Saving Ecumenical Radio

Static Over WJMJ-FM

July 4, 2008

The Archdiocese of Hartford needs to clear the air about its intentions for radio station WJMJ-FM.

Problems started getting public attention back in May when officials for the Roman Catholic archdiocese, which owns the station, told Protestant and Christian Orthodox leaders that most or all of their programming would be dropped in favor of a more Catholic message. The station airs on 88.9 FM in the Hartford area. Effective June 1, it has operated as an affiliate of EWTN Global Catholic Network.

Some of the programs discontinued at WJMJ had been on the air for two or three decades. The change and the abrupt way it was handled have caused hard feelings in the ecumenical community.

Now town officials in Burlington, where the stations’ radio tower is situated, are considering bringing a cease-and-desist order against the church. They say the change violates a 1987 agreement with the zoning board of appeals that requires multidenominational programming.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. John Gatzak, acknowledges the terms of the agreement and says the church intends to continue offering ecumenical programming.

He said WJMJ is the state’s only Catholic radio station and that 80 percent of its programming had become Protestant and Orthodox. All the archdiocese wants to do is change the balance and raise the bar for programming. As executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Radio and Television, the Rev. Gatzak pledged the archdiocese’s resources to that effort.

The Rev. Gatzak says Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders have met twice to discuss what shape the revamped ecumenical programming might take.

This all sounds good so far as it goes. Yet when pressed recently about what Catholic-Protestant-Orthodox balance the archdiocese is aiming for, or what this new programming might look like, the Rev. Gatzak’s answers turned squishy.

He likened WJMJ to a “living organism” that shouldn’t be held to a static format.

Well, maybe. But the abrupt and heavy-handed way the archdiocese has implemented changes at WJMJ have raised a lot of questions — and some hackles. Absent specifics, the archdiocese essentially assumed the ecumenical community and the town of Burlington will take a leap of faith.

That’s assuming a lot.