Evangelical Protestant radio stations derive a substantial portion of their revenue from competing local and national radio ministries who pay significant dollars to purchase airtime. This wasn’t a possibility for Catholic stations because, first of all, local parishes had no history of advertising like that and more importantly, they weren’t “competing” with other parishes. Secondly, there were precious few national Catholic radio programs and they did not have the resources to purchase air time. Catholic history was different than Protestant and its future would be different.
To better cover SE Michigan, we purchased 990 AM WCM which had been a Contemporary Christian Music station. Al had broadcast on that station for a year back in 1985-86 and had long been friends with their owners. Many years before WCM had a first rate Christian talk show hosted by Foster Braun that had influenced Al’s thinking about what was possible for Christian talk. Was it a touch of providential poetry that we should be ready to purchase a new station at just the time they were trying to sell. At least 990 AM would remain in the Christian bloc which consoled the former owners and energized us. Shortly after, in cooperation with another Catholic group, we agreed to purchase 1440 AM WMAX in Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland.
In 1998, Tom Monaghan sold Domino’s Pizza in order to devote himself exclusively to carrying out the educational mission that had long been the central concern of his philanthropy. Before too long, he realized that though his resources were considerable, even they appeared quite limited when faced with the task of creating a top tier Catholic university and law school. We had always known that this day would come and he asked Al how long it would take for the radio apostolate to become financially independent of the Ave Maria Foundation. We would have to drop the newspaper Credo. In spite of all the awards it had won from the Catholic Press Association and the compliments we regularly received, the truth was, nobody was going to start paying for what they had received for free over the last five years. It was a great financial drain.
Kresta said he thought it would take at least two years but the listeners were the only ones who could decide. Our General Manager Mike Jones and Development Director Tom Loewe began to plan how to carry out phone membership drives and Marge Skrobola came on board volunteering to develop a robust collection of volunteers to help with the drives. Gene Leger, who had been with us almost as long as Steve Clarke was charged with underwriting and advertising sales. Was there corporate support available? Al put together an independent 501(c)(3) and a board of directors. None of us had any experience with fundraising on this scale.
Al had plenty of on-air experience helping other ministries raise short term support but nothing of this magnitude or this consequential for the future. Teresa had raised quite a sum after a fire destroyed charitable warehouses in Detroit at Christmas time, but that had been a one-time emergency. We decided to just be straight with our listeners about our plight, or our opportunity depending on how you looked at it.