On the air in the City of Angels
LEGATE DOUG SHERMAN brings Catholic radio to Los Angeles for the first time 14 years . . .
Past efforts to start Catholic stations in the City of Angels had not panned out, and Turicchi, a member of Legatus’ Ventura/LA North and Hollywood chapters, wasn’t sure another could compete with the myriad of choices vying for Angelenos’ attention.
“But I said, ‘Sure, I’ll meet this guy,’” he explained. “I was pretty convinced that we’d have a nice lunch and I’d have some questions, figuring there’s no way he’s going to have really good answers.”
However, Sherman surprised Turicchi. The At-Large Legatus member and custom home builder from Tahoma, Calif., had started more than 25 Catholic radio stations in 16 years. He had a proven business model and knew how to generate a donor base.
Turicchi was intrigued. Following a series of meetings and conversations, Turicchi’s family foundation invested in what became the 33rd station in the Immaculate Heart Radio network. In addition, Turicchi pointed Sherman toward other interested parties, including Legatus members who responded with monetary and other donations.
KHJ 930-AM, a former top-40 station purchased for $9.75 million, went on the air Nov. 17 with a reach of 15 million listeners, making it the biggest Catholic station in the network — and in the country. It was the first time in 14 years that English-speaking Catholic radio had been heard in the LA market.
Sherman said the network decided to establish a Catholic station in Los Angeles because the area represented a huge void. “It’s the largest market by some metrics in the country and when you looked at our map,” he explained, “it stood out like a sore thumb. We had stations everywhere but LA, and we would hear from people that we needed to be there.”
Immaculate Heart Radio also had been challenged in 2010 by Chuck Haas, a member of Legatus’ Napa Valley Chapter, to expand its reach to all of California. Haas had been personally touched by Catholic radio several years earlier when he tuned in to an Immaculate Heart Radio station after seeing a billboard while driving on I-80.
“It turned a kind of nominal, lukewarm Catholic to where he is today — now Catholicism is the center of my life,” said Haas. When he started supporting the network, he was asked to take over a stalled Immaculate Heart Radio campaign for the San Francisco Bay area during an economic downturn.
Haas, now the network’s chief financial officer and member of Legatus’ Board of Governors, said said he would agree to direct the campaign if the network would commit to covering the entire state. At the time, Sherman thought just finishing the capital campaign in San Francisco would be overwhelming. “And trying to tie that into a campaign to cover the rest of California was beyond overwhelming.” Still, he continued, “Four years later, we’ve done it and Chuck has been a huge part of it.”
Besides Los Angeles, Immaculate Heart Radio in the last four-and-a-half years has added California stations in Monterey/Carmel, San Luis Obispo, San Diego, Orange County, Modesto and the Central Valley. Additional stations went live in Las Vegas and Maui. The network also provides access to its programming online, MP3 streaming, and smartphone apps. More recently, it has added streaming channels that play contemporary Christian music and sacred music.
The network started in 1997 with KIHM, named for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area, where Sherman lived and ran Sherman Homes. At the time, the station was the seventh full-time Catholic radio station in the country — compared to 1,600 run by evangelical Protestants. The number of Catholic stations and translators has since grown to more than 300.
Sherman, a convert to Catholicism who was raised “Presbyterian with a Southern Baptist twist,” was impressed during World Youth Day in 1993 by St. John Paul II’s message about the New Evangelization. Even before that, however, he had come to a new appreciation of the Church as a gold mine of truth that needed to be shared.
Then, while driving across the country to take a car to one of his children, he reached into a grocery bag full of Catholic cassette tapes that a fellow parishioner had given him. While listening to them, he thought, “This needs to be on the radio.”
When the idea to start a Catholic radio station began to take shape, Sherman said he never thought it would involve more than one station for Lake Tahoe. Expansion came quickly, however, beginning with a request from Sherman’s bishop to start a station in Sacramento. Other opportunities soon followed and within a decade eight stations had been added in California and New Mexico.
As the network grew, Sherman was spurred on by the stories he heard about lives being changed through Catholic radio.
More than 40 listeners have contacted the network to say they had been considering suicide, but changed their minds because of what they heard on Immaculate Heart Radio. Others credit the network’s messages opposing contraception and abortion with their decisions to bear children.
A recently widowed woman told how she had been overwhelmed with grief and unable to get out of bed each morning when she happened to hear the rosary on her clock-radio. Soon, Sherman said, she was praying it every morning. “She called to thank us for bringing her back to life.”
Another woman was driving to a drug store to buy pills to end her life when, while listening to a rock music station, her car hit a bump and the radio changed to Immaculate Heart Radio, which was airing the rosary.
“She hadn’t heard the rosary since she was a little girl sitting on her grandmother’s lap,” Sherman explained, “and it brought her such a sense of peace that all she could do was pull over to the side of road and listen.” The next morning, she drove to the nearest Catholic parish, met with a priest and began the process of returning to the Church.
In addition to starting radio stations, Sherman’s interest in Catholic radio led to the formation of the Catholic Radio Association, a trade group that provides support for fledgling and established stations.
About the time he began Immaculate Heart Radio, Sherman learned about stations that were being started by a mortgage banker in St. Louis and a dentist in Florida. “The three of us got together along the way because our combined knowledge about radio couldn’t fill a thimble.” Their monthly phone calls grew into the association.
Immaculate Heart Radio sees its mission as helping Catholics better understand the truth and beauty of their faith and bringing non-Catholics and lapsed Catholics to a greater understanding of Christ and the Church. Toward that end, the network produces much of its own programming, including The Patrick Madrid Show and Right Here, Right Now.
Turicchi, president and CFO of j2 Global and member of Legatus’ Board of Governors, said that despite the number of distractions people in Los Angeles experience, he thinks Catholic radio will reach people there because, amid the “cacophony of sound, half truth and partial truth,” there is a legitimate hunger for the truth.
“When people find the truth, if they listen for 10 minutes, I think they will want to consume more. If they consume more, they will understand the Church better.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.