radio. “I have no business starting a radio station,” he joked a week after that station went on the air. The business owner and member of St. Therese Parish just felt called to try and get a Catholic station up and running in the Jackson area.
The low-power station, 107.9 FM, WJXC, took years of persistence, some creative energy and more than a little help from some friends. The station will carry Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) programming for now, adding local programs as Venable is able.
Listeners in North Jackson will get a clear signal, while those in outlying areas may lose quality on stormy or windy days.
Venable said he always wondered why there was no Catholic broadcast radio station in the area and started doing research into what it would take almost 10 years ago. During that time, other station owners offered to sell their operations to him, currently operating stations offered limited time slots and lots of people offered advice.
About five years ago, the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that controls broadcast licensing in the U.S., opened up a number of new low-power frequencies on the dial. In order to be eligible, applicants had to have a 501c3 non-profit organization set up.
Venable raced to get the organization paperwork in order before the deadline and was able to land a permit. “When that piece of paper came in the mail, I could have fallen down on my back, I was so thrilled and surprised it all come together,” he said.
In the meantime, he got help from EWTN engineers on what equipment he would need and he approached Sister Dorothea Sondgeroth, OP, assistant director of the St. Dominic Health Foundation, about adding his antenna to St. Dominic Hospital. She not only found the perfect spot for the small structure, she also found a room he could rent at St. Dominic Centre for his studio.
EWTN will provide programming for free to any station, but only if the bishop in that diocese approves. Bishop Joseph Kopacz granted his approval for Venable to pursue the project last year and met again with him and ETWN’s Jack Williams on Tuesday, April 5, to talk about next steps.
Williams, who is the affiliate relations manager and an on-air personality, said the Holy Spirit is often evident in the work of the dedicated people who set up Catholic radio stations across the country. He told the story of when Mother Angelica, the determined nun who founded the network, first saw the property where she located her empire.
The acreage was on top of a mountain and she went to see it with an engineer. “She got out of the truck and looked at the field and she could see St. Michael the Archangel in the field. She said ‘we’ll take it!’ The engineer said, ‘we can’t take it, Mother, short wave radio won’t work on a mountain, it’s impossible for us to operate here.’”
Mother Angelica, said Williams, would not be moved. “She asked him, ‘can you see St. Michael over there?’ he said no, and she repeated, ‘we’ll take it.’” Despite the technical impossibility, Mother Angelica did found a short-wave radio station on the mountain and developed it into the largest Catholic broadcast network in the world. .
Venable took out a loan to start the station, but hopes to find underwriters and donors to pay off that debt and keep the station on the air. Once that happens, he hopes to start adding local programming. He has the capability to record programs in his small studio and insert them into his schedule. He also hopes to begin streaming his signal online so anyone can listen using their computer or smartphone.
Later in the summer, Venable will host an official kick-off event for potential sponsors and listeners. In the meantime, anyone who wants to underwrite a portion of programming or make a donation can send a check made out to Mississippi Catholic Radio to PO Box 43, Terry, MS, 39170, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.