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Low Power Catholic Radio Station Still in the Works but On-Air Date Uncertain

Catholic radio may still be coming to Ave Maria, but it's not clear when.

Promoters of a low-power FM station to broadcast Catholic programming in Ave Maria held meetings with town residents in May to outline their plans and solicit contributions to get the station on the air. They said they needed a total of $75,000 over two years – including $40,000 to initially begin broadcasting, a sum that included purchasing an available FCC license from Naples resident Paul Parshall who received approval from the FCC to construct a broadcasting tower but abandoned the plans.

The new project is being led by Gene Church, the president of Divine Word Radio which currently owns -- but is in the process of selling -- a half-dozen radio stations that broadcast EWTN radio along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Ave Maria station is a separate undertaking, not affiliated directly with Divine Word Radio, and Mr. Church said his two children, both of whom are students at Ave Maria University, would manage it.

Mr. Church said tin a recent interview that although he did not raise sufficient funds in the spring, he borrowed $25,000 to purchase the FCC license from Mr. Parshall before a July deadline to start construction. After the purchase, that deadline was extended for 18 months til January, 2017. He said he has not cashed any checks from his spring fundraising activities and will be going back to those donors to reconfirm their support for the project.

He said one factor in the delay is that he is in the process of selling Divine Word Radio to another Catholic broadcaster based in Texas, La Promesa, which operates the Guadalupe Radio Network.

He also has been dealing recently with a controversy that flared up in Pensacola over a 400-foot broadcasting tower completed this year which local residents are contending is hazardous and was not properly approved.

Once he can focus his attention of Ave Maria, Mr. Church said that he intends to hold another series of meetings with residents seeking support for the project. He said Ave Maria University has agreed to permit construction of a transmitter atop the student union building and although no local programming is planned, he is in discussion with a number of Catholic radio operations to retransmit their content. One of them, he said, is Ave Maria Radio, based in Michigan, which has not been on the air in southwest Florida since Ave Maria University sold its radio license in September, 2014, to an evangelical Protestant radio network for $2.4 million.

Low-power FM stations are non-commercial and have limited range of a few miles -- enough to reach all of the town of Ave Maria but not much further.

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