Catholic radio comes to Peoria area with WPMJ 94.3 FM
By: By Tom Dermody
Catholic radio programming is now being aired in the Peoria area thanks to a group headed by a man from El Paso, the birthplace of Catholic radio pioneer and sainthood candidate Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
WPMJ 94.3 FM — a Chillicothe-based station whose call letters now stand for “With Prayer Meet Jesus” — began broadcasting around-the-clock programming from EWTN Radio on Friday, April 16, the feast of St. Bernadette.
“EWTN does an excellent job of delivering teaching that is faithful to the magisterium of the church,” said Allen Drake, project manager for CRCI, LLC, which completed purchase of the former oldies music station in early January. “We like their mix of devotions, Catholic talk, and teaching.”
WPMJ becomes the second Catholic radio station based within the diocese, though the signals of outside stations reach parts of the region. Spring Valley-based WSOG 88.1-FM, also affiliated with ETWN Radio, broadcasts from a studio in St. Bede Academy. Its programming is also heard in the El Paso and Hudson areas on 94.7 FM.
Drake has experience as a project coordinator for WSOG, and made visits to EWTN studios in Irondale, Ala., prior to launching the new Peoria-area station.
“I have really enjoyed the people that originate the EWTN signals and the people that produce the programs,” he told The Catholic Post. “I think they do it for love of Jesus and his church.”
EWTN Radio programming includes the broadcast of daily and Sunday Masses at 7 a.m.; rebroadcasts of the rosary and other reflections led by EWTN founder Mother Angelica; national and world Catholic news; a two-hour early evening call-in program called Catholic Answers Live, and various programs featuring Catholic personalities including Father John Corapi, Father Benedict Groeschel, Teresa Tomeo, Johnnette Benkovic, and others.
A full programming schedule is available online at www.ewtn.com/radio.
Drake said WPMJ’s broadcast tower is located northeast of Peoria and the service radius is about 35 miles. There is no “traditional studio” at present.
In addition to learning the business aspect of operating a radio station, Drake — a retired El Paso banker — said the experience of bringing Catholic radio to Peoria through the rebirth of WPMJ has also given the group “common sense” knowledge. One such lesson is that “country roads have load limits in the winter that preclude trucks from delivering concrete that we needed for our satellite dish.”
“That delay cost us about three months time,” he said.
Drake said the radio project has received encouragement from “numerous” people around the diocese.
The agreement with EWTN does allow for the inclusion of various levels of local programming, and Drake has had preliminary discussion with diocesan officials regarding that opportunity. But for now, “our scope had been to establish another EWTN station in the diocese and that has been accomplished.”
A radio station Web site is under construction at www.wpmjradio.com, and other promotional ideas call for the printing of automobile bumper stickers and announcements in parish bulletins. The studio can be reached by calling toll-free (877) 620-7362 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The station was originally built by a local Catholic couple, Bill and Helen Engelbrecht, who put it on the air in 1977 as WCLL with a “middle of the road” format. Today, the Engelbrechts are both involved with the church — Bill as diocesan director of advancement and Helen as a teacher at St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria.
“It’s nice to see this come about,” Bill Engelbrecht said. “Maybe the Lord knew where this was headed all along.”
Elsewhere in the diocese, Catholic radio can be heard in the Quad Cities area over KTJT-LP 102.7 FM, featuring programming from Relevant Radio; and WRMS 790 AM in Beardstown, which can be picked up in Rushville, Macomb, Hamilton, Warsaw and Carthage. A member of Covenant Network Catholic Radio, the station is also an affiliate of the EWTN Global Radio Network.