By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — What a day to do this.
On Dec. 11, the vigil of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Bishop Robert W. Finn and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann offered prayers and blessings, and then Jim O’Laughlin pushed the button.
Catholic Radio station KDMR, 1190 AM, became the first Catholic station in Kansas City to broadcast in Spanish.
“It’s wonderful,” Bishop Finn said. “We have a growing number of Hispanic people in the Kansas City area and most of them come from a Catholic heritage. They will have trustworthy catechesis in their faith in their language on the radio.”
“Catholic radio is one of the great tools the church has,” said Archbishop Naumann, noting that the official launch of Catholic radio in Spanish came upon the great feast day in celebration of Mary in Latin culture.
“She (under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe) was responsible for the greatest wave of conversion to Catholicism in our hemisphere. This station will be part of a reconversion to bring sons and daughters back to Christ,” he said.
Jim and Carolyn O’Laughlin said the new station, with call letters spelling out “Divine Mercy Radio,” will be not only a companion, but an extension of the metro area’s first Catholic radio station, just up the dial from the well-established KEXS 1090 AM.
That station, also owned by the O’Laughlins, is licensed only to broadcast from sunrise to sunset. But KDMR, the former Disney Radio station, is licensed to broadcast 24 hours a day, although it is required to “power down at night.”
When it is at its peak daytime power of 5,000 watts, the station will reach a 70-mile radius, all the way to Topeka in the west, St. Joseph in the north and Warrensburg in the east and Clinton in the south.
And from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it will broadcast only in Spanish. After that, at about the time KEXS is required to sign off, the station is required to power down 500 watts but will still cover most of Kansas city and will switch to English language broadcasts, with all programming in both languages coming from the EWTN Catholic Radio Network.
Thus, said O’Laughlin, Spanish-speaking Catholics will get their first radio station ever, and English-speaking Catholics in Kansas City will now be able to receive Catholic radio 24 hours a day.
“There are over 200,000 Hispanics in our listening area,” O’Laughlin said. “We’re thinking this will add 30,000 new Hispanic listeners.”
And that is huge, said Miguel Salazar, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
“It is an opportunity to begin evangelization with a larger population of the Hispanic community,” he said, noting that the station will bolster the work done in parishes throughout the diocese.
“It’s a teamwork thing,” Salazar said. “We are blessed to have this chance to make this station work for us.”
Bishop Finn noted that small, evangelical Protestant congregations are working hard to attract newly arrived Catholics from Latin America. KDMR AM 1190 will remind them that they are Catholic, and what they might be giving up to leave the church.
“They don’t have the Eucharist. They don’t have Our Lady. They don’t have the sacraments,” the bishop said. “The message of this station will remind them of their roots and even deepen those roots.”
Not only were the O’Laughlins able to secure the KDMR call letters they wanted, they were able to give the old KPHN call letters away for Christmas.
Carolyn O’Laughlin said the Catholic Radio Network station in Wichita is now phonetically called “Kapaun Radio,” in honor of the Korean War chaplain, prisoner of war hero and Medal of Honor recipient Father Emil Kapaun, whose sainthood cause is now before the Vatican.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” she said.