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Radio nonprofit sets modest goal to start a station

Aiming for $150,000; founder first thought he’d need $1.5 million

Published: April 27, 2023   
Courtesy Ark of Heaven Media
Board treasurer Shawn Stane (left) and Phillip Renfro, president and founder of Ark of Heaven Media Group, work their booth at the Arkansas Catholic Men’s Conference Feb. 11 at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

Supporters of starting a Catholic radio station in central Arkansas say they need at least $135,000 more before their dream can be realized.

Ten years ago, Philip Renfro was downloading Catholic talks to listen to on his commute to and from work. These spiritually fulfilling talks caused Renfro to begin to discern what God wanted for his life after converting to Catholicism in 2008.

“One day, on the way home I asked God, ‘What do you want me to do?’ I was in my career as an electrical engineer for several years and was looking for a next step and I felt like I had an audible answer. A voice not of my own that said, ‘I want you to start Catholic radio in Little Rock.’”

This is what led Renfro, pastoral council president at Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock, to start Ark of Heaven Media.

The discerning electrical engineer without a radio or communications background began research on how to get on the air. After speaking with others who had begun Catholic radio stations in nearby states and gathering information, he discovered that starting a radio station had become significantly less expensive than it was at radio’s peak in the 1990s.

“When we started looking into this, we were thinking about $1.5 million. Now, we’re starting to see that there may be some opportunity for $500,000 or less.”

In 2020, Renfro and others formed the Ark of Heaven Media Group, a nonprofit corporation, to explore ways to buy or open a radio station.

Renfro estimated the minimum initial cost to be about $150,000 as the Federal Communications Commission’s license to the 89.9 FM frequency in Cabot has become available. The $150,000 will be used for setup costs and operational expenses. This frequency would cover the Little Rock metro area. At this time, there is no station built, just a frequency the FCC regulates. Once the FCC approves an entity to broadcast from that frequency, it is up to the group to build a station and get on the air as the FCC only regulates the licensing of frequencies. Dan Gettelfinger, president of the Blue Mantle Educational Association and promoter of Catholic radio, said he would sell the license to Ark of Heaven Media at an undisclosed sum if the FCC approves Blue Mantle to have the license to broadcast on 89.9 FM.

While this station offers a more affordable option to get on the air, there is still a long way to go financially.

“I think we’re sitting at $15,000,” Renfro said of their current fundraising. “We’re only about a tenth of the way there, I guess.” 

For now, Renfro and other supporters are creating videos and posting them to their YouTube channel.

Ark of Heaven Media is hosting an April 29 fundraiser titled “An Evening with Gus Lloyd” at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock. Lloyd is an author, evangelist and host of the “Seize the Day” morning radio show on Sirius XM’s “The Catholic Channel.”

While long-form audio content has gradually shifted from radio to podcasts, traditional Catholic content in general is a staple in many Catholics’ lives in Arkansas just as in places with large Catholic populations. Catherine Wade, a Eucharistic minister and lector at St. Mary of the Springs Church in Hot Springs, said, “It is critical that Catholics have a background and knowledge of their faith that counters the secular misinformation that is being offered through television programs, movies, and yes, even news programs.”

Deacon Richard Papini, director of Catholic Campus Ministry in Conway, is an avid viewer of EWTN and listens to Catholic content on the radio when he is not praying the rosary in the car. “I think people who have tuned in to a (Catholic radio program) have been kind of captivated by it,” he said. “They’ll send in questions and be able to get real answers to questions that they have about the Catholic faith.”

Papini believes Catholic content on the radio is more fruitful than typical content Americans consume. When talking about the benefits of Catholic radio, he said, “hopefully people would want to listen to stuff like that which is more truthful and uplifting than some of the junk that’s on there these days.”

The potential addition of Ark of Heaven Media’s content to Central Arkansas airwaves will allow almost anyone in the area to learn more about God and the Church.

“The sky’s the limit. Really,” Renfro said. “There are people who would find our station whether it is changing through the channels or maybe seeing about it on a billboard or by word of mouth. People that are already considering themselves Catholic who are maybe a cultural Catholic who do not know a lot about their faith. It would enrich them and help enrich their faith lives.”

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