Skip to site content

Religious, Public Radio Stations Compete for Airwaves

In the battle over the airwaves, public and religious radio stations are in fierce competition for a limited number of spots on the dial.

In 1997, the Rev. Don Wildmon decided the best way to promote the Christian worldview was via the airwaves. So, he founded American Family Radio, which now boasts nearly 200 stations nationwide. His main rival: National Public Radio.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
In the world of commercial-free radio, NPR and AFR want the same thing—listeners. And according to the New York Times, Wildmon makes no bones about the fact that he doesn’t like NPR, saying its newscasts are “slanted from a distinctly liberal and secular perspective.”
 
Last year, AFR successfully silenced the competition in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Lake Charles, La., by knocking two NPR affiliate stations off the local dial, according to the Times. Lake Charles is now the most populous community in the United States—at 95,000 people—that can’t tune in to NPR programming.
 
So how does a Christian radio station knock NPR off the dial? A simple federal law allows noncommercial broadcasters with licenses for full-power stations—like AFR—to push out those with weaker signals—like NPR.
 
The Lake Charles NPR affiliate is a translator station, which means it is a “low-budget” operation that retransmits the signals of larger, distant stations, the Times reported. “The Federal Communications Commission considers them squatters on the far left side of the FM dial, and anyone who is granted a full-power license can legally run them out of town.”
 
Lake Charles isn’t the only community to lose its NPR broadcasts. Religious broadcasters in Oregon and Indiana have also edged local NPR affiliates out of transmission.
 
“The noncommercial band is getting very, very crowded, and there just is not a lot of room for new stations in desirable areas,” Robert Unmacht, a Nashville-based radio consultant, told the Times. “The competition is fierce, and the Reverend Wildmon is especially hard-nosed. His people are very good at what they do.”
 
Dana Davis Rehm, vice president for member and program services at NPR in Washington, told the Times that religious broadcasters are often better prepared for the radio wars. “They have employed a long-term strategy, where we have failed to do that,” she said.
 
“Religious broadcasters are snapping up most noncommercial stations when they come on the market,” the Times reported. “In the first two quarters of 2002, there were 14 sales of noncommercial stations. Of those, public radio groups bought only two.”
 
Patrick Vaughn, attorney for AFR, said NPR stations were not targeted.