By Kenneth J. Souza
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — After more than two years of planning, preparing and fund-raising, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate based at Our Lady’s Chapel in downtown New Bedford are ready to launch the first-ever 24-hour Catholic radio station in the Fall River Diocese.
On Friday WPMW — also known as Radio CorMariae — will make its official debut at the 88.5 frequency on the FM dial.
Operated by the Franciscan Friars in collaboration with the congregation’s lay apostolate, the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix, the new Radio CorMariae has secured the necessary licensing from the Federal Communications Commission for what is known as a “micro-FM” radio station and will broadcast within a limited range from Westport to Fairhaven within the greater New Bedford area.
According to Father Louis Maximilian M. Smith, F.I., father guardian of Our Lady’s Chapel and WPMW station manager, Bishop George W. Coleman will celebrate an evening prayer service beginning at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Our Lady’s Chapel, 600 Pleasant Street, which will include Benediction. Immediately following, Bishop Coleman will bless the newly-constructed WPMW studio upstairs from the chapel and is expected to make a brief statement about the station launch.
The prayer service and radio station launch celebration is open to the public and will be broadcast live on FM 88.5 and also streamed on the station’s website at www.radiocormariae.com.
While the station’s schedule will initially include a mix of syndicated Catholic programming from EWTN Radio, Ave Maria Radio and Relevant Radio — all of which provide around-the-clock satellite feeds that Radio CorMariae can tap into — the hope is to eventually produce and broadcast local programming from within the diocese.
“Our initial goal has been to simply get the radio station on the air,” Father Smith said. “That’s where we’ve placed all of our initial effort and I think wisely so. With time, and depending upon God’s will, we hope to introduce in cooperation with other Friars at our institute more original programming that is produced for broadcast. Our ambitions are not too great at first. We are looking at the moment to offer simple programming that would include things like prayers and the like. Over time, as we are able to better concentrate on which direction we should go, then we will offer more original programming. This is our long-term plan at this point.”
With a transmission antenna based in Dartmouth, the broadcast signal for WPMW will extend from Westport to Fairhaven and cover the majority of the greater New Bedford region, centralized within the diocese.
“We’re happy with our frequency range,” said Friar John Mary, F.I. “We are not allowed to broadcast outside a certain range under our current permit. It drops off after you head north on Route 140. But the signal does carry into Freetown and some outlying areas.”
Friar John said there is a possibility they might be able to expand their coverage area in the future.
“If another frequency opens up or someone wants to sell their station, we’d be happy to negotiate with them,” he said. “We couldn’t just expand as-is, there would have to be a vacancy on another frequency in the area.”
With only six Franciscan Friars assigned to Our Lady’s Chapel and only two — Father Smith and Friar John — who are dedicated to ministering to the radio station, the order relies on a devoted group of laity to assist them in operating Radio CorMariae.
“We’re working with a dedicated group of laity who are very committed to helping us carry out various duties for the station including sound engineering and recording some small segments for broadcast,” Father Smith said. “We anticipate this cooperation between the Friars and the laity will continue and help us to move forward.”
In particular, Friar John credited sound engineer Frank Baptista, who previously worked at the UMass Dartmouth radio station, and Jim House for providing help with recording broadcast segments.
John Sweeney, a retired builder from Marion and a Third Order member of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, was also instrumental in helping to build the new studio for WPMW while Dennis Onofrey, a local stone mason, pitched in with construction and helping to soundproof the second-floor facility.
“Without their help, we would still be struggling,” Friar John said. “They have been fantastic to work with.”
Having been involved with various forms of communication media over the years, the Franciscan Friars are well-prepared to operate and maintain a 24/7 Catholic radio station.
“We follow the spirituality and charism of St. Maximilian Kolbe,” Father Smith said. “His inspiration was to use any and every legitimate means possible to evangelize. In particular, his goal was to bring souls closer to Our Lady, because he knew that this was the surest and shortest way to Jesus, who is our salvation. This is our underlying philosophy and it will be the underlying philosophy of this radio station. We want to bring people closer to Our Lady and help them live the fullness of the Catholic faith.”
The use of radio to spread the good news is also in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI’s recent call to use new media as an evangelization tool.
“The testimony of others who have jumped into Catholic radio over the last decade is that this particular means of communication has been very effective at bringing people back to the faith and in helping them to deepen their faith,” Father Smith said. “Just from that standpoint alone, it’s a powerful motivation for all of us who are called by the Holy Father to engage ourselves in this operation to the best of our abilities.”
WPMW is not alone in this calling as WQOM 1060 AM — also known as the Station of the Cross — was recently launched in the Archdiocese of Boston to provide similar original Catholic radio programming.
“With the proliferation of Catholic radio over the last decade, I think we are certainly seeing the fruit of a divine call at this particular time and a wonderful response on the part of priests, religious and laity,” Father Smith added. “We leave everything in the hands of God, but we hope by His grace to cooperate in bearing as much fruit as possible.”
WPMW is owned by the Academy of the Immaculate, Inc., a non-profit organization under the auspices of the Friary and will be operated exclusively by the Friars. It is also affiliated with AirMaria.com and has garnered the support of the Catholic Radio Association.