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RADIO | Around the Dial

Spreading the Word

The operators of new Catholic Family Radio want to provide a forum for religion and family values.

May 13, 1999|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Catholic Family Radio--the new voice of family values. . . . Talk radio you can feel good about. . . . Catholic Family Radio--it's for everyone.

So go some of the cheery self-promos on new Catholic station KPLS-AM (830), whose offices are located in an unpretentious two-story building near Anaheim Stadium. The spots are also heard on stations in Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Milwaukee.

All seven outlets belong to the 6-month-old Catholic Family Radio network--itself a rapidly expanding family.

According to John T. Lynch, president and CEO of the La Jolla-based operation, the network is poised to buy 14 more stations, including outlets in Washington, Boston and Long Island, N.Y. And that's not all. "Our vision is to own [stations in] 40 of the top 50 markets by the end of the year 2000, and then we would affiliate with [smaller stations in] markets 50 and above, and through that process have 100 stations."

With Lynch as a prominent shareholder, the seven stations were bought in the fall from Children's Broadcasting Corp. for $37 million. For two months, as a stopgap, the network played Gregorian chants, then went to talk in January.

And what does this multimillionaire, longtime radio executive and owner (easy-listening KJOI-FM used to be part of his holdings) hope to accomplish?

"It's real simple," says the former linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, father of three and grandfather of 5-week-old John Lynch III. "We're trying to make the world a better place in which to live, make some money while doing it, and the third thing is to create the largest 24-hour talk network in the history of radio. By owning our stations, we can force the distribution of our product."

At the moment, the network's core weekday programming includes GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes, 6-9 a.m.; Dr. Ray Guarendi, a clinical psychologist and father of nine adopted children, 9-11 a.m.--"he bills himself as a Catholic 'Dr. Laura,' " says Lynch; and 1998 Republican candidate for governor Dan Lungren, who broadcasts from his home in Sacramento, noon-3 p.m. And added just 10 days ago were Pat Campbell from 3 to 6 p.m. and Drew Mariani from 6 to 9 p.m.

The network also carries seven hours of programming that is not internally generated, including fare from Eternal Word Television Network. And on weekends, Catholic Family airs such nonreligious brokered fare as "Bass Anglers," "PGA Golf" and "NAC Vitamins."

Locally, KPLS joins a roster of nine predominantly evangelical Christian stations. Dave Armstrong, general manager of KKLA-FM (99.5), and of KLXT-AM (1390), which airs programming in Spanish from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., welcomes the addition of Catholic radio here.

"It brings more listeners to the [religious] format," he reasons. "I think we'll get more listeners as a result. We all have the same objective, and that is to have some impact on society in a positive way, and so I applaud anyone who wants to do that."

Meanwhile, a new 50,000-watt signal for KPLS is on tap for August so that it can be clearly heard in all areas of the market, even under freeway overpasses. Live audio on its Web site (http://www.catholicfamilyradio.com) is imminent.

While all the network's hosts are Catholic, Lynch says he is in negotiations with Father Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman--better known as "the God Squad" on ABC's "Good Morning America"--for a slot on his daily or weekly lineup. And Father Gregory Coiro, media relations director for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, reports that he is working with the network's marketing director in Los Angeles trying to get the old "Religion on the Line" program that had aired for 30 years on KABC-AM (790) onto KPLS. "It'll be the same format--priest, minister and rabbi." Hosted by? "It looks like, if it happens . . . that I will host it," Coiro says.

And while all the hosts are decidedly conservative, Lynch says he is hoping to sign former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a Democrat, as a national host. Flynn, however, is opposed to abortion. "He's very pro-life, and we will not compromise on that. We won't put on somebody [as host] who is pro-choice," Lynch says.

The emergence of the nation's only major Catholic radio broadcasting company came after a message in 1996 from Pope John Paul II, who said that the Catholic Church had done a poor job of using mass media to evangelize. At first, the premise of a core group of founders was to buy a couple of small stations, but they soon realized they needed a savvy radio leader. They located Lynch, former head of Noble Broadcast Group--a major radio, programming and sports marketing firm--which in 1996 was sold to Jacor Communications Inc. for $152 million. Lynch was a minor shareholder.

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