Not long ago, my wife and I decided to purchase a vintage bakelite radio as a lounge ornament, the one proviso being that it would have shortwave radio facilities to justify spending money on yet another radio - with countless AM transistors already lying around the house!
At the time we believed we would only listen to the shortwave occasionally as a novelty.
A couple of days later, however, my wife called out in excitement, "Come here, I think I've found something Catholic". The next thing we heard was, "This is EWTN, global Catholic radio".
EWTN, courtesy of the shortwave, was set to become our major media entertainment.
EWTN, short for Eternal Word Television Network, is indeed global. Founded 20 years ago in 1981 by the energetic Mother Angelica, its mission is to provide quality Catholic programs that are loyal to the Church and the Magisterium. In 1981 EWTN broadcast programs for only a few hours each day to 60,000 viewers. The station boasted $200 to its name, its studio was the monastery garage and its staff 12 cloistered nuns.
Today EWTN reaches 70 million homes in 79 countries and ten territories, using a variety of modern media including cable and satellite TV, AM/FM and shortwave radio and the Internet through its website and online sound and visual presentations.
In most Australian States, EWTN is available through satellite TV, Internet and shortwave. The costs of the first two media are prohibitive for many, whereas shortwave is financially and logistically within the range of most Australians. What is needed is a good working shortwave radio. Many of the older valve radios, provided they have a good aerial, offer excellent reception.
The modern alternative, which we also use and which has an even clearer reception than our bakelite radio, is a portable Sangean AM/FM/Shortwave radio. Sangean offers a variety of these, ranging in price from $70 to $400. Ours, an ATS505, currently retails for approximately $230 and is available from electronic shops such as Dick Smith. The benefits of this model are that it is portable, has excellent reception through its own antenna, and has digital tuning, meaning that the radio can be set to the exact frequency required.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in listening to shortwave is the quality of the reception. This can vary depending upon a whole range of factors, the major one being time of the day. Few stations can be listened to at around midday, whereas the reception improves from mid- to late-afternoon onwards. Location is also important. Fortunately, the area of Melbourne in which we live is conducive to shortwave reception.
Even the location of the Sangean's antenna is crucial: for some reason it prefers our lounge sideboard to the kitchen bench; however, reception is improved vastly through the erection of an external antenna. This can be easily done in the backyard. Multi-fibre copper wire is required, again available from electronic stores, together with a pin to plug the wire into the external area socket of the radio - all for a cost of well under $50.
Shortwave band frequencies range from 2000 kHz to 27000 kHz. Many shortwave stations do not transmit 24 hours a day and even those that do, change their frequencies at various points of the day, to accommodate the needs of their audiences around the globe. We have found that the best listening time for EWTN is between 8pm and 11pm, Eastern Standard Time (1000 hrs, UTC and 1300 UTC) on a frequency of 7425 kHz. We have also recently received improved reception on the frequency of 5825 kHz from late afternoon/early evening until 8pm.
The programs to which we listen represent cover a wide range of devotions (the Stations of the Cross, Rosary, morning prayer and Mass) as well as apologetics and discussion shows presented by leading Catholic speakers, e.g., Fr Benedict Groeschel, Fr Regis Scanlon, Patrick Madrid, Scott Hahn and, of course, Mother Angelica.
Our preferred programs include "The Lamb's Supper" (reflections on the Mass by Scott Hahn), "Super Saints", "Defenders of the Faith" (biographies), "Catholic Answers Live" (question and answer apologetics to listeners' questions - a modern day version of "Radio Replies") and "The Journey Home" (interviews with converts and "reverts"). A particular favourite is "Pope Fiction" on Thursdays at 9pm, hosted by Patrick Madrid.
EWTN provides special coverages of papal and other important Church events, e.g., the liturgies celebrated during John Paul's recent visit to Ukraine were broadcast live. In addition, EWTN has a comprehensive website (http://www.ewtn.com) with links to a range of Church documents and publications. A weekly email newsletter "Wings", available upon request, keeps the listener up to date with program developments, and provides copies of new Church documents, statements, etc.
The transition from the rubbish on offer from local commercial stations to EWTN has been a joyous one. Setting up the shortwave facility has proved a thoroughly worthwhile move and is strongly recommended to others seeking the best on offer from the Catholic media.
Michael Daniel teaches at a Melbourne independent college.